Pakistan official’s criticism of China’s ‘Silk Road’ projects raises worries

A Pakistani soldier stands guard beside a ship carrying containers during the opening of a trade project in Gwadar port, some 700 kms west of Karachi on November 13, 2016. (AFP file photo)
Updated 10 September 2018

Pakistan official’s criticism of China’s ‘Silk Road’ projects raises worries

  • Commerce Minister Abdul Razak Dawood suggested that all projects in the $57-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor program were eligible for suspension and review
  • He said that China may have been granted too-favorable terms in many projects by the former government of Nawaz Sharif

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani official's critical comments about projects funded by China to the tune of billions of dollars rattled investors and sparked worries on Monday of a souring in ties, a day after Beijing's top government diplomat concluded a visit.

Abdul Razak Dawood, the Pakistani cabinet member for commerce, industry and investment, suggested that all projects in the $57-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor program could be eligible for suspension in a review to be conducted this week under the orders of new Prime Minister Imran Khan.

"I think we should put everything on hold for a year, so we can get our act together," Dawood told the Financial Times in an interview. "Perhaps we can stretch CPEC out over another five years or so."

He added that he thought China had been granted too-favorable terms in many projects by the former government of Nawaz Sharif.

"Chinese companies received tax breaks, many breaks and have an undue advantage in Pakistan; this is one of the things we're looking at because it's not fair that Pakistan companies should be disadvantaged," Dawood said.

Pakistani markets fell in early trading on Monday, with the benchmark KSE 100 index down 477.38 just after midday at 40,374 points, before recovering to close at 40,684, still down 0.4 percent.

Dawood's comments were "mind-boggling" and rare public criticism of China, said Mohammad Zubair, privatization minister in the previous government.

"This is probably the harshest statement about the Chinese in the last 50 years or so," Zubair told Reuters. "Even if there are issues with the Chinese, those issues could be dealt with in private rather than being made public."

Later on Monday, Dawood told domestic broadcaster Geo TV that his statements had been misconstrued and he would clarify them later.

The critical comments were published just after the Chinese government's top diplomat, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, visited Pakistan and the two sides reaffirmed the mutual benefits of the Beijing-funded projects.

While Khan, a former cricket star, has made no secret he plans to review all government projects and expenditure, the finance ministry last month said Pakistan was "fully committed to undertake and complete CPEC projects in their totality."

Saudi private sector rebounds with growth at 10-month high

Updated 04 December 2020

Saudi private sector rebounds with growth at 10-month high

  • Steep rise in sales and growing business confidence spark jump in purchasing, hiring activity

RIYADH: Business activity in Saudi Arabia has risen to its highest level since January this year, showing the Kingdom’s economy is beginning to overcome the worst effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to IHS Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) Survey, the acceleration of output growth in the Saudi economy in November was driven by a steep rise in sales and strengthening business confidence.

The survey found that input purchasing rose, while employment growth also returned for the first time since January. Input cost inflation also quickened, leading to a stronger increase in average output charges.

The index has now registered above the 50.0 no-change mark for three months in a row, highlighting a sustained recovery after the economic downturn due to the pandemic.

The Saudi PMI rose to 54.7 in November from 51 the previous month — the strongest improvement since January. The indices vary between 0 and 100, with a reading above 50 indicating an overall increase compared with the previous month, and below 50 an overall decrease.

Both domestic and foreign sales rose last month, marking only the second upturn in new export orders since February.

Business confidence for the year ahead also improved notably during the month. In particular, firms were encouraged by the Saudi government’s easing of lockdown curbs and news of a breakthrough in the development of a vaccine.

Accelerated rises in output and new orders led Saudi firms to sharply expand purchasing activity during November. In addition, hiring activity turned positive and a number of companies linked increased employment to rising demand.

Commenting on the latest survey, David Owen, an economist at IHS Markit, said: “A third successive rise in the Saudi Arabia PMI pointed to an economy getting back on its feet in November. Supported by output and new business growth reaching 10-month highs, the data suggests a strong end to the year for the non-oil private sector. Notably, employment started to rise, while business confidence strengthened in the wake of encouraging vaccine news and sharper demand growth.”

Saudi economist and financial analyst Talat Zaki Hafiz told Arab News: “The improvement is due to many factors, such as the reopening of the market with the ease in lockdown and, finally, the lifting of the curfew. The return to normality has had a significant impact on private sector performance.”

Hafiz added: “Things will get much better by the next year. We have also noticed an improvement in oil prices recently and this will improve things significantly.”