A view of the Gwadar port. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: China took control of Pakistan's Gwadar port on Monday as part of its drive to secure energy and maritime routes that also gives it a potential Arabian Sea naval base, sparking Indian concern.

“The contract of operation of Gwadar port is formally given to China. Today, the agreement is transferred from the Port of Singapore Authority to China Overseas Ports Holding Company Limited,” President Asif Ali Zardari announced.

“The award of this contract opens new opportunities for our people... It gives new impetus to Pakistan-China relations,” added Zardari in a speech broadcast live on television.

On January 30 the Pakistani cabinet approved the transfer of Gwadar, currently a commercial failure cut off from the national road network, from PSA International to the state-owned China company.

The Pakistanis pitched the deal as offering an energy and trade corridor that would connect China to the Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormuz, a gateway for a third of the world's traded oil, overland through an expanded Karakoram Highway.

Experts say it would cut thousands of kilometres off the distance which oil and gas imports from Africa and the Middle East have to travel to reach China.

China paid about 75 per cent of the initial $250 million used to build the port but in 2007 PSA International won a 40-year operating lease. Then-ruler Pervez Musharraf was reportedly unwilling to upset Washington by giving control of the port to the Chinese.

On February 6 Indian Defence Minister AK Antony said New Delhi was concerned by Pakistan's decision to transfer management of the deep-sea port to China, which has interests in a string of other ports encircling India.

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