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FI gen-xer about to RE in 18 months | first post

Greetings to my fellow FIRE enthusiasts, and welcome to my wall of text.
I am a long-time (11 years) redditor and have been very lightly engaged in this subreddit for much of that time. I’ve created this alternate account specifically for personal Accountability, as well as a way to Interact with the reddit FIRE community. Here’s what I mean by that:
  • One key enabler of my ability to RE is a very early start to index fund investing, and a set-it-and-forget-it approach.
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, I haven’t been very active in actually planning to FIRE, and I’ve developed certain lazy behaviors in the intervening years. I could have been more aggressive with my current career. I should have been more thoughtful about real estate decisions. I could have done a better job communicating my specific FIRE goals to my wife (she’s now on board). Etc.
  • So, I’m looking to drive more Accountability for myself in actually taking concrete steps to RE. And, there are some specific milestones that I’m setting for myself.
  • Obviously, an anonymous account doesn’t drive Accountability terribly well, being anonymous and all. But I’m giving a go nonetheless. As many in this community know, communicating FIRE goals with your friends and family as a means to Accountability is fraught AF. I don’t care to blog. So I’m putting it all on you.
  • I personally find the Personal Journey content in this community to be the most engaging, though the technical and financial discussions are helpful as well.
  • I suspect that most of my contributions will be of the “how it’s going/what it’s like/what I’ve learned” sort, versus robust financial advice. But I’ll share what advice I can. Think of the updates you see from u/FIRE_and_forget_it and u/jasonlong1212 … that is what I envision.
  • This also obviously runs the risk of being solipsistic and indulgent. So I apologize in advance and graciously accept your downvote.
With that Purpose out of the way, here’s some deets around yours truly:
Quick Demographic info
  • I am a Gen-X American white male. Married with no children. All of our close relatives are self-sufficient. We are generally healthy (though with pre-existing conditions) and very in-shape for our age. We have a social network in the Goldilocks zone. Our community reflects our values.
  • Right away, you can see the privilege. More on that below.
  • I currently live in a large city in the Northern half of the US. I have lived in several different cities in my life, but spent the vast majority of my career in a single region of the US.
My Educational Background and Career (the over-long section … tl;dr at the end)
  • Public Schools. The most consequential test I ever took was in 5th grade. I grew up in a public school system with several tracks of study at the Middle and High school level, the most advanced of which was called Gifted & Talented. The test I took alongside all of my peers in 5th grade happened to put me in the G&T track starting my first year of Middle school. I didn’t even know what the test was for at the time. It was easy sailing from there on out, literally through college, kicking off a virtuous cycle of achievement and positive reinforcement. This is surely an indictment of the US public school system.
  • State University. I moved around a bit as a kid, which did not advantage me in terms of developing a record of extra-curricular achievement, reputation and rapport within any given school. Consequently, many of my friends I grew up with “back home” ended up going to some really prestigious schools (the Ivies and the ilk), whereas I went to a large public University system in-state with a fair amount of scholarship support. This was a huge blessing in retrospect. It was an incredible bargain, and I graduated with zero debt.
  • First Job. A year after graduation, and after a … light academic adventure, let’s say … I started applying for jobs. I had probably applied to 10 or so companies when I was asked to come in to interview at a local software company. The interview process was very rigorous, and I think describing it in detail may give away too much. Not FAANG though, (in fact, there was no FNG at the time, and barely a second A), and nowhere near FAANG-level compensation, at least initially. I was offered a job over the phone one Friday afternoon, and started work the following Monday AM. My starting salary was $31K. The job search lasted probably two months. I realize this sounds crazy nowadays.
  • Career Path. My career trajectory from that point has been: software > MBA > consulting > corporate gig. That “gig” term is carrying a lot of weight. On paper, each of these moves looks like a step-up in salary, but in reality each represents an unintentional down-shifting of earning growth. I can elaborate on that if there’s interest. I’ve been working full time non-stop (except for the full-time MBA) for over 20 years now. I can elaborate on the value of a full time MBA if there’s interest.
  • Lucking Out. As I look back on this education and career trajectory, I feel like I was getting through some really critical gates just before they got tougher to pass through. That G&T exam in 5th grade was barely a blip on anyone’s radar (I think), but now I suspect parents view it as a make-or-break moment for their child (if it exists anymore). AP courses were just becoming prevalent after I left high school, so that wasn’t a big stressor for me. My University was still easy-ish to get into (a two-page application without an essay, if I recall correctly). College tuition really didn’t explode until after I was out. The software company I joined was very particular in who we hired, but didn’t really didn’t draw large numbers of applicants until after I joined. I was oblivious to any career guidance and interviewing/application support at my university. It probably existed, but I view that as a reflection on how unserious we were about competing for jobs in the 90’s. Maybe it’s a Gen-X thing.
  • Modest Spending the past 20 years. All along the way, my appetite for material things, and consequently large expenses, has remained relatively modest. There are vices here and there (eating out at nice restaurants, international travel, organic groceries, craft beer), but on balance, I have deliberately not cared much at all about the Joneses. Maybe it’s a Gen-X thing. Obviously, not having kids is probably the single-biggest variable here. So, I’ve been able to sock away a fair bit, and invested it primarily in broad-based mutual funds. My grandpa opened an S&P500 index fund for me with probably about $500 when I was very young and barely able to understand the concept (maybe when I was 13). At age 23, without really thinking, I just started adding to that. Again, privileged. I would estimate my lifetime savings rate at over 50%, but I haven’t seriously calculated it.
