Chinese Project at Balochistan Port

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    In News

    • There have been continuous protests for 26 days in Gwadar, Balochistan against mega-development plans of the port city as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. 

    Background

    • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC): With the announcement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in 2015, Gwadar has been showcased as the gateway to a new era of Chinese investments meant to change the fate of both Pakistan and the region as a whole.
      • It is a part of China’s ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative to link China with Europe.
      • The CPEC project would link Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port in Balochistan on the Arabian Sea to China’s western Xinjiang region.
      • It also includes plans to create road, rail and oil pipeline links to improve connectivity between China and the Middle East.
    • Gwadar: A small port town on the coastline of the Arabian Sea in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, has been in news since then.
    • Billion-dollar projects: China has spent billions of dollars on building the port town, opening a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant, and building an international airport at the cost of $230 million, alongside other projects that come under the CPEC umbrella.
    • Ignorance of the local demand: The authorities have continued to ignore the basic demands of the locals.
      • Balochistan has the lowest access to drinking water, electricity, and even gas that is the main resource of the region.
      • They still don’t have basic necessities, despite the influx of billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

    Issues

    • The marginalisation of the local people: They are arguing that not only are they being excluded, but their present livelihood has also been endangered.
    • Deep-sea trawlers: The main means of livelihood for people in the region is fishing. They have become jobless.
    • No political support: Locals expressed anger and disappointment that Pakistani government officials were not supporting their case and giving statements in favour of the Chinese fishermen, and demanded that the licences be cancelled.
    • Strategically important project: The port development at Gwadar is perhaps the single most strategically important project of the CPEC, and Chinese involvement there predates the CPEC by at least a decade.
    • Security check posts: One of the protesters’ demands is a reduction in the number of checkpoints which are due to the increased security presence meant to secure Chinese projects.

    Significance of the protest

    • Participation of women: Despite the severe conservatism of Balochistan, women protesters have come out in large numbers.
    • Jamaat-e-Islami group: Another significant aspect of the protest is that it is led by a Jamat-e-Islami leader. The JI has traditionally been an ally of Pakistan’s military establishment.

    Concerns of India and West

    • Dual-purpose port for use by the Chinese Navy: India has been concerned that Gwadar, which gives China strategic access to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, is not just being developed as a trade entrepot but as a dual-purpose port for use by the Chinese Navy.
    • Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region: It is intended to expand Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region alongside Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Hambantota in Sri Lanka.
    • Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK): India has protested to China over the CPEC as it traverses through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
    • The USA is concerned too: With vital military interests in West Asia, the US too is concerned about the Chinese presence in Gwadar.
    • Secret Chinese military base: The recent discovery of a secret Chinese military base in the UAE can only heighten the concerns.

    Way Forward

    • More local employment: More people from Gwadar should be employed by the Chinese company developing the port.
    • End to trawler mafia regime: The government should crackdown on foreign “trawler mafia” who are stripping the Gwadar Sea of its marine resources.  
      • Gwadar fishermen had given up their fishing spots for the development of the port after assurances that it would greatly improve their economic condition.
      • Their existing condition was only worsening because of the unequal competition with the Chinese fishing vessels, which were also harming the ecosystem.

    Source: IE