The newly constituted Pak-China Relations Steering Committee would supervise economic diplomacy with China in addition to sorting out operational issues hindering implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The supra body, which will meet next week for the second time, will also work to build the positive narrative of China-Pakistan relations, underscoring the government’s renewed focus on the multibillion dollar initiative that remained neglected for three years.

The steering committee that has initially been set up to drive CPEC will also work in areas that traditionally do not fall under the CPEC framework but are critical to cement Pak-China ties, said the officials.

The steering committee has agreed to supervise and steer Sino-Pak economic cooperation in domains of mutual interest. It will also work to support and supervise the Sino-Pak economic diplomacy, according to the terms of references agreed in the first meeting held on July 2.

The sources said that there was consensus among the committee members that the economic diplomacy goal with China can be achieved best through the Special Economic Zones (SEZs).

However, so far both the countries have not agreed to an Industrial Framework agreement to govern the industrial relations. Although the government claims new focus on SEZs, it has not yet been able to finalise a developer for the construction of the Dhabeji SEZ, which is among the prioritised zones.

The committee will resolve operational issues in CPEC and non-CPEC projects and will create inter-provincial synergy. The committee will promote positive narrative of the Sino-Pak relations, according to the decision.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has struggled to keep the CPEC momentum built through the five-year tenure of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government despite setting the CPEC Authority, headed by a retired Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa. There have remained serious coordination issues between various government agencies, which the government is now trying to resolve through the steering committee.

There is also a Cabinet Committee on CPEC, which is also headed by Planning Minister Asad Umar and would deal with CPEC policy matters.

During the first meeting, the representative from the Ministry of Defence stated that it was critical to identify and address issues that arose during CPEC’s implementation as soon as possible.

On July 2, Planning Minister Asad Umar, being the head of the committee, had turned down a proposal from the Ministry of Finance to expand the steering committee focus in the areas of social and culture, saying that the committee’s key focus would remain economic relations with China.

The sources said that many CPEC projects that had been initiated during the last government tenure were still lingering. At least five power sector projects, 884 megawatts Suki Kinari hydropower project, 720MW Karot hydropower project, 330MW Thar Block-II, 330MW ThalNova Thar block-II and 1320MW Thar block-I were falling behind scheduled commissioning dates and needed relaxations.

Similarly, there were also policy and operational issues in the way of operationalisation of the 660KV high voltage direct current Lahore-Matiari transmission line. The decision about the maximum availability of power from September this year and approval of revised tariffs were pending, said the sources.

The government also wanted to build Thakot-Raikot road project on government-to-government basis but it requires a formal decision, which remains pending. The Zhob-Quetta road project was also facing delays due to pending court cases, said the sources.

In its first meeting, the steering committee had decided to expand the membership of the committee on the recommendation of the national security adviser. The supra-body already has representation from the civilian, military, navy and the intelligence agencies.

The planning minister has approved a summary to bring Ministry of Information secretary, Board of Investment secretary and chief secretaries of the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir into its fold, said a senior ministry official.

The summary is expected to be forwarded to Prime Minister Imran Khan next week to seek his endorsement.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2021.

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