NEW DELHI, Feb 6: China’s role in operating a strategically important port in Pakistan is a matter of concern for India, according to its defence minister.

Management of Gwadar port, around 600km from Karachi and close to Pakistan’s border with Iran, is being handed over to state-run Chinese Overseas Port Holdings after previously being managed by Singapore’s PSA International.

“It is a matter of concern to us,” Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony told reporters on Wednesday when asked about Chinese control of the port.

When complete, the port, which is close to the Strait of Hormuz, is seen as opening up an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf, across Pakistan to western China, and could be used by the Chinese Navy, Indian analysts claim.

China has also funded ports in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, and Chittagong in Bangladesh, both India’s neighbours. “Gwadar is a more serious development than the others,” Jay Ranade of the Centre for Air Power Studies said, as the port gives China base facilities.

A Pakistani foreign ministry official said the port was none of India’s business. “India has no concern with whoever Pakistan decides to work with on Gwadar,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

“We first had a deal with Singapore but that didn’t work out as desired. Singapore’s PSA International and the Chinese have settled the deal.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week that Gwadar was a commercial project, part of long-standing bilateral cooperation. “China will actively support any programme that benefits China-Pakistan relations and the prosperity of Pakistan,” he told reporters.

India was bound to modernise its armed forces in response to China’s own modernisation, Defence Minister Antony said at an air show in Bangalore. “It is our duty. If they are doing it, we will also do it,” he said.

Despite the push to overhaul its military, India’s defence budget would not escape a tightening of spending this year, the minister said, as New Delhi looked to rein in its fiscal deficit.—Reuters