A national identity card for Pakistani citizens issued to a Chinese man kicked up storm when it circulated on Pakistani social media. Many Pakistanis saw it as the beginning of a Chinese invasion. Many others considered it morally wrong when Pakistan, a Muslim country, had yet to issue identity cards to Muslim refugees from Afghanistan. Some termed it “the aftereffect of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPECBSE -4.45 %)”.
Construction of nearly $60-billion CPEC, which is part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, has left Pakistanis divided over its benefits. A string of energy and infrastructure projects, CPEC is presented by the Pakistani and Chinese governments as a lifeline to Pakistan’s weak economy. The investment promises to create jobs and vital infrastructure as well as boost local industry. The 3,000 km project connects Pakistan’s deep-water port Gwadar and China’s Xinjiang.
However, despite China being Pakistan’s all-weather friend, many Pakistanis look at it with suspicion. Many, including some top economists, regard CPEC as benefiting only China. Since Chinese companies import most of the inputs from China, not all Pakistani industries are benefiting from the project. Another worry is the repayment of huge and expensive loans.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal had to give a statement to quell anti-Chinese sentiment on social media. He revealed that both the parents of the man shown in the identity card had naturalised as Pakistani citizens decades ago, and his citizenship had no link to the CPEC which had recently started.
A large number of Chinese expats live in Pakistan due to China’s increasing role in building infrastructure in the country. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 82% of Pakistanis have a favourable view of China.
After the US moving away from Pakistan, it has started giving more emphasis to its ties with China. Pakistan now looks at China not only as its saviour against the foe India but also as an economic benefactor. It has also begun to forge cultural ties with China. A few months ago, an ad for biryani mix by Pakistani company Shaan Foods that showed a Chinese expat wife bonding with local women in Lahore over biryani has gone viral on the internet. It got 3.9 million views after it was posted on the Facebook page of Shan Foods on April 23.
#KhaanaWithParosi showed an expat Chinese man in Lahore telling his wife to mix with the neighbours. She said it was difficult as they didn’t even eat the same food. Then an idea flashed in her mind. She bought Shan Food’s biryani mix, cooked the iconic dish, knocked at the neighbour’s door and offered her biryani. The Punjabi women welcomed her and soon she was as thick with them as another family member.
However, China’s crackdown on its Muslim population in the restive Xinjiang region has made it difficult to win confidence of Pakistanis. Recently, China banned naming children ‘Mohammad’ in Xinjiang. It also ordered the Muslims to deposit copies of the Quran and other religious objects to the administration. The Chinese government had to hit at increasing anti-Muslim sentiment on Chinese social media by banning a few hate words used for Muslims.
China is already facing the wrath of locals in a few African countries where it had started infrastructure projects similar to CPEC.