China poised to control strategic Gwadar port

1 / 2
2 / 2
Updated 02 February 2013
0

China poised to control strategic Gwadar port

KARACHI: China is poised to take over operational control of a strategic deep-water Pakistani seaport that could serve as a vital economic hub for Beijing and perhaps a key military outpost, according to officials.
The construction of the port, in the former fishing village of Gwadar in troubled Baluchistan province, was largely funded by China at a cost of around $ 200 million. It has been a commercial failure since it opened in 2007, because Pakistan never completed the road network to link the port to the rest of the country.
Chinese control of the port would give it a foothold in one of the world's most strategic areas and could unsettle officials in Washington, who have been concerned about Beijing's expanding regional influence.
The port on the Arabian Sea occupies a strategic location between South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. It lies near the Strait of Hormuz, gateway for about 20 percent of the world's oil.
China's interest is driven by concerns about energy security as it seeks to fuel its booming economy. It wants a place to anchor pipelines to secure oil and gas supplies from the Gulf. Beijing also believes that helping develop Pakistan will boost economic activity in its far western province of Xinjiang and dampen a simmering, low-intensity rebellion there.
Some experts view Gwadar as the westernmost link in the "string of pearls," a line of ports from China to the Gulf that could facilitate expansion of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean. That has sparked concern in both the US and India.
Pakistan's Cabinet agreed Wednesday to a proposal for a company owned by the Chinese government, China Overseas Port Holdings Limited, to purchase control of the port from Singapore's PSA International Pte Ltd., which won a bid in 2007 to operate the port for 40 years. The transaction has not yet occurred, a spokesman for Pakistan's Ministry of Ports and Shipping, Mohammed Raza, said yesterday.
Pakistan views China as one of its most important allies and a counterweight to the United States, which has given Islamabad billions of dollars in aid but is often viewed as a fickle taskmaster.
China is expected to pay $ 35 million for control of the port to PSA and two other groups that own an interest, said Aqeel Karim Dhedhi, one of the other shareholders. The third shareholder is the National Logistics Cell, which is controlled by the Pakistani army. The Chinese are waiting for a Pakistani court case challenging PSA's control of the port to be dismissed to complete the transaction, Dedhi said.
A senior Pakistani official said Beijing has agreed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to finish a 900-km (550-mile) road that would link the port with Pakistan's north-south Indus Highway, facilitating overland transport from Gwadar to China. The Pakistani government was supposed to complete the road in 2012, but it is only 60 percent finished, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
It will still be a tough drive, passing along the Karakorum Highway that winds through the rugged mountains of northern Pakistan and then into Xinjiang province via a border crossing point at an elevation of 4,693 meters (15,397 ft). The path is often blocked by snow in winter.
Even so, the route will cut the overland distance from China's western provinces to the sea in half, from about 4,000 km (2,500 miles) to China's east coast, to just 2,000 (1,250 miles) south to Gwadar.
Longer-term plans also call for road and rail links from Gwadar that would pass through strife-torn Afghanistan to energy-rich Central Asian states.
Asked about the port on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, "As long as projects are conducive to China-Pakistan relations, the Chinese side will positively support them."
The port is operating at only about 15 percent capacity now, and machinery originally installed by China is rusting for lack of use, said a Pakistani port worker, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On a purely economic basis, the level of trade through the port should be zero because of its drawbacks, but the government is spending millions of dollars in subsidies to ship fertilizer through the facility. It would be cheaper to send the shipments through the coastal city of Karachi, 700 km (430 miles) to the east, the worker said.
Some government officials have claimed that violence in Baluchistan has prevented them from completing the road network. Baluch nationalists have waged a decades-long insurgency against the government, demanding greater autonomy and a larger share of the province's natural resources.
Gunmen shot to death two Pakistani air force personnel and a shopkeeper in a town near Gwadar on Tuesday, said local police official Izat Ali.
Other officials said the ruling Pakistan People's Party simply shifted priorities away from Baluchistan and spent the money building roads in its main areas of support in Sindh province.
"The solution to Gwadar is the Chinese, since they have shown the willingness to work in Pakistan under tough conditions," said shareholder Dhedhi.
FROM: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

