Xinjiang-Gwadar port economic corridor tops Pakistani leader's China agenda

Economic corridor joining Pakistan to Xinjiang will 'change fate' of region, says new leader

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 5:27am

Nawaz Sharif says working out the details of a new economic corridor to Xinjiang will be a major goal of his first trip to China as Pakistan's prime minister this week.

In an interview with Chinese media including the Sunday Morning Post, Sharif said the corridor, which will connect the resource-rich western region with Pakistan's Gwadar port, would "change the fate" of the region.

Sharif's six-day visit will be the second high-level exchange between the two countries in less than two months. China and Pakistan signed 11 co-operation agreements during Premier Li Keqiang's visit to the country in late May.

The corridor would consist of a series of special economic zones, a rail link and a pipeline, and would give China access to the Indian Ocean.

"The economic corridor taking off from Kashgar [in Xinjiang ] to Gwadar is a game changer as far as this region is concerned," Sharif said. "We expect the corridor will become a very important economic hub."

Sharif said he would seek bilateral co-operation in "every field", but especially energy and infrastructure.

"We are investing in each other's countries," Sharif said. "This is the time for both countries to move forward at a faster speed."

Sharif mentioned Islamabad's and Beijing's shared interest in building a railway between Gwadar and Kashgar in his June 5 inauguration speech.

A Pakistani task force held talks with the National Development and Reform Commission on the scheme on Tuesday.

The operation of the Gwadar port, located near the Strait of Hormuz, was handed to the China Overseas Port Holding Co last year, a success in China's plan to secure maritime hubs around the Indian Ocean.

Wang Dehua , a South Asian studies specialist at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said the economic corridor could serve as an alternate route for trade if the Strait of Malacca were blocked.

Wang said China was building up ties with countries along its western border to counter the United States' pivot to the Asia-Pacific, under which Washington has been firming up ties with China's eastern neighbours.

Sharif's trip to China comes amid frosty US-Pakistan ties. Islamabad lodged a protest over a recent American drone attack in a border region.

Regional rivals such as India are suspicious the Gwadar port deal may strengthen military ties between Islamabad and Beijing.