With string of big-money projects, China deepens ties with Pakistan
Mainland firms working on more than 100 major initiatives in energy, roads and technology as South Asian nation tries to right its economy
Agence France-Presse in Islamabad
Pakistan's recent launch of work on its largest nuclear power plant is the latest example of big-money Chinese infrastructure projects in the troubled nation.
Pakistan, plagued by a homegrown Taliban insurgency, is battling to get its economy back on track and solve a chronic energy crisis that cripples industry.
Politicians in Beijing and Islamabad are fond of extolling the profundity of their friendship in flowery rhetoric and on the ground this has translated into around 10,000 Chinese engineers and workers flocking to Pakistan.
Chinese companies are working on more than 100 major projects in energy, roads and technology, according to Pakistani officials, with an estimated US$18 billion expected to be invested in the coming years.
"Some projects are being done by the government, then most of the projects are being done by the Chinese companies, by the provinces and also with the state enterprises and authorities," said Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan's federal minister for planning and development. "In the energy sector, Chinese engineers are building up to 15 power projects that include hydel [hydroelectric], thermal and nuclear plants."
Pakistan faces an electricity shortfall of around 4,000 megawatts in the sweltering summer, leading to lengthy blackouts that make ordinary people's lives a misery and have strangled economic growth.
To combat the crisis, Pakistan has sought Chinese help in building power-generation projects across the country, including nuclear. Aside from the 2,200MW project near Karachi recently launched by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chinese companies built two of Pakistan's three operational reactors. Chinese engineers are also busy in the construction of a 969MW hydropower project in Kashmir. They have also committed to generate 6,000MW of electricity from coal and wind in southern Sindh province.
But co-operation goes beyond energy. Visiting in May during his first overseas trip after taking office, Premier Li Keqiang linked growth in his country's restive west with that in Pakistan, saying the two sides wanted to create an "economic corridor" to boost development.
The concept involves improving road and rail networks to link China through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea and Iqbal said its benefits would extend to other neighbouring countries.
"The biggest flagship project is going to be the economic corridor," he said. "I hope with its completion, we will be able to create opportunities not just for China and Pakistan but for the entire region."