Amid Beijing’s “Silk Road” splurge, Chinese firms eye Pakistan: Report

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ISLAMABAD, Feb 3 (APP): Chinese companies are in talks
to snap up more businesses and land in Pakistan after sealing two major deals in recent months, a sign of deepening ties after Beijing vowed to plough $57 billion into a new trade route across the South Asian nation.
A dozen executives from some of Pakistan’s biggest firms
were quoted by Reuters news agency as telling it that Chinese companies were looking mainly at the cement, steel, energy and textile sectors, the backbone of Pakistan’s $ 270 billion economy.
Analysts say the interest shows Chinese firms are using
Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” project a global trade
network of which Pakistan is a key part to help expand abroad at a time when growth has slowed at home, the Reuters report said.
A Chinese led consortium recently took a strategic stake
in the Pakistan Stock Exchange, and Shanghai Electric Power
acquired one of Pakistan’s biggest energy producers, K
Electric, for $1.8 billion, it added.
“The Chinese have got deep pockets and they are looking
for major investment in Pakistan,” the news agency quoted Muhammad Ali Tabba, chief executive of two companies in the Yunus Brothers Group cement to chemicals conglomerate.
Tabba said Yunus Brothers, partnering with a Chinese
company, lost out in the battle for K Electric, but the group is eyeing up other joint ventures as part of a $2 billion expansion plan over the coming years.
Mohammad Zubair, Pakistan’s privatization minister until
a few days ago, told Reuters China’s steel giant Baosteel Group is in talks over a 30 year lease for state run Pakistan Steel Mills. Baosteel did not respond to a request for comment.
The negotiations come as Pakistani business sentiment
turns, with companies betting that Beijing’s splurge on road,
rail and energy infrastructure under the China Pakistan
Economic Corridor (CPEC) will boost the economy.
The Chinese charge is in contrast to Western investors,
who have largely avoided Pakistan in recent years despite fewer militant attacks and economic growth near 5 percent, the report added.
It is welcomed by many in Pakistan: foreign direct
investment was $1.9 billion in 2015/2016, far below the 2007/2008 peak of $5.4 billion.
At the stock exchange signing ceremony, Sun Weidong,
China’s ambassador to Pakistan, said the deal “embodies the
ongoing financial integration” between Chinese and Pakistani markets.
“This will facilitate more financial support for our
enterprises,” Sun said.
According to the report, CPEC will connect China’s
Western region with Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar
through a network of rail, road and pipeline projects. That will be funded by loans from China, and much of the business will go to Chinese enterprises, it added.
The scale of Chinese corporate interest beyond that is
difficult to gauge, but in Karachi, Pakistan’s financial centre, sharply dressed Chinese appear to outnumber Westerners in hotels, restaurants and the city’s airport.
Rising skyscrapers testify to a construction boom in the
city, businesses are printing Chinese language brochures and salaries demanded by Pakistanis who speak Chinese have shot up, the report added.
The report quoted Miftah Ismail, chairman of Pakistan’s
Board of Investment, as saying that Chinese companies were
interested in investing in the telecoms and auto sectors, with
FAW Group and Foton Motor Group planning to enter Pakistan.
FAW said the Pakistan “project is going through internal
approvals”, but did not offer more details. Foton declined to comment, the report added.
The Chinese interest comes as Islamabad and Beijing
discuss the next phase of CPEC: how to build Pakistan’s industry with the help of Chinese state owned industrial giants.
Pakistani officials are drafting plans for special
economic zones which would offer tax breaks and other benefits to Chinese businesses.
But even before zones are established, Chinese investors
are scoping out land deals.
“A lot of companies … don’t care about CPEC. They just
want 500 acres of land to set up shop,” the report quoted Naheed Memon, head of the Sindh province’s Board of Investment as saying.
Faisal Aftab, manager of private investment firm Oxon
Partners, said Oxon was in talks with two state run Chinese companies and a wealthy Chinese businessman to purchase and develop land for high end residential and commercial properties.
“They are seeking land in prime markets such as Lahore,
Karachi, and Islamabad,” Aftab said.
The report further quoted Yunus Brothers’ Tabba as
urging Western investors to overcome their “phobia” of Pakistan. “If they came here, they would see the momentum, the buzz of growth.”
APP/ssk/azm