Key CPEC port remains operational during COVID-19 pandemic

By Chu Daye Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/2 18:03:40

A container ship carrying construction materials berths at Gwadar Port on Tuesday. Photo: Courtesy of China Overseas Ports Holding Company

Pakistan's Gwadar Port, a major project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is functioning well despite the COVID-19 pandemic, port operators said on Wednesday. 

The comments came as some reports in Western media suggested Chinese teams' are unable to return to their posts amid the pandemic, which is stalling many BRI projects.

A large number of projects under the BRI, like the one in Gwadar, employ a limited number of Chinese staff and rely on local employees for most roles, the Global Times learned.

According to the latest head count, there are two Chinese employees and 140 Pakistani employees working at Gwadar Port, the source told the Global Times.

A container ship carrying construction materials arrived at the port on Tuesday, offloading a dozen truckloads of goods, including steel wire, needed by the airport project in the region. Gwadar Port is a major part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

"The port is functioning well. Chinese workers have returned to their posts, having completed their 14-day self-imposed quarantine," a source close to senior management at the port's operator told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"The port's operations have not halted. That's the nature of our business. We take turns to have some holidays," the source said. 

However, the source added that while there is no negative impact on its operations, the port cannot remain unaffected by the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on global shipping.

"Many ships drop 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 and this has affected the port," said the source.

Located in Pakistan's southwest province of Balochistan, Gwadar Port began to play a new role as economical transit stop and time-saving trade port for land-locked Afghanistan when it shipped fertilizer in January. 

As Pakistan entered lockdown last week, the port followed relevant rules and put on hold some of the projects in the nearby Free Trade Zone, another source told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Construction of a steel tube factory has been halted and a business center has been closed as precautions to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading. Business development to attract foreign investors has also came to a temporary halt. 

The port itself has been sealed off to outsiders and the number of non-essential visits has 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.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a recent interview with the Global Times that CPEC construction won't be impacted in the long run, although in the short run it could face some slowdown.

"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 come back quickly. And the entire region stands to benefit from the projects."


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