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10 Big Reasons Why CPEC Is Not Completed Yet

Picture this: a colossal economic venture weaving through the breathtaking landscapes of South Asia, promising to reshape the region’s destiny. That’s the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for you – a buzzworthy initiative that sparked imaginations and ignited debates about the future of economic connectivity. But here’s the twist: why, despite its grand ambitions and promises, is CPEC still a work in progress? 

In this blog, we will discuss the most compelling reasons why CPEC is not completed yet, the impact of the project on Pakistan, the region and the world and the ways in which Pakistan can speed up the process of CPEC completion. 

What Is CPEC?

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a major infrastructure initiative that aims to enhance economic connectivity between China and Pakistan. Officially launched in 2013, CPEC is a flagship project of China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The corridor encompasses a network of transportation, energy, and industrial projects, with the goal of linking Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan to China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, passing through various key regions of Pakistan.

CPEC includes the construction of highways, railways, and pipelines, as well as the development of energy projects, including power plants and renewable energy initiatives. The Gwadar Port, a key component of CPEC, is strategically located on the Arabian Sea and serves as a crucial maritime link. 

The initiative aims to not only strengthen economic ties between China and Pakistan but also foster regional development and connectivity. While CPEC presents significant economic opportunities, it has also sparked geopolitical considerations and discussions about its broader implications for the region and beyond.

Also Read: Strategic Importance of the South China Sea 

Why Is CPEC Not Completed Yet?

The completion process of CPEC has been slow since the past few years, but why is that? What are the most compelling reasons for the derailed process? 

1. Security Concerns

The project, crucial for enhancing economic ties between China and Pakistan, faces challenges in regions marked by terrorist threats and insurgent activities. Particularly in Balochistan, where separatist movements and episodes of violence have occurred, CPEC construction sites have been targeted, reflecting security risks. The tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, known for historical militancy, add complexity to the security landscape. 

Additionally, geopolitical tensions and the corridor’s proximity to sensitive border regions further underscore the need for robust security measures. Both governments have responded by deploying additional security forces and implementing surveillance systems. 

2. Political Instability

The fluctuating political landscape in Pakistan, marked by changes in government and policy priorities, has led to uncertainties and alterations in the execution of CPEC initiatives. Instances of political transitions have often resulted in shifts in project priorities, funding allocations, and administrative approaches, introducing complexities that contribute to delays. 

These changes can stem from broader geopolitical dynamics, internal governance issues, or shifts in public sentiment. Notably, the challenge of navigating political instability underscores the importance of establishing stable governance structures and long-term policy frameworks to ensure the sustained momentum of large-scale projects. 

3. Land Acquisition Issues

Challenges related to land acquisition encompass a range of complexities, from disputes over compensation to resettlement concerns and local opposition. Specific examples within the CPEC context include instances where communities, particularly in Balochistan, have resisted land acquisition due to fears of displacement and apprehensions about the environmental impact of the projects. 

The sensitive nature of land ownership and its cultural significance often contributes to heightened tensions, necessitating careful negotiation and community engagement. Delays in the resolution of land acquisition issues can impede the progress of construction and infrastructure development. 

4. Financial Constraints

One major hurdle slowing CPEC’s progress is the financial strain on both Pakistan and China. Initially envisioned at $62 billion, costs ballooned to over $90 billion. Pakistan, grappling with a ballooning current account deficit and IMF loan conditions, struggles to secure funds for its share. This has led to project delays, like the stalled Gwadar LNG terminal, initially funded by Pakistan but now awaiting Chinese investment. 

China, too, faces economic headwinds, prompting a shift towards stricter lending policies. This cautious approach means less readily available financing for CPEC, further impacting project timelines. The financial constraints cast a long shadow on CPEC’s completion, demanding innovative solutions and flexible financing models to bridge the funding gap and propel the project forward.

5. Environmental Concerns

A major roadblock on CPEC’s path is protecting the environment. Large-scale projects like road construction can leave their mark, with thousands of trees being felled for CPEC’s expansion, potentially disrupting ecosystems and harming wildlife. Additionally, coal-fired power plants planned under CPEC raise concerns about air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Finding the right balance between development and environmental protection is crucial. Stringent environmental regulations and stricter adherence to green practices are essential. For example, planting new trees to compensate for those lost and exploring cleaner energy sources like solar and wind power could alleviate concerns and pave the way for a more sustainable completion of CPEC.

