World economy faces uncertainties and pessimism in 2017 over a series of “black swan” moments like Brexit and Donald Trump’s election in 2016 on a protectionist agenda. Mr. Trump’s recent move of pulling USA out of the Paris Climate Deal adds to this uncertainty, which in-turn creates a vacuum of global leadership that presents ripe opportunities to allies and adversaries alike to reorder the world’s power structure. And the likely contender: Of course China. The Chinese are eager to fill this evolving void - that Washington is leaving behind – on everything from setting the rules of trade and environmental standards to financing the infrastructure projects that will give Beijing vast influence. Almost halfway through the year, unlike the rest of the world, China instead sees positive developments in the global economy and it firmly believes that as its dominance on the world stage grows the outcome from its push on trade & connectivity is expected to further strengthen the global markets despite the current challenges and opportunities they face.

China’s GDP achieved a 6.9 percent growth year-on-year based on comparable prices in the first quarter of this year, according to data issued by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics on April 17, 2017. From the perspective of the world economic pattern, this is an economic performance beyond extensive market expectations and its biggest effect will be to further consolidate China’s status as the world’s economic stabiliser and economic engine. For countries like Pakistan where China is already investing around $50 billion (a figure which is likely to increase over time) under CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) the implications - of this rising Chinese global dominance – are likely to be more profound and the much talked about overwhelming Chinese presence in the country could come about much quicker than anticipated. Trouble is that the Pakistani public may not be fully ready for it. Since the present Pakistan government has been rather vague about what the CPEC precisely entails – relying more on generic marketable terms like development, jobs, investment, friendship, etc. – the mistrust amongst Pakistanis on the eventual impact of this endeavour on their lives is growing. After all, China is not an NGO coming to Pakistan to distribute jobs and aid packages; nor is it a philanthropist bringing free help without demanding anything in exchange. The CPEC cause is further hurt from active propaganda by some skeptics and foreign foes citing that the entire CPEC initiative is designed specifically for the benefit of the Chinese – with any benefit to Pakistan being merely from a spillover effect. According to them and going by a recent news item published in DAWN on the real objectives of the CPEC plan, China intends to cane out an elongated economic enclave within Pakistan, run mostly by the Chinese for the Chinese. Pakistan benefits mostly by leasing out or in some cases literally surrendering its natural assets, thus taking them out of the hands of the Pakistani people and handing them over to the Chinese corporations. They argue that CPEC is an invasive economic project, which will greatly diminish Pakistan’s authority over its own land and resources, and allow China an almost unrestrained access to its ports and its other key assets. While it may bring significant infusion of capital into Pakistan, in the long run – if this unveiled master plan is implemented – the Chinese corporations may well be taking a lot more capital out of the country than what they effectively brought in!

On a more dangerous note, amidst lack of transparency on part of the government and a lot of noise from provinces other than Punjab, this all important investment bonanza for Pakistan may fast be becoming controversial. An absence of a professional and autonomous apex board for overlooking all CPEC activities is not helping things either. In addition, it is unfortunate, as it appears that both the Pakistani and Chinese marketers of this project are losing the plot of successfully creating a positive perception on CPEC. In a recent sitting with the Pakistani business people the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong callously stated that China has little interest in importing goods manufactured in Pakistan. Explaining the reasons to a gathering of leaders of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) in Islamabad, he opined that behind the China-Pakistan trade imbalance the main cause relates to the fact that Pakistan is either just not producing the goods that are needed in China or it simply does not have the capacity to do so. He admitted that under the current circumstances, unless there is a major policy shift in Pakistan or China, the Chinese corporations would acquire the major chunk of the resultant economic activity. The thinking confirms rising concerns that Pakistani businesses may have little to gain from the much-hyped China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) because it would largely benefit Chinese businesses.

Pakistan’s exports to China have been continuously falling from US $ 2.69 in 2013-14 to US $ 1.9 billion in 2015-16. There is a fear lurking in the shadows of CPEC that a time will soon come when the Chinese will start dictating terms and priorities rather than negotiating them. As an increasing number of Chinese enterprises acquire stakes in Pakistan’s economy, and as the government takes out more and more loans from Chinese state-owned banks for the balance of payments support, the space to negotiate and protect Pakistan interests diminishes.