I tell you all of this to emphasize that I didn’t blaze my own way to FI, not really. But there are still lessons to be had (more below).
TL;DR: heads-down student, unstrategic and overall lucky career trajectory, modest spending levels, DINK, all generating what you might call “passive-aggressive” saving.
The Numbers
  • Our net worth is currently $2.4M, setting aside the value in RSUs that I would forfeit if I RE’d right now.
  • The vast majority of this is in index funds, split between Taxable and Retirement accounts. I have about an equal split between Taxable and Retirement, though not due to any deliberate strategy, and is something I probably haven’t given enough thought to. I have about $100K in home equity and a bit in cash that makes up the balance of the net worth.
  • My relatively small proportion of net worth in home equity reflects my own belief that I would be better off investing in the broader equities market versus local real estate market (i.e., my home). I may or may not have been correct in that belief, I truly don’t know.
  • Very little of this originated as equity compensation until recently, even from my software days (which is a sad tale for another time).
  • Our 10-year trend in non-healthcare spending is about $65K/year. A fair chunk of this year-in and year-out is Home Improvement, which is shocking and sad to me.
  • Based on certain assumptions around income next year, tax rates in retirement, stock market valuations, RSU vesting, and healthcare premiums and other costs, if I were to RE at the beginning of 2022 (a year and a half from now), our WR would be 3.2%. This WR is about what we’re comfortable with. For context, a WR of 3.5% would allow for $75K in non-health spending, which we’ve never exceeded in the past 10 years.
How I Got Here/Advice if you’re interested
(Thanks to u/CripzyChiken for ideas to make this post more helpful than it was about to be.)
Moving beyond my own biography, here are some things that I think enabled our ability to FIRE:
  • Appreciate the power of compounding interest. As a former student of economics, I refuse to call it “magic.” But saving early has non-intuitive benefits. Debating between saving $15/month vs spending it on HBO? You won’t remember what you watched on HBO ten years from now, but you’ll certainly enjoy knowing that extra $3K gets you much closer to retirement.
  • Think in terms of Opportunity Cost, constantly. This is a concept I think most of us know, but which seems so overlooked when I see my friends’ and family’s spending behaviors. The incremental expense you take on now isn’t just a trade-off at the moment of purchase, it’s something that has long-term consequences of what that cash could have provided you. Similar to the HBO example, I like MMM’s swimming pool example even more. This has the unfortunate consequence of being debilitating (is anything truly worth it?), but is a good baseline attitude to have.
  • Understand your values with respect to material things. As a household, we spend $65K/year. That’s not nothing. But we definitely under-index in spending relative to our peer group here. And we’re more than OK with that. In fact, we are looking to downsize and economize with our next home. Life is to be lived, sure, but it doesn’t hurt to think about what things deliver happiness to you versus what social pressure would have you spend. I currently drive a Honda Civic that I bought in 2011. My previous car was a Honda Civic that I drove for 14 years.
  • The ROI on a graduate degree may be iffy. I can elaborate in future posts, but my decision to get an MBA likely had a profoundly negative ROI. A graduate degree is by no means a ticket to a better financial outcome, and the opportunity cost you pay in taking time off of work should be measured not only in terms of the year or two you take off work, but also all of the foregone goodwill you would have otherwise created in your field. Happy to elaborate if there’s interest.
  • Deliberate career decisions with those you trust, ideally with more experience than you. A story for another time, but my leaving the software company when I did was arguably the most consequential financial decision I ever made (and not in a good way). If I were to do it over, I would have consulted my dad and others 20+ years my elder for their view. (Correct, I did not run the idea past my dad - I have an independent streak.) I’m sure I would have been advised to wait it out a year or two. And, in my case, if I had followed that advice, I would definitely be retired by now, no question.
  • Understand that you have tax and healthcare burdens when you think about a SWR. Too often I see people in this subreddit compare annual expenses to net worth, and believe that they’re golden when that ratio dips below 4%. You need to account for capital gains taxes (potentially at the state level too), as well as healthcare insurance premiums that you’d incrementally incur when estimating future expenses. In my case, I will need to draw down my investments by $95K/year to fund my non-healthcare spending of $65K/year, though I do live in a high tax State.
  • The biggest contributor to my ability to FIRE is the profound privilege I experience as a white American male. It’s probably obvious from the above, but I have encountered very few material hurdles in my life.
  • One one hand, I haven’t actually received an obscene amount of financial support from others after graduating high school. My parents helped to pay for some living expenses early on in college, through perhaps my Sophomore year, but tuition and later expenses were covered by my scholarships and through my part-time jobs. I stayed at their home for the two months-long job search, but moved out shortly after that. I covered the down payment on my first house (I think many Americans get support from their parents on this, though it doesn’t seem to be discussed much in polite company).
  • On the other hand, I am by no means self-made. In fact, I feel the opposite. The non-financial investments my parents made in me were significant. And, I’ve been on the receiving end of this country’s firehose of white privilege since birth. Since before birth, if you think about it. In a sense I have a different kind of debt that I believe I need to pay. More on that in post-FIRE posts, I hope.
Why FIRE sooner versus later
  • I do not draw meaning from my work. I undoubtedly have an impact on the company, create shareholder value, etc. But my company’s mission is not something that fulfills me at a personal level.
