NEW DELHI: China may be one of the first countries to emerge from Covid-19, but the pandemic promises to fundamentally change Beijing’s biggest geopolitical and geo-economic project— the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). Two new reports point to an ongoing recalibration of BRI, and specifically its flagship project — China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Andrew Small of German Marshall Fund (GMF) in his study says: “Even before the pandemic, CPEC had stalled. Not only are the figures commonly cited for the total package of projects under this framework since its launch in 2015 — which run as high as $62 billion — no longer accurate, investments of that magnitude are not under consideration either.” He quotes a Chinese official describing the downsizing of the CPEC vision from “rocks to peanuts”.

Another detailed report by Manoj Kewalramani and Agastya Bhatia in Takshashila Institution says China has, in response to the pandemic and global geopolitics, begun to “readjust its priorities” on BRI.

Small is careful to point out that CPEC is unlikely to prove to be a debt trap for Islamabad even if it isn’t a game-changer for Pakistan. “The two sides have so far been more cautious on debt-financing than has been seen elsewhere on BRI,” he said.

Small tweeted: “Scored against the original objectives set by the Chinese and Pakistani governments, CPEC is a disappointment. It hasn’t been a ‘game-changer’, and it has been years since anyone on the Chinese side seriously talked about it in such transformative terms.” That doesn’t make CPEC a failure — it’s more modest, therefore more achievable, and more reflective of Pakistan’s economic situation than the earlier more ambitious one that may have been difficult to sustain.

Despite all the predictions about security threats, CPEC’s main challenges have been Pakistan’s problematic economi…

— Andrew Small (@ajwsmall) 1600942595000

CPEC made its biggest moves between 2015 and 2018, then stalled after Khan’s PTI government came in. This year, it has made a modest recovery, with China and Pakistan signing two hydropower projects at Kohala and Azad Pattan and one to upgrade the Karachi-Peshawar highway. Pakistan will also face delays in setting up its SEZs that are also linked to the presence of Chinese firms.