6. Bureaucratic Hurdles

Imagine driving on a brand new highway, but getting stuck at every toll booth due to endless paperwork. That’s the frustration of bureaucratic hurdles slowing down CPEC. Permits, approvals, and clearances get tangled in layers of red tape, causing delays and inflating costs. Taking land acquisition for projects – negotiating with landowners and navigating legal complexities can take years. 

This bureaucratic maze has stalled projects like the Thar coal mine expansion, where approvals languished for months. To get CPEC moving faster, streamlining procedures, establishing clear timelines, and empowering decision-making at lower levels are crucial. Otherwise, the project might risk getting stuck in bureaucratic quicksand.

7. Technical Challenges

CPEC’s ambitious infrastructure goals come with significant technical hurdles. Building roads and railways through mountainous terrain like the Karakoram Highway is no easy feat. The 2018 earthquake near Gwadar, which damaged sections of the Eastbay Expressway, highlighted the vulnerability of infrastructure to natural disasters.

Additionally, integrating complex energy projects like the 870-MW nuclear power plant at Karachi requires specialized expertise and adherence to stringent safety regulations. Overcoming these technical challenges necessitates robust engineering solutions, disaster-resilient infrastructure design, and collaboration with international experts.

8. Geopolitical Dynamics

The intricate web of regional politics throws another curveball at CPEC’s completion. Tensions between India and Pakistan, who share a border traversed by CPEC routes, raise security concerns and potential disruptions. Additionally, the project’s proximity to Afghanistan, a region with ongoing instability, adds another layer of complexity. For example, the 2021 Taliban takeover raised concerns about potential security threats to CPEC infrastructure and personnel. 

Effective diplomacy, open communication with stakeholders, and addressing regional security concerns are vital to navigate these geopolitical complexities and ensure CPEC’s smooth progress.

9. Public Opposition

Not everyone welcomes CPEC with open arms. Local communities impacted by land acquisition for projects sometimes raise concerns about displacement and lack of transparency. Environmental groups highlight potential ecological damage from infrastructure development. For example, protests against the Thar coal mine expansion stemmed from worries about water scarcity and air pollution. 

Addressing these concerns through transparent communication, community engagement, and ensuring fair compensation and environmental protection measures are crucial to garner public support and overcome opposition.

10. Transparency and Governance Issues

The shadows of secrecy and opaque decision-making can often stall progress. CPEC faces its own share of transparency concerns, with critics calling for clearer information on project costs, contracts, and environmental impact assessments. The 2017 “exclusive master plan leak” raised concerns about unequal distribution of benefits across Pakistani provinces, further fueling doubts about transparency. 

Additionally, governance issues like corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement can create bottlenecks and hinder efficient project execution. For example, a 2020 report by Transparency International Pakistan highlighted weaknesses in procurement processes for CPEC projects, raising concerns about potential misuse of funds. 

Impacts on Pakistan: How Can CPEC Benefit Pakistan?

CPEC is often termed as the ‘gamechanger’ for Pakistan. It is a flagship project under China’s One Belt and Road Initiative. Here are the benefits of impact on Pakistan. 

1) Economic Growth

  • Foreign Direct Investment: CPEC has already attracted over $25 billion in investments, surpassing initial projections. This is estimated to contribute 1-2% to Pakistan’s GDP annually.
  • Exports: Gwadar Port expansion, a key CPEC project, aims to become a major trade hub, potentially increasing exports by 40% by 2030.
  • Industrial Zones: The Allama Iqbal Industrial City, developed under CPEC, is estimated to attract $46 billion in investment and create 200,000 jobs in textiles, IT, and automobiles.

2) Infrastructure Development

  • Transportation: The Karakoram Highway upgrade, part of CPEC, reduced travel time by 30%, potentially facilitating $4.5 billion in annual trade.
  • Energy: CPEC power plants like the 1,320-MW Thar Coal Block II project aim to add 7,000 MW to the national grid, addressing chronic energy shortages.
  • Technology: Huawei, a Chinese tech giant, partnered with Pakistani universities to establish 5G labs, boosting research and development.

