Thus goes an ancient Chinese saying, "A long journey can be covered only by taking one step at a time." So has it been with China's opening-up process. Notwithstanding brewing antagonism and doubts, China is not only opening itself up, but also helping its neighbors open up.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project under the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative, was agreed between the two "iron brothers" in 2013. The $60 billion corridor is a network of roads, pipelines, power plants, industrial parks and a port on the Arabian Sea.
Five years since its launch, the project has generated 75,000 jobs for Pakistanis, and the figure is expected to multiply 10 times in the next 15 years, largely in infrastructure, energy and transportation sectors. More importantly, it is improving Pakistan's investment environment, according to experts.
"China has been working with Pakistan to invite third-party companies to join this project, which is in line with China's opening-up attitude," Long Xingchun, a visiting senior fellow at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, told the Global Times.
"For instance, China and Pakistan have made clear that they welcome countries like the US, the UK and Australia to invest in the Gwadar industrial zone," Long said.
For China, the CPEC is an important channel through which Beijing promotes its idea of connectivity and cooperation with the rest of the world and extends its footprint. For Pakistan, the CPEC helps improve its basic infrastructure and eventually boost its economy. Nonetheless, the CPEC has triggered a great deal of controversy since its beginning. Such oft-repeated criticisms say that China aims to achieve global domination without caring for Pakistan's development and that Beijing has inflicted a debt burden on Pakistan.
Farooq Yousaf, a Pakistani political analyst and now a PhD (politics) student in Australia, believes that the West and specifically the US, is (mis)using Pakistan to settle scores with China through the CPEC.
In early November, newly-elected Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan embarked on his first visit to China, widely seen as the leader's support for the implementation of the CPEC that had slowed down over the past few months owing to political transition in Pakistan.
Khan has criticized former prime minister Nawaz Sharif for lack of transparency and corruption in CPEC projects and said he would review them. Yousaf said that the twists and turns can be mainly attributed to the inexperience of the PTI government, which led to ignorance about the management of major projects such as the CPEC.
China has stepped ahead to address Pakistan's concerns. Beijing has offered Islamabad the option to start trading in yuan to rein in the country's rising trade deficit. Zoon Ahmed Khan, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Belt and Road Initiative, Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that China's willingness to welcome the change that Pakistan's PTI-led government is seeking shows China's broader Belt and Road mindset.
Despite some extremists' disapproval of the CPEC, Zamir Ahmed Awan, a Pakistani and non-resident fellow of Beijing-based think tank the Center for China and Globalization, told the Global Times that "CPEC is the decision of over 200 million people of Pakistan. CPEC is an essential element of Pakistan's national strategy. We are committed to CPEC and believe [that] CPEC is the only way forward for Pakistan."
"The CPEC has already generated dividends, with Pakistan's economy developing and people's lives improving. The West simply cast doubt on the project without providing any real assistance to Pakistan's economy. As China helps Pakistan with poverty alleviation and wiping out terrorism, it is also creating a condition favorable for the US anti-terror efforts there," Long told the Global Times.