  • I am a tired imposter. While I fully acknowledge how easy I’ve had it in the grand scheme of things, I have been working pretty damn hard for 20+ years. Early on, in software and consulting, the hours and effort and travel were insane. Insane! Nowadays, thankfully, it’s just a low-level burning grind, but it’s still taxing. I do somehow feel a cumulative mental wear-and-tear from work over the past 20+ years. I don't handle stress as well as I used to. I should be supremely in-control of the work and team by now, but I don’t feel I am. And I feel like an imposter oftentimes: my Millennial and Gen-Z colleagues (how’d THAT happen so fast?) are twice as bright and three times as productive as I ever remember being. Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe it’s a Gen-X thing.
  • I owe. Even though this is an anonymous account, I realize this will sound self-aggrandizing -- but this fucked-up year has really opened my mind to my privilege and I need to do something more. It’s time for me to get off the pot and create a domino of openings for others at the company who have had to work a lot harder than me to get where they are. This is a concrete and specific thing, and my company would almost certainly take it as an opportunity to increase diverse representation (my company is serious AF about this issue now). So, I intend to quit within two years, ideally at the beginning of 2022, depending on certain constraints.
The above are the immediate drivers, and may seem to violate the “create the life you want and then save for it” credo of FIRE, but to me it does not. I have a very happy life outside of work, which I intend to maximize post-FIRE. My retirement will be overfilled with a backlog of interests groaning to expand. The above are just pushing me to an earlier vs later RE date.
Next Steps for Me
Why am I setting my RE date at the beginning of 2022 instead of right now? There are a few constraints I need to work through:
  • Constraint 1: Healthcare coverage. While we are generally healthy, we have pre-existing conditions that I worry will impact our ability to secure coverage upon RE. The ACA is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court on severability grounds, and I believe it will be heard in October 2020. A decision will likely come by June 2021, so that is an important milestone for me.
  • Constraint 2: COVID and Mortgages. We would really like to move out of our current home to a smaller home in a different location in the metro area for the first many years of FIRE. I know that asset-based mortgages are a thing. But I would much prefer getting into a traditional mortgage, and then RE after that. We are choosing to wait until after the pandemic is resolved (however that happens) before we get out into the market, and show our home for sale. So, I don’t expect to put our current house on the market until late 2021 at the earliest.
  • Constraint 3: RSUs. Some of my RSUs vest in early 2022, so would be worth waiting out even if RE were possible earlier than the above two constraints seem to allow. This is of course the goal of RSUs.
Immediate next steps I’m taking:
  • Constraint 2: Make a plan around moving to a new home. This still involves a build-buy decision we need to make. I have a lot of research to do.
  • Also: Build a relationship with community organizations in the coming months, so I have a plan for post-FIRE engagement in my community. I have plenty of interests that will divide my time, but none of them really contribute to the community meaningfully.
  • Also: Stay employed until then. No small thing -- I know how close I am to RE, and my energy and motivation to exceed expectations at work is flagging. Stated differently: the senioritis is real. Granted, I will be fine if I were laid off tomorrow, and perhaps needn’t work full time again. But I’d much prefer to keep to my plan.
This post may not be particularly intriguing now, and may not generate much interaction. But consider this the first entry that I’m hoping you all can come back to as I journal my FIRE journey in the coming years.
In the meantime, what would you like to see in updates going forward? I will share what I can.
Finally, to the Millennial and Gen-Z redditors who aspire to FIRE: I am sorry for the fucked up world you are in. You will face many more challenges to save for retirement than I (and especially the Boomers) ever have, and you do not deserve that. I am in awe of your resilience (I see it all the time at work), and I am trying to do my part to make it better. Keep at it!
TL;DR: American guy wants you to read about his FIRE journey in the coming years as a means to his achieving personal accountability. This is a “kick-off post” of little immediate interest, and likely worthy of your downvote, but may be something to read again later on in the journey to see how well he stuck to his goal. He also wants to know what you want to hear from him about.
Edit: I appreciate all of the early responses, I can feel the accountability growing -- yikes! A quick note as a number of you have told me not to apologize for being white. I think I understand where you are coming from, but I didn't intend this to seem like an apology per se. I mean only to emphasize the reality in my own life that so much opportunity has come from this. I understand the point some of you make that there are examples of privileged individuals from all races. I would offer this way to think about it: Let's take the one example of the critical G&T test I took in 5th grade. I was able to take that test because my parents moved into a plum public school district, which they were able to do because they were able to get a nice(ish) home, which they were able to do through rolling over the home equity from another city, where they were unencumbered by redlining because our family was white. Now, multiply that by everyone I went to school with in that district (not every family had the same path, sure, but the systemic privilege exists). It wasn't just me in that boat at school, and I can count on one hand how many Black friends I had at that school. At any rate, I will likely not change any minds here, and while this is a deeply held belief of mine, I will probably delve little to not-at-all into this in future posts.
Edit: I have updated the post to fix a violation of a posting rule.
Edit: Just to set expectations on the Interaction note, I will probably not post again on this topic until Spring 2021. I've been advised that every 6 months to 1 year is about the sweet spot for update frequency. Thanks for the engagement on this post.
submitted by FIRE_in_the_North to financialindependence

Debunking the Debt-Trap Propaganda (Part 1)

First I would like to give credit to
"Indus ka Nalka (tarikhdan)" who introduced me to this piece of information.
Now lemme copy paste the stuff here with better formating ;))


  • Zahid Khan
  • Guo Changgang
  • Muhammad Afzaal
  • Riaz Ahmad
  • Samuel Aron Issack
To cite this article: Zahid Khan , Guo Changgang , Muhammad Afzaal , Riaz Ahmad & Samuel
Aron Issack (2020): Debunking Criticism on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, The Chinese
Economy, DOI: 10.1080/10971475.2020.1792065
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10971475.2020.1792065
Published online: 24 Jul 2020.
