BEIJING: Despite the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, the Gwadar Port which is a major project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is functioning well.
The comment came in response to a Global Times report which presumed Chinese teams are unable to return to their posts amid the pandemic that has stalled many Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects.
It is pertinent to mention that a large number of projects under the BRI employ a limited number of Chinese staff and rely on local employees for most roles. According to the latest head count, there are two Chinese employees and 140 Pakistani employees working at Gwadar Port.
“The port is functioning well. Chinese workers have returned to their posts, after completing their 14-day self-imposed quarantine,” a source close to the senior management at the port told the Global Times.
“The port’s operations have not halted. That’s the nature of our business. We take turns to take some holidays.” The source further said that while there is no negative impact on the port’s operations, it cannot remain unaffected by the impact the coronavirus has had on global shipping.
“Many ships swing by Gwadar after visiting a number of other ports first. and with global shipping being disrupted by the pandemic, there has been quite some re-routing which has affected the port,” the source said.
The Gwadar Port began to play a new role as an economical transit stop and time-saving trade port for land-locked Afghanistan when it shipped fertilizer in January. As Pakistan entered its lockdown last week, the port abided by the government’s orders and put some projects on hold in the Free Trade Zone. Construction of a steel tube factory was halted and a business center closed as precautionary measures to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading.
Business development to attract foreign investors has also come to a temporary halt. The port itself has been sealed off for outsiders and the number of non-essential visits have been cut to a minimum. However, the pandemic is unlikely to have a long-term impact on the port’s development, which is measured on a scale of years rather than months.
In a recent interview with the aforesaid foreign media outlet, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said CPEC construction won’t be impacted in the long run, although it could face a slowdown in the short run. “As soon as we are over the hump of dealing with the coronavirus, I think we’ll be back on track,” Qureshi said. “After the temporary dip, things will grow back quickly and the entire region stands to benefit from the projects.”