China on Monday reacted guardedly to Saudi Arabia’s plan to invest in Pakistan, saying it is a “positive factor” if any other party would like to contribute to promote the inter-connectivity and prosperity of the region on the basis of consultation.
After the recent visit of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to Saudi Arabia, it was announced that Riyadh will be the third “strategic partner” of the $50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The CPEC is the flagship project of the multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a pet project of President Xi Jinping aimed at enhancing China’s influence around the world through China-funded infrastructure projects.
However, Islamabad later clarified that the Saudi Arabian investments will not be under the CPEC, which will remain a bilateral project between China and Pakistan.
Asked about China’s reaction to Saudi Arabia’s investments in Pakistan, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a media briefing that “the CPEC is an important project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)”.
He said BRI projects followed wide consultations and shared benefits. “So such cooperation has always been open and transparent. If any other party would like to contribute positive factors to promote the inter-connectivity and prosperity of the region on the basis of consultation, I think this is a positive factor,” Lu said.
India has opposed the CPEC project and protested to China as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The invitation to Saudi Arabia to take part in the CPEC sparked concerns that it might upset Iran, a strategic rival of Riyadh.
An article in Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said Pakistan is risking China’s anger by courting Saudi Arabia. “Pakistan’s decision to invite Saudi Arabia to develop a massive refinery complex at Gwadar (port) certainly suggests that the CPEC is being manipulated to serve ends other than China’s,” the article said.
Balochistan province, where Gwadar is located, borders Iran. “Riyadh must be salivating at the prospect of setting up a strategic oil reserve 120km from Pakistan’s border with Iran. Tehran, on the other hand, would be foaming at the mouth at this brazen attempt to undermine its flailing economy,” the article said.
On Sunday, Khan said Pakistan is reviewing the projects under the CPEC to safeguard the interest of the people in Balochistan province.
Khan in the past had criticised former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for the lack of transparency and corruption in the CPEC projects. He said Balochistan had a number of reservations about the mega project. “Balochistan will get its due share, whatever it may be, in the CPEC,” he was quoted as saying by Dawn news.
China had announced after the visit of Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Pakistan in September that the CPEC projects will be extended to western areas of Pakistan, which included Balochistan.