1.) Institute of Global Studies, College of Liberal Arts, Shanghai University, Shanghai, China;
2.) World History Department, Center for Global Studies, Center for Turkish Studies and Dean of Graduate School at Shanghai University, Shanghai, China;
3.) School of Foreign Languages, Shanghai Jia Tong University, Shanghai, PR China;
4.) School of Public Policy and Administration, Xi’ian Jiaotong University, Xi’ian, China.


The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a pilot flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Although this project has been received in a relatively positive manner by actors regionally and worldwide, it has also been subject to serious criticisms in domestic and international publications. These criticisms include the claims that Pakistan might become a colony or province of China, and that Pakistan is faced with a debt-trap as a result of Chinese loans. This article outlines these claims and proceeds to show that neither stands up to close scrutiny. Moreover, the article approach is alienated into two parts; first, looks at how the distinctive criticism propagated by critics whilst secondly, a critical approach is used to debunk all these criticism with the help of respondents’ reactions. Consequently, it may provide few policy recommendations.
Keywords: China-Pakistan Economic Corridor; Belt and Road Initiative; criticism; colonization; debt-trap.


With the inception of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, an atmosphere of criticism and misinformation has been propagated by several local and international publications which ultimately goals to make CPEC more controversial and representing a negative image of China around the world. Before debunking the imprecise copious criticism, it is a pre-requisite to understand the rationale of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project that why Pakistan crave for it and agreed with China to lay its foundation? In-fact, this project is blessing for Pakistan’s economic growth. China truly abetted Pakistan to draw world attention toward new Pakistan with a vision of economic development, political stability, and regional peace. Woefully, everyone thought that Pakistan is a safe zone for terrorist networks due to the international political agendas. However, president of China Xi Jinping’s signature on an agreement with Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif in April 2015 laid a foundation of mega project of CPEC. As a result of this, the world began to view Pakistan as a safe haven for billions of dollars of Chinese investment. It was quoted from the wall street journal that “CPEC–Draws world attention to Pakistan” and all of sudden Pakistan got a new identity (Iqbal, 2018).
Structurally, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a pilot flagship project of BRI plan supplemented with an initial worth of $46 billion which was exceeded to $62 billion later on. This project is based on the core formula of “1þ4” comprising the CPEC project and four portfolios include: Infrastructure investment, Energy, Industrial Cooperation and Gwadar Port (Askari,2015).
Certainly, the portfolios of project provide a pave-line to the country’s better infrastructure, transportation system, energy needs and growing dwindle economy of Pakistan (Butt, 2017). Prior to CPEC project, the country has had worn-out more strategically and politically by other major powers and pushed into the war zones because of their strategic ally. They often supported weak governance system of Pakistan, the corrupt political elites and helped them financially without a proper accountability. In the last seventy years history of Pakistan, no major power offered truly Pakistan as an economic allay, nevertheless, pushing Pakistan into the cage of IMF loans with conditional high interest rates which ultimately leading to the debt-trap policies.
Likewise,Pakistan suffered a lot and lost more than 30,000 lives in the so-called war on terror, and eventually left isolated regionally and worldwide. Before the inception of CPEC project, the foreign investors were not ready to invest in Pakistan because of inexorable security situations. Meanwhile, the foundation of CPEC project appeared as a blessing for Pakistan’s economic growth which marked a new identity to Pakistan with a vision of economic development, political stability, and regional peace (Iqbal, 2017a).
Initially, CPEC project is highly propped-up by Pakistan and considered as a game-changer for Pakistan’s socio-economic development. Nevertheless, it is officially opposed by India due to its conventional adversary with Pakistan, and also frequent strategic skepticism raised by United State (Khan et al., 2018). In doing so, the global and regional competitors of China are endeavoring to make CPEC project more controversial through criticism and propagation of cherry-picked information’s with the help of “redundant sources.” The central idea of the question is more critical and complex, which is alienated further into two key parts; foremost one is that numerous scholars and analysts are arguing that CPEC project will lead Pakistan to the China’s colony, and also compared it with the former British East India (BEIC) Company of subcontinent. The second part addresses the argument of debt-trap that the loans of CPEC project are high interest based, and unable to re-pay for Pakistan in current economic situations. Hence, the diverse parts of key question are measured with the help of critical approach which is not focused on take-out the project but rather prefer to improve it through raising awareness, critical reflection and self-analysis (Robbins & Barnwell, 2016).

CPEC may leads Pakistan to the China’s colony?

This section of the paper mainly focuses on the pivotal argument that CPEC may lead Pakistan to China’s colony, which is identical to the on-going criticism regarding china’s colonization plan for Pakistan through CPEC particularly, and BRI in general. In-fact, the foundation of CPEC is unlocked the door for pointless assumptions and pessimistic narrative for China competitors regionally and world-wide and stabbed to create a fear and misunderstanding among the BRI members states. One of the biggest myth propagated on CPEC is that Pakistan might become a colony or province of China. Historians and experts are well aware that colonialism and imperialism are legacies of countries of the global north. The prolonged history of China is free from invasion to other territories, and never harbored imperial structure (Iqbal, 2017d).
Rationally, the skeptics point-out trade deficit with China as a reason to show concern on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. For instance, Mourdoukoutas (2018) claimed in forbs that “One day, China will turn Pakistan into its own ‘Semi-colony’, as it did recently with Sri-Lanka.”
