China’s demand for seafood is seemingly insatiable. According to a study by Stockholm University, China will require up to 18 million tons of additional seafood to satisfy its expected domestic consumption by 2030. In July this year, five Chinese deep-sea vessels were intercepted near Gwadar on suspicion of illegal fishing. The trawlers, subsequently found to be loaded with fish, were taken into custody by the Pakistan
Maritime Security Agency. This incursion further aggravated protesters, who are now demanding a complete end to deep-sea fishing in the 12 nautical-mile sea limit off Gwadar.
The second reason for the protests is the plethora of issues experienced by local residents due to the security arrangements of Chinese personnel working on BRI projects. Chinese workers in Gwadar have been under attack by Baloch insurgents who blame China for the exploitation of their resources. As a result, Gwadar has been heavily militarised. Local residents
must pass through numerous checkpoints on a daily basis, where they have to prove their identity and at times are refused passage. Recently, locals have resorted to protest against the daily humiliation of justifying their movements and have demanded an end
to the security controls.
Despite multiple public demonstrations, the Pakistan government has not fulfilled any of the protesters’ demands,
which also include improvements to water supply, electricity and roads. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in a tweet that he has
taken notice, but there has been no concrete follow-up action. Now protesters say they will block operations of Chinese-controlled Gwadar port and its allied expressways. They have also announced a long march to the capital Islamabad if demands are not
Indirectly, Chinese interests in Gwadar have become a target of protesters’ demands. Although the demonstrations are not explicitly
anti-Chinese, the demands put forth are in direct opposition to Chinese goals. For instance, Pakistan’s Senate was advised in late November that China
would receive 91 per cent of the revenue generated by Gwadar port. Gwadar protesters led by Rehman are now demanding that 98 per cent of the revenue be retained by Gwadar and that only 2 percent goes to China. China has spent billions of dollars in Pakistan
with the anticipation of substantial revenue from Gwadar port in the future.
The Gwadar sit-in protest was temporarily called off last week
when the government announced it would accept the demands of protestors. The movement’s leader has said that if the government fails to implement the promised changes, they will protest again with more intensity.
Therefore, a complete blockage of the port is anticipated in the next phase. This will not only bring an end to the already limited cargo movement taking place at Gwadar
port, but will also damage its reputation. After such upheaval, it will be hard to convince foreign investors that Gwadar is a secure and reliable bet. As a strategic economic investment for China, Gwadar is in jeopardy.
24 Dec 21/Friday