The BRI’s flagship project is the $62bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is planned to run from one end of Pakistan to the other. This has led to expectations that may not be met.
Pakistan’s new cargo cult
The CPEC is considered a game changer by the Pakistani elite, who expect it to supercharge the country’s sclerotic economy and transform it into a regional economic hub. China is widely considered to be a benign and reliable partner, in great contrast to the “unreliable” U.S., and there is much talk of win-win cooperation and of China’s purely economic strategy.
Indeed, for many in Pakistan, the CPEC has come to resemble a cargo cult: a belief that buckets of Chinese cash will magically descend from the heavens, bringing salvation to Pakistan without the need for painful economic reforms.
The CPEC certainly involves some large amounts. It would involve energy and infrastructure projects valued at some $62bn spanning the length of Pakistan. The jewel in the CPEC crown is Gwadar, a new port city being built in the Balochistan desert, which is being touted as a new Dubai. This will be the southern terminus of the economic corridor running from Xinjiang to the Indian Ocean.
Dreams of transforming Gwadar from a dusty fishing village into a major city seem to have no bounds. The sheer scale of the project is indicated by the announcement by one Chinese company of extraordinary plans to build housing for some 500,000 Chinese workers in Gwadar by 2022.
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