He argued on the basis of current account deficit, government debt, and external debt. According to him, the current account deficit recorded $3867 million for Pakistan in the 4th quarter of 2017. The state current account averaged $-587.18 million from 1976 to 2017—the highest value of $1418 million recorded in the 3rd quarter and lowest value of $-4419 million in the 2nd quarter of 2017.
Likewise, the state’s total government debt equivalent to 67.20 percent of the state GDP in 2017. Pakistan’s external debt raised to $88891 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 from $85052 million in the 3rd quarter of 2017. In the meantime, Pakistan’s foreign capital flows and foreign 2 Z. KHAN ET AL. currency reserves are dwindling, making it increase likely that Pakistan will ask to re-schedule its debt to China. May be, this debt would be transfer to equity, which in essence will handle CPEC to China. While taking CPEC into consideration, China has already invested about 20 percent of Pakistan’s total economy ($270 billion). However, by 2030 Pakistan would have to pay back $90 billion and this would be an additional burden (Sood, 2017).
In addition, Mourdoukoutas compared CPEC project with Sri-Lankan Hambantota port where’s China rescheduled the Sri-Lankan debt, transferred the port officially into China’s port for 99 years lease. This lease agreement gives leverage to the Chinese officials and merchants and accounted for 70 percent stake in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) prominent station. The port development initiated with loans from China, nevertheless, Sri-Lanka could not pay-back and ultimately, China converted these loans into equity, in essence turning Sri-Lanka into a “semi-colony” dramatically (Mourdoukoutas, 2018).
Likewise, Zumburn (2018) reported in Wall Street Journal that China gives huge loans to the developing countries and invest in BRI member states. However, some recipients are not in position to pay-back them. He also quoted the same instance of Sri-Lankan seaport and dubbed that China’s security ports are potentially strategic maritime trade routes. He also compared these types of loans with “Debt-trap Diplomacy” and corollaries that China could do it again.
Indeed, Pak-China relationship is “all-weather friendship” but why relying too heavily on China, and placing of its much state economy in the hands of Chinese investors which resented by those who fear that the country will become a de-facto colony of China. Regarding trade- deficit issue, the respondent reaction is more substantial, as statement of Ahsan Iqbal (former federal minister) released by Pakistan Embassy Norway that China’s competitiveness in exports is universal and not distinct to Pakistan.
Whereas, in depth analysis reveals the current trade deficit of China with Pakistan and other competitor states such as US and India provides an insight to debunk the false insight of colonialism. Pakistan’s current trade deficit with China is $6.2 billion. In comparison, The trade deficit of US with China marked a new record of $375.2 billion in 2017, raised from $347 billion in 2016, an increase of $28.2 billion which is equal to 8.1 percent, and India trade deficit stands at $47 billion (Iqbal, 2017b).
However, the phenomenon makes an argument that if trade deficit becomes the cause of colonization; It gives birth to an argument that the US and India are tended to becoming colonies of China which can never be assumed.
Likewise, it is bizarre to make such claims about the Pak-China relationship. Both countries respect the sovereignty of each other, and CPEC is based on the shared vision of both countries: BRI and vision 2025 (Iqbal, 2017b).
Prior to the CPEC, Pakistan trade deficit with China was high if compares with the current trade deficit. Xia (2019) reported the statistics of State of Bank (SBP) that Pakistan’s trade deficit with China decreased to $5.48 billion (11-percent) during the last eight months from July 2018 to February 2019 as compared to trade deficit of $6.22 billion in the same period of preceding year.
Correspondingly, the SBP data noted two key reasons for decreasing trade deficit of Pakistan with China, including an increase in Pakistani exports to China and a rapid drop in its imports from China. Where’s Pakistan exports to China increased by 3.8 percent to $1.15 billion as compare to the exports of $1.106 billion recorded from July 2017 to February 2018.
Likewise, Pakistan’s imports from China also decreased by 9.43 percent to $6.63 billion from $7.32 billion in the same period. On annual basis, Pakistan’s imports from China dropped to $686.1 million in February 2019 against the imports worth of $786.6 million recorded during early months of the same period. The country’s export was increased when Pakistani’s premier Imran Khan shown his desire to increase the country’s overall annual exports to $27 billion from existing $23.4 billion. Kundi (2019) highlighted that Pakistan didn’t exploit well the Free Trade Agreement (FTA)-1 signed between China and Pakistan in 2006.
However, the China-Pakistan Free trade Agreement (CPFTA) Phase-2 was resulted after the eleventh round of debate in April 2019, and was signed between the leadership of both countries. Pakistan also secured tariff relaxation and duty free market access for 313 tariff lines.


Likewise, the critics of China’s overseas investments highlighted the case of the Sri- Lankan port of Hambantota—the previous Sri-Lankan president agreed to swap equity in the loss-making venture to China in exchange for debt forgiveness (Rafiq, 2017; Zumburn, 2018).
The Sri-Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaka’s lend billions of dollars in loan from China government for infrastructure projects in his own constituency (Shah, 2016). The total national debt of Sri-Lanka is approximately $64.9 billion, of which $8 billion owed to China. Initially, he borrowed $301 million money from China with high interest rate of 6.3 percent, while the interest rate on soft loans from Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank are available in the range of 0.25 to 3 percent. The previous government was more corrupt and due to weak governance system and dwindle economy, they didn’t pay back the due loans on time which ultimately transferred to the equity (Economic Times, 2017).
In response, the Barry Sautman, a professor in the Division of Social Science at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology stated that false myth propagated by international media that Sri Lanka’s government was forced to sign a “lease contract” of Hambantota port for 99 years just after the failing to repay Chinese loans that were racking up 6.3 percent interest “are untrue”.
