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Gwadar Port: China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant

A Pakistani soldier stands guard while a loaded Chinese ship
A Pakistani soldier stands guard while a loaded Chinese ship prepares to depart Gwadar port, about 700 kilometers (435 miles) west of Karachi. Pakistan. VOA

An unprecedented Chinese financial and construction effort is rapidly developing Pakistan’s strategically located Arabian Sea Gwadar port into one of the world’s largest transit and transshipment cargo facilities.

The deepwater port lies at the convergence of three of the most commercially important regions of the world, the oil-rich Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia.

Beijing is developing Gwadar as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, known as CPEC. The two countries launched the 15-year joint mega project in 2015 when President Xi Jinping visited Islamabad.

Under the cooperation deal construction or improvement of highways, railways, pipelines, power plants, communications and industrial zones are underway in Pakistan with an initially estimated Chinese investment of $46 billion.

The aim is to link Gwadar port to landlocked western China, including its Muslim-majority Xinjiang region, giving it access to a shorter and secure route through Pakistan to global trade. The port will also provide the shortest route to landlocked Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, through transit trade and offer transshipment facilities.

Chinese fuel imports and trading cargo will be loaded on trucks and ferried to and from Xinjiang through the Karakoram Highway, snaking past snow-capped peaks in northern Pakistan.

A general view of the port
A general view of the port before the inauguration of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor port in Gwadar, Pakistan. VOA

‘Qualitative change’

Gwadar will be able to handle about one million tons of cargo annually by the end of the year. Officials anticipate that with expansion plans underway, the port will become South Asia’s biggest shipping center within five years, with a yearly capacity of handling 13-million tons of cargo. And by 2030, they say, it will be capable of handling up to 400-million tons of cargo annually.

China has in recent months begun calling CPEC the flagship project of its global Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. The “qualitative change” from an experimental project to flagship project underscores the importance Beijing attaches to CPEC, said Zhao Lijian, the deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Islamabad.

Out of 39 “early harvest” projects under CPEC, 19 have since been completed or are under construction with a Chinese investment of about $18.5 billion, Lijian told VOA. The progress makes it the fastest developing of all of at least six BRI’s corridors China plans to establish, added the Chinese diplomat.(VOA)

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Gwadar Port Vs Chabahar Port: Muscle-Fight Over Eurasian Trade

Both the ports can only yield best results when there are no major regional threats


China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), which opens gates for China to enter middle-eastern and in-turn Eurasian markets, also stabilizes Pakistan’s economy. One of the most major assets of CPEC is the Gwadar Port, as it the link between One Best, One Road (OBOR) and Maritime Silk Road projects. Gwadar Port was aimed at linking northern Pakistan and western China, also the deep-water seaport will be a site of a floating liquefied natural gas facility as part of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

Inaugurated by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Gwadar Port started operating on 14th November 2016. Main benefits of Gwadar Port:

ALSO READ: Gwadar Port: China Turning Pakistan Port Into Regional Giant

  • It could act as a port for western China via Karakoram highway
  • It could act as a port for the new land-locked central Asian states
  • It could enable development of Balochistan
  • It would lie on the important sea route through the straits of Hormuz

However, only 72 kilometres away lies New Delhi’s latest bid to flex its economic muscles i.e. Chabahar Port. India signed an agreement with Iran to develop the $500 million Chabahar port. It is currently being seen as a gateway for Indian goods into Central Asia. Both ports pose tangible economic, commercial, and strategic challenges to each other. However, Gwadar possesses the advantage from many angles:

Gwadar Port is a major part of China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor. Wikimedia Commons
Gwadar Port is a major part of China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor. Wikimedia Commons

Geographical Advantage

  • Though Chabahar is a geographical outreach for India (since it is not in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) where India has many functional ports and the shielf of Indian Navy), it still will be a guest state whose borders and territorial waters are at far away distance.
  • The vessels transporting goofs to Chabahar would be subjected to active monitoring by the Pakistani Navy.
  • Whereas, Gwadar Port’s control is with China. We need to note here that Iran won’t do the same with India.

Afganistan Dilemma

  • Following Chabahar, Indian goods will land in Afghanistan; following which, suspected outreach towards Central Asian states is possible.
  • Even though the two governments of India and Afghanistan share good relations, non-state actors like insurgent groups pose a security threat. For example, the Taliban poses a major threat.
  • Gwadar Port is also witnessing security threats since it is in the Balochistan province. Though separatist brawls have decreased in recent years, militant groups still are a major concern.

ALSO READ: India and Iran sign agreement to develop Chabahar Port

Chabahar Port will open gates for India towards Central Asian Markets. Wikimedia Commons
Chabahar Port will open gates for India towards Central Asian Markets. Wikimedia Commons

Iranian Angle

  • Iran is facing sanctions after violating a UN Security Council resolution because it launched a nuclear-capable missile. The sanctions could have negative consequences for the India-Iran Chabahar deal.
  • On the other hand, Gwadar has no such problems. There are no restrictions on China’s investment anywhere nor is Pakistan subject to any kind of UN sanctions.

Rivalry Between Partners

  • There is absolutely no competition between Pakistan and China. Even, Chinese investment is aimed at boosting trade with the rest of Asia.
  • Moreover, Pakistan is currently on the receiving end of the huge Chinese investment, hence it won’t become a hurdle in China’s quest to reach the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
  • Whereas, following July 2015 agreement, Iran is trying to come into the mainstream international arena by accelerating trade and it won’t allow India’s Central Asian dream to come true at the cost of Iranian interests.

In the end, both Gwadar port and Chabahar port can assist millions of people. Both the ports can only yield best results when there are no major regional threats. Above all, South Asia needs economic cooperation and integration.