The costliest project in the CPEC history, the ML-1

Across the world, because of the COVID-19 pandemic spread,major projects have been either slowed down or put on the back burners, as saving human lives have been the top priority for the governments. Even though, prior to the COVID-19, CPEC was already moving at a slower pace and when the pandemic arrived, all efforts were focused to control it. Due to its unprecedented nature, like every other country, Pakistan was not prepared either. Although China made great success in developing and implementing its strategy for controlling the COVID-19 at its birthplace/epic center, but its efforts were perceived by many countries, terribly slow and not enough in stopping the virus. While others were blaming China for the pandemic spread, Pakistan showed sympathy and its unconditional support to China and its citizens.As a result, during this period, China and Pakistan got more closer and stronger in their relations than ever before. To help Pakistan, China supplied more than $15 million worth of the PPE when Pakistan was in desperate need during the outbreak.The supplies includedmedical gowns, gloves, ventilators, face masks, medical supplies, etc.Additionally, China also provided extensive medical expertise and advice to Pakistani health officials and the policy makers for controlling the pandemic spread.
CPEC is the flagship project of the BRI for China that was the brainchild of the President Xi Jinping and was revealed to the world by him in 2013 in an address speech in Kazakhstan. CPEC success is of paramount importance for China to show the world that China is the most trusted partner that builds solid foundation for sustainable economic growth, poverty elimination by building schools for education, vocational training centers and technology hubs for creating higher paying jobs, building infrastructure, adding capacity for reducing energy shortages, creatingnew breed of entrepreneurs, and above all, without interfering in the domestic affairs of the host nations. Once it is completed over a long period of time, by some estimates it will cost $1-8 trillion.
With the passage of time and its steady progress, CPEC is becoming a shining star of the BRI project and amodel for China to show its success to the world, while for some countries and multilateral lending agencies,its success is becoming headaches and concerns.
For Pakistan, Gawadar project is the Crown Jewel of the CPEC . The project is going to transform an old sleepy-fishing coastal town into a modern Mega city! The Gwadar port will be the only deep seawater port in the region and will have all the latest technology for its operations, state of the art technology for loading/transloading and discharging of the containers, powered by the high speed internet (5G) infrastructure, nearby creation of the tax free zones for value addition, and its connection with the high speed-rail and through the brand new motorwayswill allow the port to have access to all major commercial and industrial centers of Pakistan and also its connectivity with the expanded networks to Afghanistan, Iran and Western China through the Xinjian region.
According to Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, H.E. Yao Jing, currently CPEC has employed more than 60,000 Pakistanis with the CPECrelated projects and about 13,000 Chinese engineers and experts are also working side by side with the Pakistanis on these projects.
Originally,CPEC was conceived as a developmental project with an initial investment of about 46 billion dollars. But by 2017 this investmenthas increased to 62 billion dollars and is projected to reach to 100 billion dollars markby 2030, as more and more projects will be added to the existing CPEClist. Initial premise and priority of the project work was to upgrade andincrease capacity of the existing infrastructure for the improved mobility, increasing power production, establishing of the special economic zones (SEZs) for the exports of the value added products,for job creations and economic development. Once completed, it will have 3000 kilometers (~2000 miles) of the infrastructure network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport energy materials (oil and gas) through the Gwadar port by connecting it with the northwest of China through the Xinjian region. This route will make energy transportation from Africa and the Middle Eastthousands of kilometers shorter and the transit time to cut into almost half!
The Coronavirus accelerated its spread in Pakistan from the beginning of March. Surprisingly, during even itspeak period the CPEC projects entire management, its staff, contractors, and the workers, all were still working, but under safer and protected environments. To keep the momentum going, in the month of May construction of the Gwadar International Airport was started. Once completed it will cost about $230 million. During the same period, a $2.5 billion hydroelectric power plant (Kohala hydropower plant) was taking its shape by signing Engineering/Construction agreement with China’s famous Three Gorges Corporation. Also, in May, Pakistan government sponsored Diamer-Bhasha Dam construction project (out of CPEC) worth $2.75 billion that was awarded to Power China and a Pakistani firm named the Frontiers Works Organization, associated with the Pakistani Military. Chinese banks are financing 70% of the project cost while the remaining 30% will be funded by Pakistan government.These milestones show the spirit, cooperation, dedication,trust and resilience of the two “Iron Brothers” who are committed to support each other whenever need arises, in good times as well as in bad times.
Just before the last weekend, during a meeting in an Island of Hainan Provincebetween Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi and Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Chinese media was quoting that the two ministers agreed to expedite the pace of the CPEC projects so both countries can benefit sooner. As a result, and commitment to the joint statement issued last Friday (August 21st), Pakistan has approved $6.8 billion for upgrading of its railway line, called mainline (ML-1). This is the costliest project in the BRI/CPEC history and is a part of BRI’s grand scheme of things for expanding its connectivity and reach to the other neighboring countries along the corridor of the modern Silk Road. Once completed, this will allow trains to run up to a speed of 165 kilometers (102.3 miles) per hour, which is twice the current speed and will increase its capacity to 150 trains each way per day from the current load of 34 trains. To have efficient project execution, it will be divided into three segments and each segment will be separately contracted out.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan, China is the largest foreign investor accounting for $27 million out of$114.2 million total foreign investments in the country as of last month. This also shows that even under difficult economic conditions at home, China is fully committed in keeping its investment promises while other nations are still inwardly focused for their own needs. This will be a backdrop topic of the agenda when President Xi Jinping visit Pakistan later part of the year.
According to the CPEC authority chairman, retired Lt. General Asim Saleem Bajwa, “CPEC is a transformational project, a game changer for Pakistan.” On the completion ofall the three phases of the project, Pakistan will be transformed into aprosperous and advanced nation where more wealth creation opportunities will be available for the entrepreneurs, local businessmen& industrialists and will become a very attractive destination for the foreign investors and nature lover tourists.

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