Pakistan province, China to ink economic zone deal

QUETTA (Pakistan) • Pakistan's poorest province is set to sign a deal with China allotting hundreds of hectares of land for Beijing to develop a massive special economic zone in the deep sea port of Gwadar, officials told Agence France-Presse.

The 40-year lease will see the government of Baluchistan hand over a 923ha swathe of tax-exempt land as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an ambitious US$46 billion (S$65.4 billion) investment plan linking western China to the Arabian Sea.

The contract assigning the land to the China Overseas Port Holding Company was due to be signed yesterday in Gwadar, according to Gwadar Port Authority chief Dostain Khan Jamaldini.

The contract will allow China to build an export zone and an international airport, Baluchistan's top provincial official said on Tuesday.

"China has asked us to provide land for building an export processing zone and a modern international airport in Gwadar," Baluchistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch told Agence France-Presse.

China is also building a road network to link the zone to the airport and a sea port, and the provincial government will provide the land according to the requirements, he said.

As part of the wider plans, work on the Gwadar International Airport would start in the next couple of months.

Pakistan is also raising a special security force of between 10,000 and 25,000 men to protect the port.

Desperately poor Baluchistan has been roiled since 2004 by a separatist insurgency aimed at seeking greater control over the province's rich oil, gas and mineral resources.

Gwadar port, located 540km south-west of Karachi, was built in 2007 with technical help from Beijing as well as Chinese financial assistance of some US$248 million. But acquiring the land from private owners to build the economic zone took several years and cost the provincial government around US$62 million, officials said.

Some Baluch nationalists have accused the Chinese of conspiring with the Pakistani elite to plunder the province's resources while doing little to share profits and create jobs for local people.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'Pakistan province, China to ink economic zone deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe