By Aamir Latif and Islamuddin Sajid
KARACHI / ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AA) – China on Wednesday said it had no objection to a proposed investment from Saudi Arabia in its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in Pakistan.
The $64-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) includes expansion of the Gwadar port in southern Pakistan, power plants, and road and rail networks.
The economic corridor will not only provide China cheaper access to Africa and the Middle East but will also earn Pakistan billions of dollars for providing transit facilities to the world’s second-largest economy.
"We welcome the [Saudi] investment in the CPEC," Yao Jing, the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, told a news conference in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province — a key route of the CPEC.
Not only Saudi Arabia, he said, but Beijing also wanted to link the mega project to the Central Asian states via Afghanistan, Dawn News reported.
Islamabad, last month, had formally invited Riyadh to join CPEC, amid growing concern by the government that the project unfairly benefits China.
However, the government quickly clarified later that the Kingdom would not join the mega project as a strategic partner, and that its proposed investment would fall under a separate bilateral arrangement.
The sharp rebuttal coupled with contradictory statements from government ministers triggered speculations of Beijing's displeasure over Riyadh's proposed inclusion in CPEC.
Though there is no official confirmation of the expected volume of Saudi investment in the project, local media quoting unnamed government officials claims it is valued at $10 billion.
A major chunk of the investment would be for an oil city. The proposed oil city will be some 50 kilometers (30 miles) off Gwadar and will sprawl over 70,000 acres.
Also, Riyadh plans to build an oil refinery in Gwadar.
A Saudi delegation led by the Kingdom’s advisor on energy Ahmad Hamed Al-Ghamdi visited Gwadar last month to discuss the feasibility and other matters relating to Riyadh’s proposed plans.
The Kingdom also plans to invest in a copper and gold project in Balochistan's Reko Diq area.
Riyadh has already announced to finance three CPEC projects in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Lijian Zhao, deputy chief of the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, said: "China would welcome all countries including Turkey, Japan, the U.S., Iran to come and invest in CPEC."
Refuting allegations that the project would increase the debt burden on Pakistan, he said, CPEC would immensely benefit the Pakistani economy.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to undertake his first visit to China this month on invitation of the Chinese government.
During the visit both countries will discuss the future strategy of CPEC and sign several agreements.
"We are still working on the visit and agreements are being worked out," Zhao said.