3) Regional Integration

  • Central Asia Trade: CPEC’s Gwadar-Kashgar trade corridor could shorten trade routes with Central Asia by 7,000 km, potentially increasing trade by $50 billion annually.
  • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: CPEC creates a vital land and maritime trade route, potentially positioning Pakistan as a key logistics hub.
  • Gwadar Port: The port’s expansion aims to handle 400 million tons of cargo annually, potentially making Pakistan a major player in maritime trade.

4) Socio-Economic Development:

  • Job Creation: Over 75,000 jobs have already been created through CPEC projects, with estimates suggesting millions more in the coming years.
  • Skill Development: CPEC has trained over 40,000 workers in construction, engineering, and other technical fields, enhancing employability.
  • Poverty Reduction: Improved infrastructure and economic growth from CPEC could potentially lift millions out of poverty, especially in underdeveloped regions.

Impacts on China

The completion of CPEC promises significant potential benefits for China, though it’s not without its nuances and challenges. Here’s a breakdown of some key impacts:

1) Enhanced Trade and Connectivity

  • Shortened Routes: CPEC’s land and maritime routes reduce travel time and costs for Chinese exports to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, estimated to save billions of dollars annually.
  • Market Access: Gwadar Port provides direct access to the Indian Ocean, bypassing congested Malacca Strait and opening new markets for Chinese goods.
  • Energy Security: Access to Central Asian energy resources through CPEC pipelines can diversify China’s energy sources and enhance its energy security.

2) Investment Opportunities

  • Infrastructure Projects: Chinese companies have secured billions of dollars in contracts for CPEC infrastructure projects, boosting their construction and engineering industries.
  • Special Economic Zones: CPEC-linked industrial zones offer fertile ground for Chinese investments in manufacturing, logistics, and technology, fostering job creation and technology transfer.
  • Resource Exploration: CPEC facilitates access to Pakistani mineral resources like copper and lithium, crucial for China’s growing clean energy sector.

3) Geopolitical Influence

  • Regional Connectivity: CPEC strengthens China’s ties with Pakistan and other regional players, potentially increasing its political and economic influence in Central Asia and South Asia.
  • Counterbalancing India: CPEC can be seen as a counterweight to India’s growing regional influence, strengthening China’s strategic position in the Indian Ocean.
  • Soft Power: Cultural exchange and educational programs associated with CPEC can enhance China’s soft power projection in the region.

4) Challenges and Considerations

  • Security Concerns: Regional instability and terrorism threats in Pakistan could impact the security of CPEC routes and investments.
  • Debt Burden: Pakistan’s ability to manage its CPEC-related debt obligations is crucial to avoid potential economic vulnerabilities.
  • Public Backlash: Local concerns about transparency, environmental impact, and social inequalities need to be addressed to maintain public support for CPEC in Pakistan.

Impacts of CPEC on the World

CPEC may be a project of Pakistan, but its impacts are both regional and global. Here is how CPEC impacts major countries of the world. 

1. USA

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) unfolds a complex dual challenge for the United States, reflecting the intricate dynamics of geopolitics and economic interests. On one hand, there is a palpable unease about China’s growing influence in South Asia, with concerns looming over the potential erosion of American sway in the region. The strategic implications of CPEC, as a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), prompt the U.S. to reassess its strategic positioning in a region where economic and political alliances hold significant geopolitical weight.

On the other hand, amidst these concerns lies a potential avenue for American companies to capitalize on the expansive opportunities that CPEC brings. Participation in CPEC’s infrastructure projects and the resultant surge in regional trade could present significant economic gains for U.S. businesses. The development of key sectors such as energy, transportation, and technology within the corridor offers avenues for American companies to engage in mutually beneficial partnerships, leveraging their expertise and resources for the advancement of CPEC initiatives.

However, amidst the economic prospects lies a crucial consideration—navigating security concerns in Afghanistan. The U.S. faces the challenge of safeguarding its strategic interests in the region while fostering collaboration with both Pakistan and China. Effectively managing this strategic curveball demands a delicate diplomatic balance, where the U.S. must simultaneously address security imperatives, engage in economic partnerships, and navigate the evolving regional dynamics shaped by the ambitious CPEC project.

Also Read: The Colonial United States

2. Russia

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) introduces a nuanced challenge for Russia, encompassing elements of competition and potential collaboration. As a significant player in the geopolitical landscape, Russia must carefully navigate the evolving dynamics shaped by CPEC and its broader implications.

