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Should China’s Management of a Pakistani Port Cause Alarm?

Mar 04 , 2013
  • Fu Xiaoqiang

    Director, Institute of Security and Arms Control, CICIR

On February 18, China and Pakistan officially agreed to transfer management of the Gwadar port from Singapore’s PSA International to China Overseas Holdings Limited (COH). Foreign media have rushed to speculate on China’s military aim behind the move and its subsequent strategic impact, with some even going so far as to say that this move would ‘stir up a hornets’ nest.’ In fact, however, the management handover is simply another milestone marking the friendly cooperation between China and Pakistan in a new period of time, and an inevitable outcome of COH’s efforts to grow its overseas operations and stakes. It also signifies the general course of China’s development, a trend that will not change in the face of speculation or vilification.

Pakistan’s handover of the management of the Gwadar port to a Chinese company is the outcome of the friendship and strategic cooperation between China and Pakistan, and another testimony to the China-Pakistan friendship over more than half a century. A new milestone marking the strategic cooperation between China and Pakistan, it contrasts sharply with the positions of the United States, India and some other countries that have long remained indifferent or even hostile to Pakistan’s strategic concerns, energy demands, and contributions to anti-terrorist campaigns. The United States, in particular, has long been discriminatory when dealing with India and Pakistan. It may provide India with civilian nuclear technology under the pretext of energy demand, but would not help Pakistan with its energy demand and economic development. Pakistan’s handover of the management of the Gwadar port to a Chinese company has been based on its appreciation of the strength of Chinese companies and their willingness to help in development efforts. If well managed, the Gwadar port will facilitate communications from this seaside region to inland Pakistan, accelerate Pakistan’s development of the oil and gas industry, serve as a regional trade hub, and offer a sally port for Pakistan’s efforts to solve its energy problems. Pakistan’s choice of partners for management of the Gwadar port is simply an exercise of its own sovereign rights that allows no bickering, and a move that has nothing to do with any other countries. Instead of making irresponsible remarks about China-Pakistan cooperation, it is better to reflect on one question: why has Pakistan chosen a Chinese company instead of one from the United States or India?  

China’s rapid growth into the world’s second biggest economy has greatly beefed up Chinese enterprises, and fueled their aspiration for investment and operation on foreign lands. The United States and some European countries, however, have been setting up one roadblock after another to retard investment by Chinese enterprises and their merger and acquisition of foreign businesses, and look at the normal business operations of Chinese enterprises with a zero-sum eye and a Cold War mentality. Not ready yet to accept facts such as the acquisition of foreign businesses by Chinese companies or their win of management power over major foreign infrastructural facilities, they always try to interpret and exaggerate the backgrounds of Chinese enterprises, especially the state or military ownership of China’s transnational and state-owned conglomerates. Just as they have disliked Huawei Technologies’ expansion in the United States and India, they will hardly welcome the development and management of the Gwadar port by a Chinese company. However uncomfortable these countries may be, and how doggedly they may keep to their position of no acceptance, China will continue to develop its interests on foreign lands and enhance their protection.   

Neither should the strategic impact of China’s takeover of the management of the Gwadar port be overly interpreted. In the final analysis, the takeover is merely a corporate conduct to further cement a bilateral friendship. It is not an effort by the Chinese military to establish a military presence in a foreign land. Without any solid ground, some Western countries and India have accused China for promoting its so-called ‘string of pearls’ strategy, and have assumed that China’s move was designed to gain control of the vital sea route, increase its influence in the Indian Sea, and seek strategic containment of India. They have even unscrupulously presumed that this move by China would ‘stir up a hornets’ nest’ and fuel competition among ports in the United Arab Emirates, Iran and other Middle East countries, by attempting to sow discord between China and these countries. As a matter of fact, their alarmist comments are solely an assumption that China will follow the example of the United States to promote its overseas military presence. What they have forgotten is that China has long been following a strategy of never seeking hegemonism and always working for peaceful development. China will not go for any military presence on a foreign land. It will not hesitate, meanwhile, to promote the development of its interests beyond its borders.      

Since the Indian Ocean does not fall under the title of any country, it is not of good reason to stick to a narrow-minded geo-political mentality and subsequently stir up a zero-sum confrontation, or to misinterpret the normal business operations conducted by Chinese enterprises. As a matter of fact, the United States and some European countries have long kept a military presence in the Indian Ocean. Even India has kept an intelligence interception station in Madagascar. China is fully justified, therefore, to take part in the management of the Gwadar port. No comment by any country on the Chinese company’s takeover of the management of the Gwadar port will stop China’s pace in developing its overseas interests. It is highly likely that even more Chinese enterprises will go and take part in the construction and management of ports in the Indian Ocean in the future, a trend the international community will get accustomed to sooner or later.  

The reaction to China’s takeover of the management of the Gwadar port has also proved the success of China’s foreign policy of peace:  continuous growth and a full guarantee of its interests in foreign lands. As for the development of the Gwadar port after the takeover, it is totally up to Chinese and Pakistani enterprises and governments. History will prove that China, which respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, dignity and interests, is a partner Pakistan can absolutely trust.

Fu Xiaoqiang is fellow researcher with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

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