Updated 24 April 2018
0

UN says Nicaragua protest killings may be 'unlawful'

  • Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
  • Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
MANAGUA: The United Nations said Tuesday that many deaths in nearly a week of anti-government protests violently repressed by police in Nicaragua may have been "unlawful" and called for an investigation.
The scrutiny from the Swiss-based UN human rights office adds to international alarm at Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's ordered crackdown against a wave of anti-government demonstrations and clashes.
The European Union, United States and the Vatican have all urged talks to restore calm, while the US embassy in Managua ordered family members of staff out of the country after Ortega deployed the army to the streets and looting broke out.
A toll compiled from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights and Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, puts the number of deaths since last Wednesday at 27. Most were protesters, among which university students and youths figure prominently.
"We are particularly concerned that a number of these deaths may amount to unlawful killings," Liz Throssell of the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights told reporters in Geneva.
"It is essential that all allegations of excessive use of force by police and other security forces are effectively investigated to ensure those responsible are held to account," Throssell said.
The UN office said at least 25 people, including a police officer, had been killed.
The protests were sparked Wednesday by pension reforms aimed at keeping Nicaragua's burdened Social Security Institute afloat by cutting benefits and increasing contributions.
But they rapidly spread and intensified as other grievances over Ortega's rule surged to the fore.
On Monday, tens of thousands of people -- employees, students, pensioners and ordinary citizens -- marched peacefully in the capital Managua and other cities demanding an end to the forceful security crackdown on protests.
Some groups called for "dictator" Ortega and his wife to step down, yelling "Out! Out!"
Ortega, a 72-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader who has ruled Nicaragua for 22 of the past 39 years, has been taken aback by the demonstrations against him, the biggest in his last 11-year stretch in power.
He has canceled the pension reforms and called for dialogue, and Murillo has suggested arrested protesters could be released.
But his security forces have not been pulled back, and -- though Managua appeared relatively calm early Tuesday -- widespread anti-government sentiment persisted.
Even Nicaragua's business sector, whose support had shored up Ortega over the past decade, has abandoned him over the violence.
A pro-government rally was being organized for Thursday to show that the president still enjoyed backing from part of the population.
Mass street protests are rare in Nicaragua, where the army maintains a very tight grip on public order.
But dissatisfaction has been bubbling over in recent months.
Frustrations have been voiced over corruption, the distant and autocratic style of Ortega and Murillo, limited options to change the country's politics in elections, and the president's control over the Congress, the courts and the electoral authority.
In rural areas, anger also stemmed from a stalled plan by Ortega to have a Chinese company carve a $50 billion canal across Nicaragua to rival Panama's lucrative Pacific-to-Atlantic shipping canal.
If the project went ahead, it would displace thousands of rural dwellers and indigenous communities, while dealing a negative impact on the environment.
"People are demanding democracy, freedom, free elections, a transparent government, the separation of powers, rule of law. The people want freedom," former Nicaraguan foreign minister Norman Caldera told AFP.
"If the government doesn't yield, it's going to be very difficult to stop this (the protests)," he said, asserting that the "big majority" of the population was showing its frustration with Ortega.
"The repressive apparatus is not able to halt protests on this scale," Caldera said.
Though Ortega has held out the promise of talks with opponents, the lack of any identifiable leader in the protest movement could make dialogue there difficult.
Under his watch, Nicaragua has avoided the rampant crime seen in northern Central American countries where gangs are rife.
It has also put in solid economic growth, yet it remains one of the poorest nations in Latin America.
The sudden upsurge in the streets puts Ortega at a crossroads: to tough it out, or to bow to the demands for democracy that have become too loud to ignore.