On Wednesday, Pakistan approved a deal that transfers operational control of Gwadar Port from Singapore's PSA International to Chinese Overseas Port Holdings Limited. Gwadar Port is in a critical strategic location: It is at the apex of the Arabian Sea and the mouth of the Persian Gulf, and only about 400 kilometers away from the Strait of Hormuz, a key global oil supply route.
Gwadar Port will be of crucial economic interest to China because it gives western China access to the sea. It will also benefit a large part of the oil trade of China, which is the second largest oil importer in the world. If a pipeline connecting the port to western China is built, the shortest route for oil imports from the Middle East can be realized. The port will also give a great boost to developing China's vast western areas.
Maintaining the security of commercial and energy routes is vital to any country. Western countries have attached great attention to sea lanes. The shadow of Western countries can be found in most other critical strategic straits and canals such as the Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal and the Mandab Strait.
Not surprisingly, China's intentions in taking over Gwadar Port have been interpreted through a military perspective. Many analysts from the West and India believe that China harbors the intention to build naval bases there. Chinese operational control of Gwadar has seemingly set off alarm bells in India as it feels it is being encircled by China. The Chinese presence in Gwadar has also been seen as a threat to the US fleet in the Middle East.
In fact, China is not so powerful, nor is India so weak, so as to make it possible that the transfer of a mere civil project can "encircle" India.
Due to China's rise, many Chinese companies' overseas activities have been painted with a heavy military tint. If observers interpret China's every move on the premise that China's rise will definitely challenge the current international order, all China's overseas moves would be seen as having a military purpose.
China has repeatedly reaffirmed its intention and strategy of peaceful development. Perhaps only actions over time can dismiss these doubts. But at least it is good to see that most Pakistani people have welcomed their country's cooperation with China.