On the competitive front, CPEC poses a challenge to Russia’s own strategic initiatives, particularly the North-South Transport Corridor. The corridors share overlapping regional objectives, potentially creating competition for influence in Central Asia. The access that CPEC provides to Central Asian energy resources may impact Russia’s energy exports, raising questions about the potential reconfiguration of the regional power balance.

However, amid this competition lies the possibility of collaboration, especially in Central Asia. Russia and China could find common ground in exploring cooperative ventures within the framework of CPEC, fostering economic development and connectivity in the region. The complexities of regional geopolitics demand a pragmatic approach from Russia, balancing its strategic interests with the potential for collaborative economic endeavors facilitated by CPEC.

3. India

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) presents a multifaceted challenge for India, entailing strategic, security, and economic considerations that necessitate a delicate balancing act. At the heart of India’s concerns is the perceived strategic encirclement strategy by China through the development of CPEC, raising alarms about regional power dynamics.

From a security standpoint, India is wary of the potential strategic implications of CPEC, particularly as it passes through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a territory India considers integral to its sovereign claims. The corridor’s proximity to India’s northern borders adds a layer of geopolitical complexity, intensifying concerns about China’s expanding influence in the region.

Economically, Gwadar Port’s development challenges India’s regional trade dominance. However, the success of CPEC could also open avenues for greater regional cooperation, providing economic opportunities that extend beyond immediate geopolitical rivalries. Striking the right balance between safeguarding national interests, addressing security concerns, and exploring economic opportunities is crucial for India’s approach to the evolving dynamics shaped by CPEC.

4. Afghanistan

For Afghanistan, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) presents a unique opportunity amid the backdrop of a protracted conflict and the ongoing efforts for reconstruction and stability. Economically, improved infrastructure and increased trade stemming from CPEC could serve as catalyst for much-needed economic growth and stability in Afghanistan. The development of transportation routes and connectivity could open up avenues for enhanced regional trade, providing the landlocked nation with greater economic prospects.

However, security concerns loom large. The inherent instability in Afghanistan and the potential misuse of CPEC routes by militant groups pose significant challenges. Balancing the promise of economic development with the imperative of ensuring security will be a critical task for Afghanistan in navigating its relationship with CPEC.

It also requires careful diplomacy to ensure that its interests align with the evolving dynamics of CPEC while addressing the broader regional security challenges that impact the nation’s stability. In essence, CPEC represents a potential glimmer of hope for Afghanistan’s economic revival, but its success hinges on effectively managing the complex interplay between economic development and security imperatives.

5. Iran

For Iran, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) introduces a complex set of considerations, involving economic competition, potential collaboration, and geopolitical recalibrations. As a regional power with its own strategic interests, Iran must carefully navigate the evolving dynamics shaped by CPEC.

Economically, CPEC poses a challenge to Iran’s Chabahar Port project. The development of Gwadar Port under CPEC as a major trade route could potentially divert maritime traffic away from Chabahar, impacting Iran’s ambitions to establish itself as a key transit hub. Iran must assess the economic implications and strategize accordingly to maintain its regional economic significance.

Energy exports represent another key dimension. CPEC’s access to Central Asian energy resources may alter the energy landscape, affecting Iran’s own energy export dynamics. Managing these changes requires a careful evaluation of Iran’s energy strategy in the context of evolving regional energy corridors.

Simultaneously, the evolving China-Pakistan relationship prompts Iran to recalibrate its geopolitical approach. Iran must balance its relationships with both China and Pakistan, considering potential collaboration opportunities within the framework of CPEC while safeguarding its own strategic interests.

6. CARs

For the Central Asian Republics (CARs), the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) presents a mixed bag of potential economic opportunities and geopolitical recalibrations. The impact varies across the region, comprising Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, each facing distinct considerations.

Economically, CARs stand to benefit from CPEC through improved infrastructure and increased access to Pakistani and Chinese markets. This can potentially boost their economies by facilitating trade and attracting investments. The CARs, with their rich energy resources, also hold the prospect of energy cooperation with China through CPEC initiatives, offering avenues for economic development and diversification.