He added more in his recent article published on the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that China hold an estimated 9 to 15 percent of Sri- Lanka external debt which is based on his team field research in Sri-Lanka. While remaining all high-interest loans from commercial banks, which are mainly Western based. International sovereign bonds hold about half of its external debt, with "Americans holding two-thirds of their value and Asians only about 8 percent."
Likewise, Sri-Lanka must pay interest rate averaging 6.3 percent on international loans within 7 years. On the contrary, more than 2–3rd of the value of Chinese financing to Sri-Lanka from 2001 to 2007, including 2–3rd to Hambantota port, bear only 2 percent of interest, and mostly repayable more than 20 years, he argued. "Ironically then, if Sri Lanka is debt distressed, it owes more to American and other Western entities than to Chinese," (MOFCOM, 2019).
Nevertheless, the borrowing of money, lease or interest base systems exist world-wide. Likewise, IMF and other international financial institutions are also providing high interest- based loans to the developing and smaller nations which ultimately leads to the debt trap (Shah, 2016).
Secondly, few of critics claimed that China’s increasing population in Pakistan is an alarming situation for the country and compared it with colonial structure. For instance, Chaudhury (2018) reported in Economic Times that under the CPEC project, China is going to construct a modern city for 5,00,000 Chinese nationals at a cost of $150 million in Gwadar region. Half a million Chinese nationals will be housed in proposed city of Gwadar by 2022. In-fact, these nationals are workforce for the financial district of Gwadar. This zone will be specified merely for Chinese citizens, which basically means that Pakistan will be used as a colony of China.
Iqbal (2017d) responded immediately that only few thousand of Chinese nationals are living in Pakistan and making a positive contribution to country’s economy. Most of them are labor migrants who will leave back to China after completion of the projects. In contrary, approximately 8 million Chinese are living in Malaysia, 900,000 in Canada, 600,000 in Japan and 400,000 in France and more than 2.5 million are living in the United States. In that circumstances, to claims that Chinese nationals are surpassing Pakistani society is simply a bluffing while nothing to do with reality.
Thirdly, critics argued that the on-going CPEC development project is a new model of East India Company (EIC) which leads Pakistan to the China’s colony. This issue sparked when the former senator Tahir Mashhadi voiced against exorbitant loans and power tariffs demand according to the Beijing interest (Shah, 2016).
It’s really a shabby and hyperbole approach of copious critics to compare age of imperialism with current globalization era and modern international political system which is based on the notion of nation-state. This is not an age of imperialism or radical type of colonization. If we recalled the history of colonization, when the British colonized sub-continent in the mid of 19th century, that was a true model of “Empire-state” system 4 Z. KHAN ET AL. worldwide (Rothermund, 2006).
There is a zilch matching between both the cases. The primarily intention of EIC was doing trade in subcontinent which ultimately shifted to the power under three diverse components:
The first component was the economic, political and social environment which shaped the company’s internal state;
the second was the decision-making part which was a controlling mechanism;
and the third was the operational part which dealt with the actual physical aspects of trade.
Besides, there were no proper ingress and trade policies, and lack of governance system to ensure check and balance which ultimately overthrew the local rule by brutal use of British force (Chaudhuri, 1978).
As the distinguished British historian Darymple noted that the most crucial part of EIC colonization was that they had private army of about 260,000—twice of the size of the British Army, with Indian revenues of 225.3 million and expenses 234.5 million (Dalrymple, 2015).
Likewise, with an end of colonization era, all the empires segregated into numerous independent states and republics with demarcated boundaries and specific constitution, and at present, they can demonstrate well to protect their territorial integrity and sovereignty with all possible means. In South Asian region, Afghanistan is the most recent example of it, where’s the US susceptible to establish US-led government and hegemonic power throughout of Afghanistan. In-spite of that the present leadership of US is seeking a safe way for an esteem exit from Afghanistan (Hussain, 2019).
Nonetheless, there is a huge disparity between EIC and CPEC. In case of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity—both the countries enjoy a long testified friendship based on mutual trust, cooperation and admiration (Shah, 2016).
Moreover, the government of Pakistan setup Special Security Division (SSD) for the security of project with a total strength of 13,700 armed forces (nine regular military battalions and six Paramilitary wings) which are quite enough to protect this project from internal and external security threats (Xuequan, 2017).
Similarly, Board of Investment (BOI) mandate under the government of Pakistan encompasses policy reforms to update their trade policies and regulatory framework, signed MOUs and bi-lateral investment treaties, provisions of contract and partnership Acts, the security clearance for work visas, handling entry permits, policy for opening of liaison or branch offices, lease system, introduced legal framework for investment and establishment of special economic zones through industrial clusterization (Board of Investment, 2018).
Regardless, several critics arguing that CPEC project is a “debt-trap” for Pakistan which leads Pakistan to the worst economic situation, as Noor Ahmed, secretary of the Economic Affairs Division of Pakistan (EADP) responded that the Pakistan’s total foreign debt is about $106 billion. Of which, Chinese loans account for only 10 to 11 percent, while the remaining are from the International Monetary Fund, Paris Club, and other Western organizations.
He added more that China always supported Pakistan during tough economic crises. Through the establishment of CPEC, China is building infrastructure in Pakistan to save its dwindling economy, and some of its money coming into Pakistan are purely an investment, some are interest-free loans, and other loans are based on friendly terms (MOFCOM, 2019).

