Pakistan's strategic Gwadar Port will have a unique place in China's ambitious plan
Sun Weidong, the Chinese ambassador in Pakistan, said the rejuvenation of Gwadar Port, a part of the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation (CPEC) project, is a long-term initiative and should proceed "step-by-step".
The CPEC is a planned network of roads, railways and energy projects linking southern Pakistan, and the Gwadar Port, to China's restive Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region.
As it passes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), India has raised objection to the project.
However, Mr Sun billed the Gwadar Port as a project aimed at improving regional and economic cooperation and said it will be a hub connecting the region's land and maritime routes.
"Additionally, the port's free zone will facilitate free trade in the region," he said.
He said the port will have a unique place in the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, whose stated aim is to connect China with markets in European and African markets.
Gwadar Port occupies a great location, according to experts, because its proximity to the Arabian Sea gives China and Central Asian countries access to the Persian Gulf and the markets of the Middle East.
A special report in the state-run China Daily said today that Chinese companies have expended a great deal of energy to bring a new look to the port in Pakistan, with upgraded equipment, new cargo containers and new office buildings.
The changes have resulted in a surge in visitors and flourishing property and hotel businesses, it said.
However, previous reports have said that the project included pipelines to pump oil from ships at the port to the Xinjiang region. But such plans have raised questions of viability as it would cost several times more than transporting the oil and gas through present shipping routes.
The Gwadar Port was expected to be used by China for its strategic accesses to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, and China has plans to station its marines there to deal with contingencies.
Wang Yiwei, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said the CPEC is a tangible megaproject that will "undertake the great mission of prompting the economic take-off and even the rise of Pakistan".
"For China, the corridor will help to bolster the development of connectivity in the region and achieve common development and prosperity for all countries," he added.
In November, the port received its first large shipment of Chinese goods. According to a February report by international ratings agency Moody's, the corridor will boost economic activity in Pakistan, whose growth rate is expected to be 4.9 per cent this year.
Liu Ying, a research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University, said that infrastructure construction for the corridor will develop Pakistan's economy, and it will not only benefit China and Pakistan, but all countries along the route.
"The corridor will help cut the journey time for freight between Gwadar Port, West China and the Central Asian regions by 60 to 70 per cent," he said.