Monday, December 20, 2021

Thousands block Gwadar port, the linchpin in China’s belt and road initiative


Protesters demand a stop to large Chinese fishing boats wiping out small-scale fishing, the basis of the local economy. China is taking 91 per cent of port revenues. New Chinese investments are at risk. A solution to the crisis includes social and redistributive programmes.

Thousands block Gwadar port, the linchpin in China’s belt and road initiative

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Pakistani city of Gwadar has been engulfed in a month-long protest.

Chinese capital is funding the construction of the city’s port as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the New Silk Roads, a mega infrastructure project launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping to turn China into the world’s global trade hub.

For both China and Pakistan, the Port of Gwadar is supposed to be the linchpin of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking Xinjiang, in north-western China, and the coast of Pakistani Baluchistan, on the Arabian Sea.

The CPEC will include a network of roads, ports, airports, railways, oil and gas pipelines, fibre optic lines and industrial facilities. On paper it is worth US$ 50 billion, but after eight years the Chinese have only partially realised it.

A local politician, Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, is leading the protests in Gwadar. Thousands of people, mostly women, are camped at the entrance to the local Chinese-controlled facility.

They want Chinese deep-sea trawlers to stop fishing in local waters. The local small fishermen are infuriated above all by the presence of Chinese boats in the waters in front of Gwadar.

Protesters also want the removal of city checkpoints and the possibility of trading more freely with neighbouring Iran.

Rallies of this scale in Gwadar are unprecedent and have had a wide national echo. Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the government will support protesters’ legitimate demands, promising to take measures against illegal fishing in local waters.

Rehman, secretary of the local branch of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islam, has threatened to raise the stakes if the government does not accept all the demands.

According to reports from Nikkei Asia, the leader of the protest also raised the issue of sharing revenues generated by port activities.

China currently takes 91 per cent of the revenue. Rehman wants 98 per cent to go to Pakistan. However, the Pakistani government considers Gwadar's "leader" a terrorist and has frozen his bank accounts.

Chinese investment in Gwadar has not yet generated the much hoped-for economic return.

Since the start of protests, port operations are at a minimum, but the situation was not much better before.

For several observers, permanent sit-ins like those in Gwadar jeopardise new Chinese investments, which are vital to Pakistan, given its serious economic problems.

Added to this is the constant threat from armed separatists and Islamic extremists who often target Chinese staff and CPEC structures in the country.

Tensions could be reduced, observers note, if social programmes were improved and more wealth was redistributed, involving both China and local communities.

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