Is CPEC a debt trap project for Pakistan?

With the speedy advancement through CPEC in Pakistan, several domestic and international criticism appeared against the project and termed the multi-billion dollar project as a “debt-trap” for Pakistan, and presumed that it would be double burden on Pakistan’s economy (Malik, 2019).
Although, CPEC is a development project and it has a huge potential to transform the socio-economic makeup of Pakistan. Nevertheless, copious heckler worried that it would lead to the debt-trap, and making Pakistan a colony of China.
Correspondingly, a Pakistani prominent economist, Hafeez Pasha highlighted a serious concern over Pakistan potential to service the growing debt. He has already calculated that the debt to GDP ratio goes higher from 70 percent to 90 percent, which is a challenging issue for country economy (Khalik, 2018).
Likewise, Page and Shah (2018) THE CHINESE ECONOMY 5 reported in Wall Street Journal that there are skepticism's regarding government forecasts that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will increase economic growth from 5.8 percent to 7 percent by 2023, letting Pakistan to service its debt. It was also highlighted in March IMF report that Pakistan’s rising current account deficit and external debt obligations partly on CPEC, and predicated growth would flat-line at 5 percent until 2023. Therefore, “the new regime of Pakistan will have to do some adjustment, with us or without us,” said by Teresa Daban, the IMF representative in Pakistan.
Regardless, this plan is also considered as a model of Debt Trap Diplomacy (DTD), claimed by an Indian strategist, Brahma Chellaney*. He noted that China is assisting small and developing countries with high interest loans which are unable to pay for them, and ultimately undermine those countries sovereignty. His view reflects an Indo-American consensus, as suggested by Tillerson’s reference to “predatory economics” (Chellaney, 2017). He added more in project syndicate that China is offering infrastructure financing and loans for unstable projects to protect Beijing access to the local markets or resources, rather than to lift domestic economies, and ultimately these countries plunge into a debt-trap plan that leaves them vulnerable to China’s influence.*
Chellaney recalled a recent example of Sri-Lanka’s port that Chinese loans were transformed into equity, and ultimately “sea-port” handed over to a Chinese state run company for 99 year lease. Correspondingly, Chaudhury (2017) highlighted in the Economic Times that gradually, these debts are converting into equity, and at the end ownership goes to the Chinese companies that will not just adversely affect on Pakistan and Sri-Lankan economies but also create security implications for India due to China’s steady position in the periphery. This has key lesson for Bangladesh and Nepal where China has guaranteed to invest billions. China has projected a master plan for Pakistan’s economic transformation under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is only a strategic plan for China’s colonial control of Pakistan. Beijing paid heavy loans from the Chinese banks at high interest rates to finance the project, and some of the critics presumed that Pakistan would take nearly 40 years to pay back these loans.The Beijing funding for Pakistan is actually a “debt-trap” plan which would take control of country’s economic and strategic sectors. He added more that CPEC is a China project, and Pakistan is the only topographical part of it. Cynical it is, then, Pakistan had already fought against formal communist regime known as “Soviet Union” to control it gaining access to the warm waters, nevertheless, another former communist country is easily permitted for the same access. Additionally, it is undeniable that Pakistan has no benefit from China’s investment, obviously it has, as an estimate shared by Pakistan’s Business Council (PBC) suggest the “project could account for 20 percent of the GDP over the next five years and increase growth by 3 percent. Nevertheless, frequent onlookers prudence Pakistan after how Beijing terms and investment turned bitter in Sri-Lanka, Tajikistan and several parts of the Africa.
In both Sri-Lanka and Tajikistan cases, with mounting costs and debts incurred by the host countries, bulky parts of land were handed over to the Chinese companies in lieu of loans and unpaid funds. It is predictable that Tajikistan had to relinquish one percent of its country to China since they were unable to re-pay loans. Therefore, Ziadi noted that there are still worries that Pakistan would become another province of China, or will be reduced to being a “vassal state” (Chaudhury, 2017; Zaidi, 2017).
In-fact, the “debt-trap” issue sparked at a time when China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has addressed the critical bottlenecks in energy and infrastructure, and both nations have agreed to deepen the base of this initiative (Assadi, 2018). These criticisms were rejected by respondents’ with more rational responses. For instance, the former federal minister, Ahsan Iqbal responded sound to the Pasha argument that even in coming five years, debt ratio will come down from 64 percent. Nevertheless, the borrowing of money does not entail the impression that country will turn into the debt-trap whilst it depends on figuring-out whether the debt is a productive borrowing or un-productive. In doing so, the debts can improve infrastructure of a country and its growth rate, which will help to improve the capacity of the state economy to make it more stable. 6 Z. KHAN ET AL.
Whatever, the liabilities Pakistan has, they are well in capacity of Pakistan to pay-back. But unfortunately, there are several so-called politicians and economic analysts who are always seeking flaws in the entire project of CPEC.
They are trying to construct a “negative narrative” which sometimes gives undue worries to the people of Pakistan that the GDP ratio of Pakistan was going out of control. In 2013, it was 63 percent and the same figure in 2016 as well. But, we are trying to bring it down. Therefore, debt trap issue has no possibility in near future, and the government has a potential to deal with it (Iqbal, 2017b). Moreover, the former advisor to PM, Sartaj Aziz ensured that the CPEC loans for infrastructure are at the rate of 2 percent interest (Concessional-based, nor commercial one), and the payback time is 20 to 25 years. He emphasized the point that most of this outlay is in the form of investment. CPEC loans for infrastructure are on soft-loan basis at the rate of approximately 2 percent and the payback time is 20 to 25 years. Overall investment to GDP ratio will increase due to the CPEC projects.” He added more, "we have achieved 4.5 percent GDP growth this year, which can increase more by overcoming energy shortages. In this regard, energy-related projects in the CPEC can prove to be very helpful. Thus, overcoming the energy shortages will also increase our GDP growth rate, which is expected to increase to 5 percent this year” (Aziz, 2016; Butt, 2016).
