Strategic Hand

From the August 2001 Trumpet Print Edition

China’s pledge to extend financial and other necessary assistance to Pakistan for the construction of two projects—a deep-sea port at Gwadar and an over-750-kilometer-long Makran coastal highway—has stirred some international concern, particularly in neighboring India.

The port has real strategic significance as a result of its location at the western end of the province of Baluchistan, making it the westernmost part of South Asia and the guardian of the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Gwadar Port will be Pakistan’s second naval outlet after its port at Karachi.

The Business Recorder reported, “The importance of Gwadar port for Pakistan can hardly be exaggerated. Located as it is, it may serve as a mid-country deep-sea port thereby making it possible to cut down the long distance between Karachi and the northern areas including Afghanistan which carries on trade with the outside world via Pakistan…. The economic significance of a seaport at Gwadar along with a new highway would prove to be a landmark in the development of the entire region” (June 13).

The Chinese have sought to downplay this significance. When asked if China had plans to use the Gwadar port to station its warships in the future, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue responded that it would only be used as a trade port.

But it seems there is more to this than meets the eye. Gwadar is only one of numerous seaport interests that China has developed in recent years. Over the past half-decade, China has taken control of the following strategic sea gates (which in years past fell under British or American authority): Hong Kong, Kowloon, Panama and Freeport (Bahamas). On top of this, in June China sewed up a deal, with the European Union’s consent, to take a 50 percent share in the control of the biggest international seaport in the world—Rotterdam. They also own the controlling interest in Britain’s major port facilities.

A clear trend has emerged here. China is developing control over a number of prime sea lanes. These will promote its international trade, certainly, but the significance of these spots to China for strategic and even military purposes should not be overlooked.