A construction site of the Karachi Highway in Sukur, Pakistan on February 16 (XINHUA)
The two-day China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Summit was convened on April 23, with official representatives from both sides converging on the city of Karachi in Pakistan for the event. Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab and President of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, delivered a speech at the conference and later crystallized his views on the benefits of CPEC and China-Pakistan cooperation in an article. The following is an edited version of the article:
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Summit held in Karachi was an incredible opportunity to showcase the true potential of a project that is central to Pakistan's future. The coming together of stakeholders such as the federating units, academia, policy practitioners, foreign policy experts and economists reiterated the broad consensus across Pakistan's national opinions on CPEC being a game-changing project for the country.
During my address, I shared the experience and story of how Punjab has fared in the implementation of CPEC projects; the challenges we faced and the benchmarks we set in making CPEC a reality.
CPEC and Gwadar
I also used the occasion to thank the Chinese Government and people for their support to Pakistan via CPEC, especially President Xi Jinping, whose vision of the Belt and Road Initiative has brought about a new era of connectivity and corridors, connecting continents, countries and cultures.
The last six months have been very important for China, as the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, as well as the Two Sessions held two months ago in Beijing, have strengthened Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era as the way forward for China's progress and its role in the world.
While CPEC is the most significant developmental initiative in the history of Pakistan, I took the opportunity to tell the gathering, given the propaganda and misconceptions, what CPEC is not.
CPEC is not about one province, one party or one government. As the name denotes, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is about the whole of Pakistan, from Gwadar to Gilgit. CPEC is also not just about electricity, or energy, or highways, or other brick-and-mortar projects. It is about the transformation of Pakistan into a leading emerging economy and all-round inclusive development in a transparent manner so that the less developed areas of Pakistan are able to reap the benefits of development.
CPEC is not about China and Pakistan alone, but about connecting the region through economy and energy, ports and pipelines, roads and railways, with Pakistan as the hub of this emerging regionalism.
The spirit of CPEC lies in strong, unwavering and robust people-to-people bonds between our two brotherly countries. The welfare of the people remains the driving spirit behind this mammoth development package that seeks to transform lives and build a bright future for the people of Pakistan.
Ever since assuming office for my second term, I have paid several visits to China. Each has been an amazing lesson in how China fought heavy odds to rise as the second global economic powerhouse and military power. I have been particularly struck by the warmth and hospitality of the Chinese people and the commitment of the Chinese leadership and CPEC toward Pakistan and its peace, stability and socioeconomic progress.
In order to facilitate people-to-people bonds and overcome the barrier of language, the Punjab government launched a multi-million-dollar Chinese scholarship program whereby 500 students have been sent to China to study the Chinese language. These students will serve as a bridge between the peoples of our two countries.
We are also offering Chinese language courses at educational institutions here in Punjab. In addition, a number of Centers of Excellence on Chinese Studies have been set up in universities here.
Questions are often asked as to what CPEC has achieved so far, how it is changing lives for the better and how it is transforming Pakistan. Let me cite a few examples.
CPEC has revived dead projects like Thar Coal, which had been talked about for the last quarter of a century without any progress on the ground. Today, young Thari women are driving dumper trucks and bulldozers, while coal is being mined and electricity generated through this indigenous coal production.
Gwadar Port, which was only a dream 25 years ago, is now a reality. A bustling port and the centerpiece of CPEC, it lifted 1 million tons of cargo last year. The western route of CPEC today directly connects Quetta with Gwadar via a modern highway, with only eight hours driving time. The Port Qasim power project in Sindh, and the Sahiwal power project in Punjab, both of which have been inaugurated, will help to resolve Pakistan's decades-old energy crisis.
The Orange Train will mark Lahore's entry into the 21st century through a modern, efficient, state-of-the-art public transport system. The Sukhi Kinari project is an important element in the resolution of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa energy crisis. The Karakoram Highway's expansion and modernization, connecting Pakistan overland with China, is a highway of hope, a highway of progress and a highway of prosperity.
A vivid demonstration of the national consensus on CPEC was the fact that during the First Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing in May 2017, all the chief ministers of the four provinces were part of Pakistan's delegation, led by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, in a forceful demonstration of unity of purpose on CPEC. During this trip, I visited the headquarters of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in Beijing along with Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and met the NDRC vice chairman. As a result of our meeting, the financing for the Karachi Circular Mass Transit Project was approved.
Scaling new heights
We in Punjab have also made our own contribution to making CPEC a success, and I am grateful to our Chinese friends who have been so kind as to label some of our successes as the "Punjab Speed." But actually, this is a tribute to the creativity, hard work and resilience of the people of Pakistan, irrespective of whether they are in Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir or Fata.
This only goes to show that if you have the right vision, and if you can muster the will to pursue that vision with continuity, plus a proactive approach, everything is doable and achievable.
In this regard, I am reminded of a famous adage of Chairman Mao, which says: "Nothing is hard in this world if you dare to scale the heights!" Our friendship, our strategic partnership, has been forged into camaraderie between Pakistan and China, which President Xi rightly terms is a bond between "iron brothers."
In building CPEC, we will scale the heights of poverty, unemployment and energy shortages, and build a better tomorrow, not just for the people of Pakistan but for the region as a whole. In this quest for a better tomorrow, Pakistan and China will march forward hand in hand, to bring about a transformation that will benefit all our people.
Copyedited by Laurence Coulton
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