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Xinjiang
Connecting through Mountains
Pakistan is committed to the Belt and Road Initiative
By Makhdoom Babar | NO.1 JANUARY 5, 2017

A Chinese container ship at the Gwadar Port in Pakistan on November 13, 2016 (CFP)

The longstanding friendship between Pakistan and China is based on mutual respect, equality and common benefit as well as noninterference in each other's internal affairs. This friendship has stood steadfast despite vicissitudes in political, economic and strategic scenarios. Pakistan and China have a shared world vision based on common prosperity, development and peace.

Their relationship dates back to when the ancient Silk Road ran parallel to the present Karakorum Highway (KKH), serving as a conduit for commerce as well as exchange of ideas and knowledge. It was at the Julian University in Taxila, a town near present Pakistani capital Islamabad, that famous Chinese scholars Xuan Zang and Fa Xian went to study Buddhist scriptures. Areas now in Pakistan, including Taxila, have been mentioned in the Chinese classic Journey to the West.

Links forged through history

The strong bond of friendship between Pakistan and China has deep historical, geographical and cultural links. Pakistan and China have always supported each other in hours of need. Both Pakistan and China are united against secessionism, extremism and terrorism. The two have supported each other's interests at the United Nations and other international forums.

Pakistan is also committed to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (the Belt and Road Initiative) proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang presented the concept of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor during his visit to Pakistan in May 2013. During Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to China in July the same year, the two sides signed a long-term agreement to develop the corridor.

The agreement marks a new high in China-Pakistan strategic economic and commercial partnership. The existing road link between Gwadar Port in south Pakistan and Kashgar in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China would be upgraded with eventual rail links and industrial parks, and special economic zones would be set up along the economic corridor as well as in Gwadar. The Sino-Pakistani Joint Working Group on Energy is working to establish power projects and coal-fired, thermal, solar, wind and hydropower generation. China-Pakistan agriculture demonstration zones are also being set up.

The 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road starts from southern China and goes westward through Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. It is a segment of the economic initiative that Xi has envisaged to revive the common prosperity of the riparian states along the way and their people. The other segment is the traditional Silk Road which passes through China to Pakistan through the KKH. Segments of the Silk Road extend to Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe through the Eurasian land bridge. After entering Pakistan, the Silk Road moves southward, passing through cities like Islamabad and Karachi and culminating at Gwadar.

Port city Gwadar is the convergence point of the land and maritime Silk Roads. Its importance is thus unique. Gwadar is a natural deep sea port developed with Chinese assistance and managed by the China Overseas Ports Holding Co. on a long-term lease. Numerous economic development projects are being jointly undertaken by Pakistan and China in Gwadar.

After its economic rise, China realized the true potential of the port and decided to invest in the multi-billion-dollar economic corridor project leading to the port. Though the development of Gwadar Port and the modern city formally started in 2007, the development progress dramatically increased with the announcement that the economic corridor would be built. Gwadar has received $1.62 billion to expand the port and develop Gwadar City.

Gwardar City has around 85,000 people. Once the corridor is built, poverty is expected to end in the area. Hospitals, hotels, an international airport, schools and other infrastructure will also come up, creating thousands of jobs for the local people and changing their lives. These developments will ultimately benefit the people of the province of Baluchistan in southern Pakistan.

Chinese contractors and Pakistani officials attend the ground-breaking ceremony of a tunnel in Havelian, north Pakistan, on November 29, 2016 (XINHUA)

Dealing with doubts

A section of the local people of Gwadar, however, have reservations about the development of the port and the economic corridor. The increasing Chinese presence in the city and port has made them fret about their future, fearing loss of livelihood. Most of them are small clans of fishermen and need assurance from the governments of both China and Pakistan about their future.

Those against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are trying to convince the locals in Gwadar that with the arrival of Chinese companies and Chinese nationals, they would lose their source of income and the Chinese would command all jobs and resources. The campaign has been effective to some extent.

To counter such false propaganda and show its concern for the locals, China should safeguard the local fishing industry. It should introduce modern technology and establish a mechanism to help local fishermen upgrade their businesses with soft loans and technical assistance from Chinese companies. Efforts should be made to ensure that locals and especially those linked to the fishing industry do not feel threatened by the new development trend and the economic corridor but realize that the Chinese people and companies are coming to Gwadar as a blessing, bringing a bright future for them.

China should also put in efforts to establish a network of educational institutions and health facilities. Otherwise, the illiteracy rate in the area would remain a constant threat to the economic corridor-related projects. Uneducated or little educated individuals would always be easy prey to the forces against the corridor. A higher literacy rate coupled with technical education would be a blessing for the Chinese companies working in the area too.

Similarly, the provision of state-of-the-art medical facilities would make the locals appreciative of China and Chinese people and companies in the area. For centuries, the locals have been wishing for hospitals, both small and large. If Chinese companies or the Chinese Government can fulfill this desire, they would gain immense local support.

The author is editor in chief of The Daily Mail in Islamabad, Pakistan

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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