Gwadar port will be the 'hub' of China’s new Silk Road

The port is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, one of the top projects of the One Belt, One Road Initiative. In addition to the harbor, an international airport, schools, electrical systems, a ring road are under construction. Local workers fear the Chinese competition. 

Gwadar (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Thanks to Beijing's huge funding, within five years the Gwadar port of Balochistan will become the first Asian airport for goods shipped by sea. Slated for development in one of the poorest areas of the country, it will be the hub of China’s new "Silk Road".

The development of the coastal area is part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $ 54 billion (46.5 billion) plan launched in 2013 by the Chinese authorities to link their territory to the Indian Ocean, passing through Pakistan. The economic corridor is one of the top projects of the One Belt, One Road initiative (Obor, in the last few months also called "Belt and Road Initiative"): it is a mega-infrastructure project for ports, railways, roads, highways, with which Beijing wants to get its goods to the heart of Europe. It involves 65 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa.

According to Chinese ambitions, by the end of the year, the Gwadar port will handle a million tons of freight. Manufacturers believe that if the jobs were to follow the roadmap, within five years the port would become the largest Asian port, with 13 million tons of freight per year. By 2030, it could touch the threshold of 400 million tons.

The port of Gwadar was chosen for its strategic position. The city is called the "Wind Gate", midway between Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. The plan includes the country's first deep water port, a free trade zone and 50 miles of quay space.

The city itself will change face: estimates predict that its population, now comprised of 100,000 inhabitants, will increase by 10 times by 2050. Chinese funds will bring hospital capacity from the current 50 to 300 beds; a technical-vocational institute is under construction; workers are installing a 300 megawatt coal-fired power plant and a desalination plant; a new international airport is being built and a six-lane highway linking the port to the rest of Pakistan.

For generations, trade in the area has been predominantly fishing and local crafts. Now the people hope that the project will stimulate employment and growth. "We are pleased that the Chinese are building the harbor, hospitals, schools and roads," some fishermen say, "but unfortunately for the moment the only consequence is the lack of electricity and drinking water for most of the day."

At the same time some experts point out the negative repercussions that the project may have on fish resources, which for centuries are the main means of livelihood for the local population. Local companies also fear the competition of Chinese workers, engineers and businesses. Others complain about the presence of Chinese workers, living in a sort of "Chinatown" around the yards. Dostain Khan Jamaldini, president of the Gwadar Port Authority, tries to overcome concerns: "About 65% of the workforce is Pakistani. The Chinese are just 300 ".