By Aamir Latif
Pakistan and China have started naval exercises in the Arabian Sea, just days after trade activities officially began in the strategic Gwadar Port.
Gwadar Port, located in Pakistan’s volatile Balochistan province, is part of the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
According to Commodore Mirza Foad Amin Baig, commander of the 18th Destroyer Squadron, the naval exercises, began Thursday and would continue until Nov. 21. They would cover a wide spectrum of maritime and naval operations by ships, helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft, joint boarding operations by special forces, air defense exercises, communication drills and joint maneuvers by ships, Baig added.
Captain Chi Qingtao, flotilla commander of the Chinese Navy, said bilateral exercises would further refine operational capabilities of both navies, and were significant given the backdrop of the CPEC.
The two countries, last year, had sealed 51 agreements during Chinese President Xi Jinping's two-day visit to Pakistan, enhancing cooperation in the fields of energy, security and infrastructure.
The Pakistan-China Economic Corridor aims to connect China with Pakistan's southwestern Gwadar port through a network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport cargo, oil and gas. This will provide the shortest route to Chinese cargo destined for the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.
One of the most serious barriers to the completion of the 2,000-kilometer (1,243-mile) corridor is Pakistan's internal security situation.
In the past, Chinese workers have been attacked, killed and kidnapped in southwestern and northwestern Pakistan, including near the port of Gwadar by Baloch separatists and Taliban-affiliated armed extremists.
The Pakistani army has created a 10,000-strong force to provide protection to hundreds of Chinese workers, technicians and experts associated with the economic corridor.
The new force, formed on the special request of the Chinese president, will comprise nine army battalions and six wings of the paramilitary forces.
China is already Pakistan's largest trade and defense partner.