A campaign by opposition politicians in Pakistan to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan and the official in charge of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in Islamabad may cause some disruption but is unlikely to derail the multibillion-dollar scheme, analysts say.
Opposition party leaders on Sunday launched a joint campaign to unseat Khan and CPEC authority chairman Asim Saleem Bajwa, following allegations of corruption against the retired lieutenant general and his family.
The allegations against Bajwa, who is also an adviser to Khan, suggest a deeper problem for China’s relationship with Pakistan, said James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
“China has had a preference for dealing with the military in Pakistan, rather than the raucous political parties,” he said.
“While the charges need to be judged on their own merit, they call into question the solidity of the military’s position.”
Among those calling for Bajwa to go is former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who lives in exile in London and has accused the military of interfering in Pakistan’s political affairs.
Andrew Small, an analyst at the German Marshall Fund – a Washington-based think tank – said the controversy surrounding Bajwa could upset Beijing.
“China doesn’t like any politicisation of the CPEC, so the Bajwa issue is unhelpful,” he said.
Different approaches to the CPEC within Pakistan’s ruling elite had troubled Beijing, he said in a report published on Thursday, titled “Return to the Shadows: China, Pakistan, and the Fate of CPEC”.
Sharif oversaw the launch of the CPEC – often referred to as the flagship of China’s broader Belt and Road Initiative – during his time as prime minister, but Khan had slimmed down many of its projects and progress on them – partly due to financial issues – had stalled even before the coronavirus pandemic, the report said.
Though often valued at US$62 billion, only about US$25 billion worth of projects had been completed under the scheme, it said.
“China wants firm political consensus on the CPEC and has worked hard over the years to make sure that all parties are lined up behind it,” Small said.
The leaders of Pakistan’s major political parties all committed to the CPEC when the two sides met last year, and since then some opposition figures have been demanding more involvement in the scheme, drawn by the financial benefits and job creation opportunities it provides.
Opposition politicians in the northern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this week complained about the government cancelling a local CPEC highway project, calling it a “great injustice” for the people.
“The bottom line is that even with all these stories of corruption – an inevitable and predictable by-product of such a massive project – the CPEC will still proceed,” said Claude Rakisits, an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University.
“The opposition parties are totally on board with it too. Pakistan and China have already invested too much money and pride in the CPEC for it to not proceed,” he said.
More from South China Morning Post:
- China, Pakistan agree to push on with rail and power projects
- China, Pakistan push ahead with US$6.8 billion rail project in region disputed with India
- Why Pakistan is a big factor in China’s border clashes with India
- Pakistani foreign minister expected to raise belt and road projects and disputed Kashmir in China meeting
This article China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will go on despite bumps in the road, analysts say first appeared on South China Morning Post