Will Gwadar be the next Dubai

China forges Asian axis against India

With billions in investments, China wants to transform the fishing village of Gwadar into a deep-sea port. Islamabad dreams of a second Dubai. But Beijing has bigger goals.

Vienna / Gwadar. Pakistani commentators described China's mega-project as groundbreaking, even destructive. Where today one-story warehouses are lined up on sand dunes, Pakistan's largest deep-sea port with a handling volume of 400 million tons is to be built in a few years. The bitterly poor Gwadar in the south of the country is expected to develop from a fishing village into a modern industrial city. A second Dubai with glittering skyscrapers is conjuring up optimists. The port project is one of the heart of the so-called China / Pakistan economic corridor. China's head of state and party leader, Xi Jinping, pledged $ 46 billion (41.3 billion euros) to Islamabad.

The 3,000-kilometer network of traffic routes, power stations and power lines is to extend from Kashgar in western China to the Arabian Sea: in western Pakistan to Gwadar, in the province of Balochistan, which is battered by separatists and Islamists; in the east via Punjab, the power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to the coastal metropolis of Karachi. Enthusiasts are already dreaming of Pakistan becoming the next Asian tiger. With 538 million euros in direct investments, China ensured an increase in foreign subsidies of almost 40 percent in the past fiscal year.

Islamabad sells the project as a panacea for the country's economic problems: It is supposed to create jobs, stimulate economic growth and reform the chronically ailing energy sector, into which a large part of the funds flow. The deal is money and development opportunities against a geostrategically favorable location. However, many residents of Gwadar and the surrounding Balochistan doubt the benefits of the project. It only serves China, not the people, they complain. They do not see anything of the income from the port: A Chinese company signed a 43-year lease in November. The city also lacks drinking water and electricity - electricity is imported from neighboring Iran.

New Delhi is preparing

This is where the rivalry between the poor province and rich Punjab comes into play: the local government in Quetta accuses the prime minister of preferring the eastern corridor route in order to win votes. For China, however, what counts above all is the protection of its thousands of skilled workers in Pakistan, who have repeatedly been victims of violence in recent years.

The army therefore pledged more than 10,000 soldiers to Beijing. The security forces are ready to do anything to make this “long-cherished dream come true,” Army chief Rahell Sharif threatened all opponents. Much is at stake - for both countries. The corridor is the flagship of Xi Jinping's geopolitical push “One Belt, One Road”, which is intended to link Eurasia through infrastructure and investment projects.

Xi is killing several birds with one stone: The project is not only interesting for economic reasons, Beijing is also hoping for security stabilization in the neighboring state bordering the troubled province of Xinjiang. More importantly, access to the Arabian Sea is a cornerstone of China's rise to a naval force. At the same time, the Sinopakistani friendship keeps India in check. A development that the Asian giant is suspicious of.

It is a rumor that "China is building Gwadar as another hostile stronghold on the so-called pearl necklace to curb India's activities in the Indian Ocean and beyond," the Chinese propaganda newspaper "Global Times" denied a rivalry between the countries. New Delhi apparently sees things differently and has taken precautions: In May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a 449 million euro deal with Tehran, which is to transform the small Iranian port of Chabahar into a hub for Indian goods.

("Die Presse", print edition, August 19, 2016)