The performance speaks for itself. The quiet pace of progress on CPEC projects in energy, infrastructure, Gwadar and upstream and downstream industrial sectors in Pakistan has silenced detractors and started creating ripples in society.
A structured mega socio-economic plan to counter the language barrier and skill development gaps in manpower in Pakistan is lacking, but some signs of adjustment to the evolving new reality of active Chinese involvement in the economy and society are visible.
Information collected from random private and public sources have brought to light some interesting facts.
There are roughly about eight to 10,000 Chinese nationals working in various capacities in multiple CPEC projects in the country. With the large influx of Chinese all over the country several hotels and motels have hired Chinese speaking hospitality officers to cater to potential clientele. Some have adjusted their menus to suit the taste of Chinese guests.
The hoteliers did not share data but did confirm that the ratio of room occupancy of Chinese guests has altered since 2013.`It would be safe to say on an average about 25-30pc rooms are now occupied by long staying Chinese guests`, a senior hotel manager of a five-star hotel in Karachi told Dawn.
According to a Pakistani diplomat who returned from a posting in Beijing recently, there is a thrust towards strengthening faculty and student exchange programmes between both public and private education institutions of the two countries, in anticipation of a much greater social interaction in the future.
`From what I heard even some private schools in Islamabad have introduced Chinese as a second language in their curriculum`, he said, adding that some 8,00010,000 Pakistani student are currently studying in Chinese universities. `All Pakistani graduates of Chinese universitiesare being hired by scores of Chinese companies opening offices here`, he said.
Dr Zahir Shah, Project Director/ Coordinator CPEC at the China Pakistan Economic Corridor Secretariat, ministry of planning, development and reform, accepted that efforts fell short of demand but said several working groups dealing with varied aspects of CPEC meet regularly to coordinate, push through required adjustments and iron out irritants.
Talking to Dawn on the phone from Islamabad he marked the enormity of the multi-faceted task of creating an enabling environment. `We are stunned by their work culture and their speed. Yes, Pakistani society has yet to absorb the meaning of being pan of the Chinese One Belt, One Road (OBOR) vision. We expect close to a million jobs will be created in the short run. The full extent of the long run impact is hard to comprehend at this point`, he said, talking hastily as he headed to a CPEC seminar in Gilgit.
He admitted that there were capacity related issues and confirmed that 50 Pakistani universities are initiating exchange programmes with Chinese institutions.
Officers in the Chinese embassy in Islamabad were accessible and all praise for the cooperation and assistance they received from Pakistan. They expressed satisfaction over the progress of multiple projects and were highly optimistic of the development trajectory ahead but declined to come on record. They mentioned websites where information that China wishes to share with the media is posted.
The website has an exhaustive photo gallery covering several hundred CPEC related events and project sites and a series of statements made by the leaders of the two countries. It also has an updated progress report on all eight logistic infrastructure projects, 22 energy projects, 10 Gwadar city and six industrial projects.
According to the monitoring report, roughly on an average 30pc overall work has been completed. In the energy sectorthe 50MW Dawood Wind Farm is near completion, while work on eight projects that include the 660MW Port Qasim Coalfired Power Plant, the 660MW Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant, the 330MW Engro Thar Coal-fired Power Plant and the Surface Mine in Block 11 of Thar Coal Field, the 900MW Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bhawalpur, the 100MW Jhimpir Wind Farm, the 50MW Sachal Wind Farm, the 720MW Karot Hydro power project and the Suki Kinari Hydropower project (60pc work complete) is in progress.
In the transport infrastructure 2 projects: the KKH Phase11 (the Havelian-Thakot Section 120km) and the Karachi-Lahore Motorway (Sukkur-Multan Section 392 km) have finished 60pc of the work, while 40pc work on the Joint feasibility study for the upgradation of the ML1 and the establishment of the Havelian Drypon has been completed. Nearly 15pc of the other projects have been completed.
In Gwadar Port City a primary school is now ready. Gwadar Eastbay Expressway 19km, connecting Gwadar to Mehran coastal highway and Gwadar New International Airport has progressed by 40pc, the Gwadar Free Zone is half way through at 50pc and the rest are at initial stages.
The Lahore Orange Line Metro train has reached 60pc completion, the Optic Fibre Cable from Rawalpindi to Khunjrab, 50pc, and the Gwadar-Nababshah LNG terminal and pipeline 40pc.
The leaders of the PM L-N government are thrilled by the pace of progress, focused on the political capital generated by the enormous Chinese investment under CPEC in Pakistan. The initially reluctant private sector is now actively pursuing the great game.
Pakistani society, however, it seemed has yet to absorb the full meaning of the drift towards the East and make adjustments to capitalise on economic opportunities thrown up by increasing stake of little understood friend, mighty China.