Chinese President Xi Jinping will start a state visit to Pakistan on Monday, his first trip to the South Asian country since he assumed presidency in 2013.
During the visit, China and Pakistan will sign deals on a wide range of issues, from energy and infrastructure to education and culture, which will inject fresh and powerful impetus into the deepening of the China-Pakistan friendship and comprehensive cooperation.
And high on Xi’s agenda would be talks over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is planned to connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the southwestern Pakistani port of Gwadar.
VITAL ENERGY LINK
Gwadar Port, a warm-water, deep-sea port, is located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf at Gwadar in the province of Baloschistan of Pakistan.
Just outside the Strait of Hormuz, the port is adjacent to the key oil routes in and out of the Persian Gulf. It is also the nearest warm-water seaport to the landlocked, but energy rich, Central Asian republics.
During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang‘s visit to Pakistan in May 2013, the two countries agreed to build an economic corridor connecting the Pakistani port to China’s Kashgar city in Xinjiang.
The CPEC will shorten China’s routes of oil and gas imports from Africa and the Middle East for thousands of kilometers, making Gwadar a potentially vital link in China’s supply chain.
Khalid Mahmood, president of the Islamabad Council of World Affairs, said the economic corridor can bring both countries development and prosperity.
“It can help China get connected with the Gulf region, Africa, Europe and other parts of the world in an easier way and in a shorter time. Meanwhile, for Pakistan, there will be more business and trade activities in the region. Pakistan will also become the center of energy transmission from the Gulf,” Mahmood said.
COOPERATION BEYOND PORT
China has implemented large-scale cooperation projects with Pakistan on electricity and new energy and has promoted the management of the port of Gwadar.
Syed Iftikhar Hussain Babar, secretary of the Pakistan Board of Investment, estimated that China’s investment in Gwadar Port, including highways connecting the port and eastern coastline of the port, bulwarks of the port, anchorage dredging, a free trade zone and the new Gwadar international airport, would all be completed in three to five years.
Moreover, the CPEC project is not confined to the Gwadar Port infrastructure construction. China is also aiming to upgrade the 1,300-km Karakoram Highway, the highest paved international road in the world, which connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram Mountains.
In addition to road and railway construction, the project also includes energy cooperation and investment programs.
Xi’s upcoming visit to Pakistan will lift the project to a new level, as China and Pakistan will sign extensive deals on energy, infrastructure, education and culture.
This vision of the CPEC, once realized, will have great strategic significance for the development of China, South Asia and Central Asia as well as for peace and stability in the region.
For China, the project with Pakistan links China’s strategy to develop its western region with Pakistan’s focus on boosting its economy, Ma Jiali, researcher with the China Institute of Contemporary International relations, told Xinhua.
The construction of the economic corridor will also help improve the security situation in the poverty-ridden province of Baloschistan of Pakistan, which is in the front line of the anti-terrorist war.
Moreover, when Gwadar Port is completed, it will become a crucial port for landlocked Central Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and a transfer center of those countries’ cargo transportation to countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq and other destinations.