Concerns over security could hinder China’s ambitious plans to build a road and rail network and economic corridor from the western Xinjiang region to Pakistan, a Chinese official has said.
Long-discussed proposals to take forward the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor got a boost last month when newly-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Beijing and framed the project as one of his government’s priorities.
The corridor envisages improving road links from Xinjiang to Pakistan, including expanding and bolstering the Karokaram Highway, as well as building railway lines and pipelines from Kashgar in Xinjiang to the Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea, which could open up a much-needed alternative route for energy imports.
The security implications of the plan have concerned India as the corridor runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which borders Xinjiang.
This week, a top Chinese planning official acknowledged that despite the recent attention, it could still be a long while before the project comes to fruition.
At a meeting in Beijing discussing the plan, Lin Dajian, a top official in the foreign affairs office of the National Development and Reform Commission, the planning authority, said “security issues and challenges” could impede the project, according to a report by the official Associated Press of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Masood Khalid, who attended the meeting, expressed optimism about the corridor. He said “a task force and secretariat” had been set up to take forward the project, while a team from Pakistan would visit China soon “for further discussion”.
China’s growing concerns over security in Pakistan, in the wake of recent kidnapping threats to workers, have also slowed down other infrastructure projects executed by Chinese companies in the country. Analysts say China’s investments in the country have, as a result, not kept pace with the often lofty rhetoric hailing “all-weather” relations.
Only a day after Ms. Lin’s note of caution, Xiong Lixin, vice-president of Sinohydro, one of China’s biggest hydropower companies, was quoted as saying Chinese workers had to be escorted to construction sites in Pakistan in helicopters by armed guards.
Mr. Xiong, who earlier worked on the Gomal Zam dam project, said work on the project came to a halt for two years in 2004 “after unidentified militants kidnapped two
Chinese engineers working on the project at the north-western border of Pakistan”, the official China Daily reported. One worker was rescued but the other was killed. In 2011, the Kingho group, a coal mining firm, said it was reconsidering a $19-billion investment – the biggest by a Chinese firm in Pakistan – in Sindh province on account of security concern.