US urges Pakistan to seek China debt relief after floods

By Pakistan Forward and AFP

Internally displaced flood-affected Pakistanis take refuge at a makeshift camp in Dadu district of Sindh province on September 14. [AFP]

Internally displaced flood-affected Pakistanis take refuge at a makeshift camp in Dadu district of Sindh province on September 14. [AFP]

WASHINGTON -- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Monday (September 26) on Pakistan to seek debt relief from its close partner China as floods devastate the South Asian country.

Blinken promised strong US support for Pakistan as it dries out from the floods, which have submerged one-third of the country, an area the size of the United Kingdom.

"We send a simple message. We are here for Pakistan, just as we were during past natural disasters, looking ahead to rebuild," Blinken said after talks in Washington with Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

"I also urged our colleagues to engage China on some of the important issues of debt relief and restructuring so that Pakistan can more quickly recover from the floods," Blinken said.

China is a key economic and political partner of Pakistan, pushing ahead with a $54 billion "economic corridor" that will build infrastructure and give Beijing an outlet to the Indian Ocean, although Chinese interests have also faced attacks from separatists.

Washington has repeatedly charged that China will reap the benefits while Pakistan will face unsustainable debt.

Some 1,600 people -- one-third of them children -- have died in Pakistan's floods and more than seven million have been displaced, amid fears that such severe disasters will become more common due to climate change.

Chinese friendship has its limits

The massive floods have revealed the limitations of China's "all-weather" friendship with the nation.

Pakistani officials say it will cost at least $30 billion to rebuild and repair damaged infrastructure -- an impossible sum for the deeply indebted nation -- but the priority, for now, is food and shelter for millions made homeless.

Beijing has provided relief supplies worth only about 400 million CNY (roughly $57 million) to Pakistan after the floods, the Chinese-government-run Global Times reported September 19.

"Beijing's financial assistance was just a joke," said a senior official in the Finance Ministry in Islamabad.

China's relief supplies have also come under fire for their poor quality, in particular the 4,000 tents it sent to Pakistan.

In most areas, survivors are still using the tents provided to them by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and other Western aid organisations during after 2010 floods.

"The American tents are long lasting, and they are usable even after 12 years, but Chinese tents were torn in a week," said Jamil Khaskheli, who was living in a tent near his village in the Shahdadkot area of Sindh.

The United States has committed $56 million in humanitarian aid and sent 17 planes full of supplies, with promises of long-term support.

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