Beijing has fiercely rejected US critique of multi-billion-dollar CPEC initiative in Pakistan and indirectly lambasted Washington of going a negative campaign against China. The US has gone on the offensive against China’s CPEC project, a signature project of President Xi Jinping.

Alice Wells, President Trump’s aide on South Asia had earlier warned Pakistan that it faced long-term economic damage with little return if Beijing keeps pursuing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which would benefit only China.

CPEC publicised as a game-changer by both Pakistan and China, “is going to take a growing toll on the Pakistan economy, especially when the bulk of payments start to come due in the next four to six years,” Wells said at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

“Even if loan payments are deferred, they are going to continue to hang over Pakistan’s economic development potential, weakening PM Khan’s reform agenda,” she added.

However, China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing dismissed the accusations, saying that China-Pak relationship was mutually beneficial and based on “win-win cooperation” for both sides.

“If Pakistan is in need, China would never ask Pakistan to repay its loans in time,” he said while pointing out that the US-backed International Monetary Fund (IMF) was austere in its repayment system.

Alice Wells also said that “CPEC is not about aid,” as she claimed that Washington offered Pakistan a better model. Ambassador Yao, however, questioned why the US had halted its aid promised for Pakistan only because of political priorities.

Wells noted that CPEC was driven by non-concessionary loans, with Chinese companies sending their own labour and material. “CPEC relies primarily on Chinese workers and supplies, even amid rising unemployment in Pakistan,” she said.

The Chinese ambassador, however, rebuffed Wells’ allegation, saying that so far more than 75,000 Pakistani workers had been given jobs in the CPEC projects, while around 2.3 million jobs were expected to be created in these projects by 2030.

While acknowledging that Washington could not come to Pakistan but said that US investment, coupled with US grants, would improve the troubled economy’s fundamentals. “There is a different model,” she said. “Globally we see that US companies bring more than just capital; they bring values, processes and expertise that build the capacities of local economies.”

She pointed to interest in Pakistan by US companies including Uber, Exxon Mobil, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, with the soft-drink makers together investing $1.3 billion in the country.

Yao welcomed the US investment offer while rejecting that China’s obligations in Pakistan are limited to the development of Gwadar into a world-class port. “I would be more happy to see more investment coming from the United States in Pakistan,” he said while reiterating that China was determined to build capacities of Pakistani businessmen and industrialists to boost productivity which would ultimately help in increasing local exports.

Under CPEC, the envoy said China would provide industrial cooperation to Pakistan and for this purpose over two dozen leading Chinese and Pakistani manufacturers and industrialists were engaged to boost production and exports of Pakistan.

Yao was “shocked” with Wells’ statement of higher tariff in power plants, established under CPEC, saying that he himself had earlier briefed the US diplomat about the tariff structure of these plants and told that the tariff structure was the lowest among all the countries to whom Chinese companies provide electricity.

“When in 2013, the Chinese companies were establishing power plants in Pakistan, where was the United States? Why it did not invest in Pakistan’s power sector despite knowing that Pakistan was in dire need of electricity,” he questioned.

About the US allegation of corruption in CPEC projects, the Chinese envoy said it was easy to level allegations without any evidence. He said that he himself had discussed this matter with a number of concerned stakeholders, including the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), but did not find even a single evidence of corruption in any CPEC project.

“My dear American colleague, before alleging anyone, please be careful that you have enough evidence about your allegations,” he added.

The Chinese ambassador sought Pakistan media’s help in repealing the effects of negative propaganda against CPEC. “Media is a major vehicle of information and platform of interaction”, he said and added that “media from both Pakistan and China have already been playing a role in promoting state-to-state relations.”