Geopolitically, the growing influence of China in the region may shift existing power dynamics. While the CARs seek economic gains from CPEC, they must navigate the geopolitical implications, ensuring that their relationships with both China and other regional powers remain balanced and mutually beneficial.

The Central Asian nations face the challenge of strategically positioning themselves amid the broader dynamics of CPEC. Balancing economic interests, regional partnerships, and geopolitical considerations is essential for the CARs to harness the potential benefits of CPEC while maintaining stability and autonomy in the face of evolving regional dynamics. Strategic and nuanced diplomatic approaches will be pivotal for the CARs to leverage the economic winds of change brought by CPEC.

7. Middle East

For Middle Eastern countries, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) opens up new possibilities and challenges. Economically, CPEC enhances connectivity with Pakistan and China, offering Middle Eastern nations alternative trade avenues. The development of Gwadar Port provides potential alternative energy import routes for some countries, diversifying their energy sources. Middle Eastern nations can explore opportunities for collaboration in infrastructure development, trade, and energy projects facilitated by CPEC, potentially fostering economic growth and regional integration.

Geopolitically, the evolving China-Pakistan relationship will have broader implications for the Middle East. As China deepens its engagement in the region through CPEC, Middle Eastern nations must adapt to these changes and explore potential partnerships that align with their strategic interests. The shifting dynamics may prompt adjustments in geopolitical alignments and influence regional politics.

Also Read: 10 Largest Economies In The World

How can Pakistan Speed up the CPEC process?

CPEC’s journey faces hurdles, but strategic policy measures can pave the way for a smoother and faster completion. Here are some policy suggestions for the government of Pakistan. 

1. Enhance Financial Agility: 

Explore alternative financing models like Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and attract private sector investment to bridge funding gaps.

2. Streamline Bureaucracy: 

Establish fast-track approvals, dedicated CPEC facilitation desks, and empower lower-level decision-making to eliminate bureaucratic roadblocks.

3. Prioritize Green Solutions: 

Integrate stricter environmental regulations, invest in renewable energy sources like solar and wind, and adopt sustainable practices to mitigate environmental concerns.

4. Strengthen Transparency & Governance: 

Implement open data initiatives, publish regular project reports, and strengthen anti-corruption measures to rebuild trust and ensure responsible management.

5. Address Public Grievances: 

Proactively engage with communities, ensure fair compensation for land acquisition, and address environmental concerns through transparent communication and community development initiatives.

6. Foster Regional Cooperation: 

Engage in open dialogue with neighboring countries like India and Afghanistan to address security concerns and promote regional stability.

7. Leverage Technical Expertise: 

Partner with international experts for complex engineering challenges, disaster-resilient infrastructure design, and adherence to safety regulations.

8. Enhance Communication & Coordination: 

Establish a central CPEC authority with clear roles and responsibilities, and improve communication channels between stakeholders to ensure smooth coordination.

9. Focus on Technology & Innovation: 

Explore innovative technologies like modular construction and prefabrication to expedite project execution and reduce costs.

10. Build Local Capacity: 

Invest in training and skill development programs for Pakistani workers to enhance their participation in CPEC projects and create long-term economic benefits.

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Conclusion

In the ever-evolving narrative of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), we find a tale of grand aspirations, significant challenges, and the intricate dance of geopolitics. As we navigate through the big reasons that have slowed down CPEC’s completion, it becomes clear that such monumental endeavors are not immune to the complexities of the real world.

From security concerns to land acquisition issues and the delicate balancing act of regional power dynamics, the journey of CPEC unveils a mosaic of factors that have contributed to its prolonged construction.

FAQs

Why has CPEC faced delays in completion?

CPEC has encountered delays due to a combination of factors, including security concerns, land acquisition challenges, geopolitical complexities, and the intricate nature of large-scale infrastructure projects. 

How does CPEC impact regional geopolitics?

CPEC significantly influences regional geopolitics by enhancing China’s economic presence in South Asia and shaping alliances. 

What economic opportunities does CPEC offer?

CPEC presents a myriad of economic opportunities, including improved infrastructure, increased regional trade, and energy projects.

How are security concerns addressed along the CPEC route?

Security concerns along the CPEC route are addressed through collaborative efforts between Pakistan and China. Both nations have implemented measures such as increased security forces, surveillance systems, and strategic planning to mitigate risks. 

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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