ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan on Thursday rejected criticism of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), after a visiting U.S. official was quoted expressing apprehension over the plan.
While Pakistan has continuously defended Chinese investment, it has also attempted to mend relations with the United States. Prime Minister Imran Khan and U.S. President Donald Trump have held at least three one-on-one meetings over the last six months, the latest on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday.
U.S. officials have repeatedly criticised CPEC, under which Beijing has pledged about $60 billion for infrastructure in Pakistan, central to China’s wider Belt and Road initiative to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.
Washington says the project is not sufficiently transparent and will saddle Pakistan with the burden of expensive Chinese loans. Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that Alice Wells, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, had made similar remarks at a closed-door think tank event in Pakistan on Tuesday.
Asked about the U.S. official’s comments, Pakistan’s foreign office spokeswoman, Aisha Farooqui, said CPEC was a transformational project for Pakistan, and completing it was the government’s highest priority.
“To claim that CPEC is always in the form of loans and other forms of financing often non-concessional with sovereign guarantees is not based on facts,” Farooqui said during her weekly briefing.
Before coming to power, Khan had also questioned the transparency of CPEC projects and expressed concern over Pakistan’s rising debt burden. Since winning the 2018 election, he has tended to avoid such remarks, although some ministers in his cabinet have spoken of the need to renegotiate some deals.
The Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, in a statement on Wednesday, said: “The U.S. is obsessed with the story it [has] made for CPEC.”
“If the U.S. truly cares about the development and prosperity of Pakistan and this region, it should bring cash and funds, promote win-win cooperation on the basis of mutual respect, fairness and justice, rather than act as a world policeman, spreading rumours and provoking China-Pakistan relations.”
Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Peter Graff