Free Trade Zones

Strategic communication is the way forward for CPEC

Shehzad Yousaf

Much has been said and written about various aspects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) since its inception in 2013 and not all of them were based on truth and accuracy. There has been a huge disinformation campaign against the project by many people in Pakistan and abroad.

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A simple but detailed study of the project and its implementation can easily dispel doubts and misperceptions, but that was not the intention of many who only wanted to criticize and hinder progress. Take some critics, for example, who confuse short-term power generation projects with duty-free industrial zones that are part of a long-term plan and will be functional by 2030. Critics object that little work and progress has been made on free trade zones, but in reality these zones must be operational by 2030 and the work carried out so far is considered satisfactory and on the right track by all the players.

Energy and power generation projects, on the other hand, are part of the short-term plan and are already in various stages of completion, with most already operational. Critics mix these two up and start blaming the slow completion and the fact that it’s a toothless giant. Others consider the aspects of safety and employment and, by fabricating half-truths, play with the minds of the rather less informed general public. Casting these doubts and sowing the seeds of discord among the general public based on misleading and misleading information and on ethnic and economic grounds has not served the project well, neither for the country nor for the province/provinces/ s. One of those huge downsides emanating from this disinformation campaign has been doubt among ordinary Baloch people and distrust of the project. China, on the other hand, has also been hit hard by all these disinformation campaigns and has begun to doubt the ability of the Pakistani authorities and administration to undertake what is necessary to complete the project.

On the economic front, some claim that this is some sort of debt trap for the country, but such apprehensions are misplaced and based on conjecture not fact. Of a total commitment of $50 billion, 70% or $35 billion would come to Pakistan in the form of foreign direct investment. Chinese companies follow the government’s established IPP policy, which applies to all domestic and foreign investors, under which they are entitled to a return on equity of 17% in US dollars. Infrastructure projects would be financed by long-term concessional loans with an average interest rate of 2% and grants, which is an international standard for development loans.

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So what does all of this criticism and subsequent apprehension justify for CPEC? A simple disinformation campaign from within for political gains for different political actors and from abroad for geopolitical gains. Unfortunately, most of this disinformation and misinformation campaign has been successful so far and there is an urgent need for China and Pakistan to come together to establish a platform for the truthful and supportive dissemination of information from all kinds related to CPEC.

The world is undergoing profound changes and the international scene is becoming increasingly complex, unstable and uncertain. Therefore, Pakistan and China should step up their efforts to establish strategic communication on sensitive issues to further enhance bilateral cooperation. Pakistan and China should stick together in these difficult times and advocate solidarity and cooperation. Both parties must uphold the vision of a community of public good for humanity and firmly oppose all attempts to politicize, label and stigmatize Chinese investments in Pakistan and the region. This slanderous misinformation only disrupts international cooperation and both countries need to find ways to effectively counter smear campaigns. There should be local community initiative in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan region, to avoid misinformation and win the hearts of ordinary people, as well as strict counter-terrorism operations against groups like BLA and BLF, which are foreign-funded terrorist groups. Strengthening cooperation between Pakistan and China between media, academia and think tanks as well as enhancing experience exchange in state government, such as fighting corruption, reducing poverty reduction, economic reform and social governance, will also increase the chances of successful mutual development between China and Pakistan. projects. There is a need for Pakistani political parties and forces to avoid practices of pointing fingers based on misinformation to score political points, which would ultimately harm the national interest. A strong local, national, mutual and regional effort to fight misinformation is necessary for the success of projects like CPEC and many other similar initiatives.