ISLAMABAD: With an investment of $46 billion and scores of infrastructure projects, the ongoing construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is undoubtedly one of the largest endeavors now taking place on the planet.
Roads, energy projects, industrial parks and the Gwadar port are all included in the basket, satisfying Pakistan’s immediate needs as well as helping the south Asian country get back on its feet after years of anti-terror campaigns wrecked its economy.
Three years after the initiative on the construction of CPEC was jointly announced by China and Pakistan, Xinhua has learned that the project is yielding its early fruits as new roads and power plants have put Pakistan’s growth in the first gear.
Located 20 km east of Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the Bin Qasim power plant is one of the pioneer and flagship projects of CPEC planned to begin operating at the end of next year.
The Pakistan government hopes the plant would significantly cut power shortage as both population and economy boom.
In the capital city of Islamabad, there is virtually no supply of electricity for almost half a day, with the rural areas in even worth conditions, supplied by electricity only six hours a day.
The lack of electricity has made the poor vulnerable to extreme heat which smothers the country every summer, and has the manufacturing industry on a leash.
For the coal-fired plant built by PowerChina, the Chinese construction company commissioned to undertake the construction of the project, two 660-megawatt generator units will be installed, which would generate 1,320 megawatts of electricity per year, more than a quarter of the 4,500-5,000 megawatts of power shortage estimated for the year 2012.
“With three more plants like this one, Pakistan would have no more energy woes,” said Chen Enping, a manager at PowerChina.
A little further away from Karachi, the operation of the first phase of a Chinese wind farm is already in full swing. Thirty-three windmills erected by China Three Gorges Corporation churned out 140 million kwh of electricity last year, powering 60,000 families in the region.
“Before this, we had blackout most of the time. Now we can enjoy three or four more hours of power each day, which means a running fan can help us get through the night,” Hassan, a local resident, told Xinhua, adding that he hopes the second phase of the wind farm, under construction in January, will make the next summer more comfortable.
For Sher Afzart, a shop owner in northern Pakistan’s Hunza Valley, the Karakorum Highway is what he owes his livelihood to.
The two-lane highway, originally built by the Chinese in the 1970s and recently renovated by China Road and Bridge Corporation, connects Kashgar, a commercial hub in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, and Pakistan.
Afzart can save days on trips to Kashgar to buy goods as the road cuts through the Karakorum mountains. There is a steady flow of business as thousands of Chinese workers labour around Hunza.
Following the completion of the Karakorum Highway renovation project, more business opportunities are created, Afzart said.
“With the convenience of road traffic, I’m thinking of opening branches in Islamabad and even in cities farther south,” he said.
The Karakorum Highway is just one of the roads that falls under CPEC. The M-4 National Motorway, a strategic artery in central Pakistan, is also being paved by the Chinese.
Wang Feng, chief engineer of China Railway First Group Co. Ltd., which was commissioned to construct a segment of the motorway, said despite the temperature at the site often running up to more than 50 degrees Celsius during summer, his team is beating the odds to complete the project on time.
“We were touched by the generous local people, who offered us fruits and tea when we first arrived. To repay their kindness we built two bridges and water ducts at our own cost to help local farming,” Wang said.
Aside from highways, railways and light rails are also part of the grand plan to upgrade Pakistan’s road network, as the current one, constructed in the British colonial era, is putting a strain on the economy.
The Gwadar port, located in the southern coast of Pakistan, is where CPEC meets the Indian ocean. From here resources can commence their journey onto the hinterlands of Pakistan and western China, and Chinese and Pakistani products can be shipped out to every corner of the world.
Viewed from above, the port is like an anchor protruding into the emerald waters, forming two natural bays that are as deep as 14.5 m, making them perfect harbors.
After the CPEC cooperation programme was launched in 2013, a plan was developed in the following years to comprehensively transform the fishing town into a modern metropolis complete with industrial zones, a harbour and recreational zones.
Gwadar Port Authority Chairman Dostain Jamaldini has big ambitions for the port, eyeing Dubai, which is just across the Arabian Sea, as a model.
Near future plans for the port area include the construction of a Free Trade Zone, a Special Economic Zone, a coastal expressway, an international airport and a pipeline linking Iran, which are all parts of the CPEC plan remodelling the town which will be the hinge of the corridor.
“Pakistan is ready to offer the most generous terms for companies investing in the port,” Jamaldini said. “We believe the favourable policies and the superb location of the port will soon attract the interest of investors worldwide.”