Date Posted: 15-Nov-2010
Jane's Defence Weekly
Pakistan ready to hand Arabian Sea port to China
Farhan Bokhari JDW Correspondent - Islamabad
Pakistan is seeking to cancel a management contract with Singapore's PSA International for a Chinese-funded port in the northern Arabian Sea in what could be the first step towards transferring it to Beijing's control, a senior Pakistan government official told Jane's on 11 November.
Taking control of Gwadar port would give China a friendly deep-water facility on the edge of the world's busiest oil shipping lanes. Chinese control of Gwadar port would also give People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels a safe haven in a friendly country in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Though it may be several years before PLAN vessels regularly sail to the IOR, a senior Pakistani government official in Islamabad told Jane's : "China's access to control Gwadar will be the first step towards meeting long-term ambitions."
Cancelling the existing contract would be controversial, not least because PSA International signed a 40-year deal in 2007. Pakistani officials argue that PSA has failed to fulfil promises to develop the facility, which is about 700 km west of Karachi but only 80 km east of the Iranian border.
"We have detected lapses and therefore want to move ahead to formally consider cancelling this contract," said the official, who wished to remain anonymous, adding that a Chinese firm "will be the likely future operator of this facility. There are lots of interests that tie Pakistan and China together".
On 8 November a second senior official in Islamabad told Jane's that Pakistan expects China to invest "over the long term" in the "laying down of a railway line [and] a road network" to its border with northern Pakistan. These transport links would allow China to significantly reduce travel time for travellers and exports from its northern Xinjiang region to the Middle East, via Gwadar.
This summer, Pakistani naval officials revealed discussions with China over the joint development of future submarines, which if agreed would be the latest in a series of joint ventures. They include the F-22P frigate programme, the JF-17 Thunder aircraft, the Al-Khalid I main battle tank and development of an airborne early warning and control aircraft.
Pakistan is keen to purchase more submarines in response to what defence planners say is a growing threat to the country's interests in the IOR, where India has announced significant expansions to its naval facilities. Though Pakistan has sounded out French and German submarine manufacturers, financial constraints are believed to have hindered the signing of a deal. By contrast, China has a long-established record of extending generous loans to Pakistan.