Likewise, the Page and Shah criticism on CPEC and BRI in Wall Street Journal is purely based on “redundant sources,” and shows an anti-Beijing narrative. Both the countries officially reacted to theses baseless allegations.
As per statistical data of Pakistani ministry of Finance, 42 percent of the external debt was taken from multi-lateral financial institution, 18 percent from the Paris club. correspondingly, the loans received under the CPEC project accounts to only 10 percent of the total external debt, and it also offers the lower interest rate on concessional-base rather than commercial one (Assadi, 2018). The same statistics were also released by the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, and rejected misinformation’s of the assumed “debt trap” for Pakistan regarding CPEC framework. In the same way, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi also clarified the figures about debts during his visit to Pakistan by stating that "47 percent of Pakistan’s debt related to the IMF and the Asian Development Bank.” Additionally, Noor Ahmed, secretary of the Economic Affairs Division of Pakistan (EAPD) interviewed to the Xinhua that Pakistan’s overall foreign debt is approximately US$106 billion and Chinese loan accounts for a mere 10 to 11 percent of the total foreign debt, where’s the remaining 89 to 90 percent is from other sources such as International Monetary Fund (IMF), Paris Club, and other western organizations (Malik,2019).
Certainly, the leadership of Pakistan is highly committed to pursuing the strategic and economic relationship with China to new heights. Pakistan has already proved that only 6$billion received as a concessional loan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with an interest rate of 2.29 percent along with the grace period of 7 years and a re-payment period of 20 to 25 years. However officials clarified that the debt re-payment will begin in 2021 with an estimated amount of 300–400 million annually and slowly peak to approximately 3.5 billion by fiscal year 2024–25 (Assadi, 2018).
Secondly, criticism is mainly based on the issue of Sri-Lankan sea-port known as “Hambantota International Port.” The former government of the Sri-Lanka didn’t pay back on due time, and ultimately loans were converted into equity.
In response to the criticism, Barry Sautman, professor at HKUST stated that western media is propagating false myths against China, and reported that Sri Lankan government was forced to sign a “lease-contract” of Hambantota port for 99 years just after the failing to repay Chinese loans. He said, “China hold about 9 to 15 percent of Sri-Lanka external debt which is based on his team field research in Sri-Lanka. The remaining all high interest loans from commercial banks which are mainly western based. Ironically then, if Sri-Lanka is debt distressed, it owes more to American and other Western entities than to Chinese.”
In reality, Chinese infrastructure loans have no intention to get a hold on valuable assets of any country or undermine its sovereignty. There is no Chinese plot to control the world (MOFCOM,2019).
Likewise, Deborah Brautigam, an expert on China-Africa relations at John Hopkins THE CHINESE ECONOMY 7 University, rejected openly such allegations in her article published by “New York Time” on April 26. She stated that “found feeble evidence of a pattern signifying that Chinese banks are intentionally funding loss-making projects to obtain strategic advantages for China.”
The Sri-Lankan port is often referred by critics, but “that’s a special case, and it is extensively misunderstood,”
she wrote. Her research conducted by China-Africa Research Initiative at the SIAS*, which include information’s on* more than 1,000 Chinese loans in Africa between 2000 and 2017, totaling more than $143 billion, as well as a study by Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center which has identified and tracked more than $140 billion in Chinese loans to Latin America and the Caribbean since 2005. This research based on the findings, she concluded that “the risks of the BRI are often hyperbole and mischaracterized.” In-fact, the Belt and Road Initiative is a plan of “mutual connectivity and mutual communications” (Soong, 2016).
Apart from, Rhodium Group (RG), a New York based independent research group, published a report on April 29, also rebuffed the debt-trap allegations against China. RG report is also based on 40 cases of external debt renegotiation between 2007 and present year in 24 countries, it was assessed in report that assets grab was a rare case.
“China was obviously tending to re-negotiate the debts.” Another former U.S. official for China during Obama administration, Ryan Hass, and also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution stated “much of the U.S. government’s narrative on the BRI has been built around debt-trap diplomacy”. He realized a fear that the U.S. government is making an argument that is more persuasive to itself than to others (MOFCOM, 2019).
Correspondingly, an Egyptian economist, Hisham Abu Bakar Metwally serving with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry, stated that criticisms are mostly twisting around “debt-trap” in African countries, including Ethopia and Kenya. However, the reality is quite clear to all that these developing countries highly need of developing infrastructure such as roads, railways and bridges which could improve their economic development. Therefore, BRI program (formerly known as OBOR) is a new reality for the world to overcome the major problems and achieve development for all (Chenyang & Shaojun, 2018).
The best example of development in Africa is Ethiopia, which annual GDP growth rate is about 7 percent. In the same way, Xu Haoliang, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, stated that the belt and road initiative is a worldwide program that has the potential to make possible the achievement of sustainable development goals. Noticeably, it can also fill in the financing gaps and development needs in developing countries with loans and investment from China and other countries (Assadi, 2018;MOFCOM, 2019).
[Note: The Max Lines on This Post is 4000 only allowed hence I'm breaking it up into Two Parts So this will be our Part 1]
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