Belt and Road blues in Pakistan, China’s ‘all-weather friend’

Foreign Affairs


SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Sheridan Prasso reports from Gwadar, Pakistan, for Bloomberg (porous paywall):

Plans originally called for a seaport, roads, railways, pipelines, dozens of factories and the largest airport in Pakistan. But, almost seven years after the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was established, there’s little evidence of that vision being realized. The site of the new airport, which was supposed to have been completed with Chinese funding more than three years ago, is a fenced-off area of scrub and dun-colored sand…

Less than one-third of announced CPEC projects have been completed, totaling about $19 billion, according to government statements. Pakistan bears much of the blame. It has repeatedly missed construction targets as it ran out of money; it got a $6 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund last year, the country’s 13th since the late 1980s. Two successive prime ministers have been jailed on corruption charges. And the Baloch Liberation Army’s desire for a separate homeland in Balochistan Province, where Gwadar is located, has made life there uneasy.

CPEC is the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative, often headlined as a “trillion-dollar plan,” but Prasso calculates that Beijing is falling short of that larger goal, too:

While the value of signed projects increased last year, data from China’s Ministry of Commerce show actual spending stalled at $75 billion in 2019 after falling 14% the previous year. Total spending from the beginning of 2014, shortly after President Xi announced the initiative, through November 2019 is $337 billion.