BEIJING: China on Tuesday denied that its projects under the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are leaving Pakistan in a debt trap and announced plans to extend the projects to various parts of the country.
The CPEC, which connects Gwadar Port in Balochistan with China's Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
"It has been more than five years since we started the CPEC. We have made important positive gains," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in his joint press conference with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi after their first strategic dialogue here.
Wang said 22 early harvest projects have been quite successful and have significantly improved transport and infrastructure and power supply in Pakistan.
"It created tens and thousands of jobs in Pakistan. They are playing an increasingly important role in the social economic development of Pakistan enhancing people's well-being," he said.
Answering a question over the criticism of the CPEC projects amid reports that Pakistan government plans to slash certain projects over concerns of the debt burden, Wang said that Chinese projects have not resulted in enhancing Pakistan's debt.
"Among Pakistan's foreign debt, more than half of it comes from multilateral agencies. More than 80 per cent of them use direct investment from China or Chinese grants. None of these contribute to debt in Pakistan. Only 20 per cent CPEC projects uses Chinese loans. So instead of adding to debt burden to Pakistan, the CPEC projects have contributed to greater strength, the vitality of Pakistan's economy," Wang said.
He also said the CPEC projects have spread to all most all parts of Pakistan, refuting criticism by some of the provinces that projects are being garnered by the dominant Punjab province.
As for the concerns expressed in some media, the CPEC has already entered all parts of Pakistan rather than limited to specific areas, Wang said.
"According to our plan future development of the CPEC, there will be more projects in other parts in Pakistan including western part of Pakistan which will benefit Pakistan people," he said.
About third countries like Saudi Arabia joining the CPEC projects, he said: "as long as they are good for Pakistan we welcome such cooperation. This must be discussed by China and Pakistan. We believe that further expansion of third-party cooperation, the CPEC become stronger engine of growth and facilitator of regional integration," he said.
Wang said the CPEC is a "signature project of China-Pakistan cooperation in the new era. It is also an important pilot programme under the Belt and Road Initiative," he said.
India has protested to China over the CPEC as it traversed through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Qureshi said Prime Minister Imran Khan would attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum being organised by China in Beijing next month.
He also promised stepped security for the CPEC projects and Chinese personnel working in Pakistan.