CPEC: Pragmatic Cooperation
Despite the scorching summer heat, engineers at the Karot Hydropower Station, more than 50 kilometers away from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, continued conducting routine inspections to ensure the operation of the facility. This hydroelectric station, constructed and operated by China Three Gorges Corporation, has been operational for a year and generated electricity of 3.64 billion kilowatt-hours to meet the power demands of over 5 million local residents.
“In the past, we only had access to electricity for a few hours each day, and sometimes our children had to do their homework in the darkness,” recounted Muhammad Meherban, a resident living near the power station. “Now, there is no longer any electricity rationing in our village, and my youngest son, Inan, no longer has to study in the darkness.” The Karot Hydropower Station has significantly enhanced the living conditions of the neighboring communities.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative and also the 10th anniversary of the launch of the CPEC, a flagship project of the initiative. The CPEC stretches southwards from China’s Kashgar to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, covering a total length of 3,000 kilometers. It has attracted a cumulative direct investment of US$25.4 billion and directly created 236,000 job opportunities so far, making substantial contributions to Pakistan’s national development and regional connectivity.
Gwadar Port shines as the beacon of the CPEC after remarkable transformations have unfolded across a decade of concerted efforts between China and Pakistan. The port once primarily dependent on fishing has undergone a profound metamorphosis: A bustling 100,000-square-meter container yard equipped with cutting-edge container scanning devices now handles a constant stream of cargo. An exhibition center and a business center have risen to prominence, and Chinese-built schools and hospitals have enhanced the quality of life for local residents. The introduction of Chinese expertise in crop breeding, greenhouse technology, and drip irrigation has propelled the flourishing of organic agriculture in the region. Gwadar is steadily advancing towards its envisioned role as a pivotal regional logistics hub and industrial base.
Energy cooperation stands out as a major highlight of CPEC cooperation: The Karot Hydropower Station transforms flowing water into clean electricity; the Chinese nuclear reactor “Hualong One” operates smoothly at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant; and the Sachal Power Station features rows of wind turbines in the “wind corridor” of the vast desert of southern Sindh Province.
Statistics show that by November 2022, the CPEC had seen the commercial operation of 12 energy cooperation projects, providing nearly one-third of Pakistan’s electricity supply. Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Power Khurram Dastgir Khan said that he had visited various energy projects under the CPEC and witnessed how these projects had transformed Pakistan from grappling with severe power shortages a decade ago to a state of secure and stable power supply across the country.
Infrastructure for transportation is one of the focal points of CPEC development. Over the past decade, Chinese companies have been involved in various large-scale transportation projects. For instance, construction of the Sukkur-Multan section of the Peshawar-Karachi Motorway has better connected the north and south arteries of Pakistan. This highway has reduced travel time between the two cities from 11 hours to less than four hours. Pakistan’s National Highway Authority praised the Sukkur section as the highest-standard road project in Pakistan yet, setting a benchmark for the entire Peshawar-Karachi Motorway.
On May 28, 2021, a groundbreaking ceremony for the Rashakai Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Pakistan was held, marking the onset of the SEZ’s comprehensive construction. As the first SEZ under the framework of the CPEC, the project holds significant importance in promoting the high-quality development of the CPEC and stimulating regional economic vitality to serve as a model and catalyst for industrial cooperation between the two countries.
The Rashakai SEZ is located in northwestern Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. It is situated at the intersection of the eastern, central, and western routes of the CPEC. To the south, it is connected to Gwadar Port, while to the north, it offers a link to China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region via the Karakoram Highway. To the west, it radiates to countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan. Its important location makes it a prominent candidate to become a pivotal transit hub and a collaborative manufacturing base for trade between China and the regions of Central Asia and West Asia.
In 2020, China and Pakistan signed an agreement for developing the Rashakai SEZ, outlining plans for a total area of four square kilometers. Development of the SEZ is planned in three phases and is set to attract industries such as machinery, household appliances, food processing, textiles and leather, home furnishings, building materials, warehousing, logistics, and other complementary service industries. As of July 23, 2023, the first phase of the SEZ has been completed, drawing over 100 enterprises to settle.
During a special meeting of the joint cooperation committee on the 10th anniversary of the CPEC and also the 12th session of the committee held on July 11, 2023, the Chinese side stated that in the future, both countries would implement the CPEC’s long-term vision under the important consensus of their leaders and build projects that are high-standard, sustainable, and beneficial to the people. Both sides would continuously enhance the quality and efficiency of CPEC construction, continuously unlock its development potential, and make it a model project for high-quality development under the Belt and Road Initiative. This effort seeks to build a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era. At the event, the Pakistani side emphasized commitment to providing security guarantees for CPEC construction. They expressed the willingness to collaborate with their Chinese friends to jointly build a more resilient and vibrant CPEC based on mutual trust and foster a progressive, prosperous China-Pakistan relationship featuring shared benefits.