In a policy shift, US announces clear support for CPEC

Observers hint at broader thawing of Pak-US relations which had hit a low after Trump’s South Asia policy announcement, while highlighting all three back-to-back developments: freeing of hostage with Pak assistance; policy shift on CPEC, and Tillerson’s upcoming visit to Islamabad.

In yet another indication of its policy-shift towards Pakistan, the United States on Tuesday announced full backing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), weeks after shocking criticism of the corridor by Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Spokesperson of the US State Department acknowledged CPEC’s benefits to the people of Pakistan. “We believe that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – and particularly its focus on transportation infrastructure and energy development – has the potential to contribute to stability and prosperity in Pakistan and the region,” a spokesperson of the State Department said in a detailed email response to local daily The News.

The fresh stance by the State Department is contrary to the one taken by defense secretary earlier this month. In a statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee James Mattis had said that the One Belt One Road initiative goes through the disputed territory, an obvious reference to CPEC’s route through Pakistan’s northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan. Both China and Pakistan had swiftly rejected the criticism on the corridor.

The latest US stance is likely to improve Washington’s ties with Islamabad which are already on the mend following a successful rescue operation by Pakistan’s security forces to free an American-Candian family from Taliban captors.

“The United States welcomes all development programs that benefit the Pakistani people,” the State Department said. The spokesperson also tried to dispel the impression that the United States is unhappy with close cooperation between Pakistan and China, a rising superpower.

“We have a shared interest with China in a stable and prosperous Pakistan. China can play an important role in expanding and improving Pakistan’s infrastructure and promoting power generation projects,” said the email response to The News, a Pakistani local daily.

More broadly, the spokesperson said, we support open and inclusive initiatives that expand economic connectivity in South and Central Asia. “The United States has been a strong supporter of regional economic integration, which has great potential to benefit all countries of the region.”

“We welcome new forms of infrastructure investment as long as they adhere to the high standards of international financial institutions related to governance, which encourage host country institution building, and which include transparent, debt sustainability, environmental, and social safeguards,” the spokesperson concluded.

Following the successful rescue operation by Pakistani forces, US President Donald Trump had also praised Pakistan and hoped that this cooperation would continue in future joint counterterrorism operations as well. His statement came after release of the two hostages, freed after more than five years in captivity.

According to reports, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Pakistan this month to discuss joint efforts against terrorism and expanding economic ties between the two countries.

A State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told a briefing in Washington the visit is part of Secretary Tillerson’s first visit to Asia.

She said the Secretary of State will meet with senior Pakistani leaders to discuss continued bilateral cooperation, Pakistan’s critical role in the success of South Asia strategy of the US and the expanding economic ties between two countries.

She further said that the Secretary of State will meet the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and senior military officials to discuss joint efforts to fight terrorist groups.

Observers hint at broader thawing of Pak-US relations which had hit a low after Trump’s South Asia policy announcement, while highlighting all three back-to-back developments: freeing of hostage with Pak assistance; policy shift on CPEC, and Tillerson’s upcoming visit to Islamabad.

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