Taking charge: China ready to operate Gwadar port

China agrees to take over operations of Gwadar port once contract with PSA ends.

Reuters May 22, 2011


China has acceded to Pakistan’s request to take over operations at Gwadar port, while Islamabad also requested Beijing to build a naval base at the same port. Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Mohammad Aslam Raisani, however, expressed strong resentment over the deal and said his government was neither taken on board, nor does he agree with it.

“The Chinese government has acceded to Pakistan’s request to take over operations at Gwadar port as soon as the terms of agreement with the Singapore Port Authority (SPA) expire,” Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar said after his visit to China with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Scrapping the old deal

Pakistan had initiated negotiations with the Chinese government after the Planning Commission’s task force on maritime industry had proposed that an operational agreement with PSA be cancelled.

“During initial negotiations, two berths at Gwadar port were offered to China to handle vessels containing Chinese goods,” sources said.

The task force had observed that the PSA had undertaken to spend $525 million in five years, but nothing was spent during the last three years. No commercial vessel had arrived at Gwadar port during the same period.

The task force also observed that a penalty of $8-10 million would have to be paid to the PSA if the contract was cancelled.

The Balochistan government had also opposed the concession agreement with the PSA.

The defence minister said Pakistan requested for 4,400-tonne frigates on credit basis.

“We also asked the Chinese government to train our personnel on submarines,” the minister added.

The minister said Pakistan was grateful to China for constructing Gwadar port but “would be more grateful if the Chinese government built a naval base for Pakistan at Gwadar.”

Raisani’s resentment

Raisani said he was appalled by the federal government’s decision to hand over Gwadar’s operations to China since he was designated as Gwadar Port Authority chairman at a federal cabinet meeting.

Since day one, the Balochistan government has been demanding an end to the agreement with PSA, he said, adding that they “are competent enough to operate the port.”

Such decisions on the part of the federal government will increase the sense of deprivation in Balochistan, he said, adding the government should concede the rights of people over their resources.

The federal government should take the people of Balochistan into confidence while taking important decisions, or else the people would not accept such arbitrary decisions, he added.

Promoting JF-17 Thunder

Prime Minister Gilani asked his Chinese counterpart to induct the JF-17 Thunder aircraft in the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force. Doing so would not only give the aircraft publicity but also bring down the production cost if a large quantity of the aircraft is sold, the premier was reported to have said.

The Chinese government was also requested to provide FC-20, a variant of the Chengdu J-10 aircraft for Pakistan Air Force.

The Chinese premier said he was pleased to assist Pakistan in repairing the Attabad Lake and the Karakoram Highway.

India ‘concerned’

Indian Defence Minister AK Antony said his country views with “serious concern” the growing defence ties between China and Pakistan and says it will have to bolster its own military capabilities to meet the challenge.

“It is a matter of serious concern for us. The main thing is we have to increase our capability – that is the only answer,” Defence Minister A K Antony told reporters in New Delhi late on Friday. The comments followed reports that China plans to accelerate supply of 50 new JF-17 Thunder multi-role combat jets to Pakistan under a co-production pact.

Antony added that India may sign a contract to buy 126 fighter jets for its air force by the end of March 2012.

“This fiscal (year) ends on March 31, 2012. The deal can happen before that,” Antony said.

India has allocated $3.6 trillion for the defence sector in the fiscal year through March 2012, up from $1.47 trillion last year. [With additional input from Shahzad Baloch in Quetta and wires]

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2011.