Center for Strategic Assessment and forecasts

Autonomous non-profit organization

Home / Politics and Geopolitics / The future of Russia and the world: estimates and projections / Articles
"New Dubai": how the Pakistani port of Gwadar threatens regional role of UAE?
Material posted: Publication date: 16-12-2017
Have you ever heard about so called "distant war in the Persian Gulf"? It is a war that may begin — albeit in a "cold" form — outside of the Gulf countries. Talk about it began again after the port of Gwadar once again attracted the attention of the international community, threatening "to cut the ground from under the feet" of the UAE.

The port, dubbed the "New Dubai" will be out in the Arabian sea in the South-West of Pakistan and is situated near the Strait of Hormuz, which accounts for one third of the world oil trade. "The new Dubai" is part of the project "One belt, one road", whose launch China announced in 2013 in the context of the continuing rise of China as an economic superpower. The goal of this project is the direct supply of Chinese goods in various regions of the world in the shortest possible time.

A joint Chinese-Pakistani project in the interests of some countries and at the same time threatens the interests of others, that beautifully demonstrates a conflict situation in the region, which also indicates the possibility of imminent changes in the regional rules of the game and maybe even the ability to move the conflict beyond the region in the case of intervention of the United States and Russia. How can UAE respond to this threat, which is likely to deprive the country of the status of one of the world's leading centers of Commerce in the middle East?

The importance of Gwadar port

The Gwadar port has strategic location, because it links South and Central Asia and the middle East, and was the most important part of the ancient silk road connecting China with the three old continents (Asia, Europe and Africa). This is due to the output port in the Arabian sea near the Strait of Hormuz, which contributed to reducing time and financial costs for trade caravans.


In 1779 the Strait of Gwadar was under the control of the Sultanate of Oman until, while in 1958 it had not regained the Pakistan. However, it took about 44 years before Islamabad began to benefit from the use of the port. Thus, for the first time the idea of the operation of Gwadar as a port for large ships appeared only in 2002.

By 2013, China announced the launch of a historic project "One belt, one road", which aims to create a vast network of Maritime and land routes with the participation of 68 countries in accordance with the plan for the transportation of Chinese goods in different corners of the earth.

The Gwadar port is one of the most important components of this project because of the proximity to China: this is the closest to the industrial zone in Xinjiang port, compared with Chinese ports in the East. Through Gwadar Beijing can conduct trade throughout Pakistan. This was specially built roads leading to the port, where Chinese goods are transported in the Gulf countries and the middle East in General.

Roughly the amount of annual investment in the Chinese-Pakistani project is estimated at $ 150 billion per year. The project is divided into two parts: land and sea. As for Gwadar, it is part of the land route, which includes six key ways, the most famous of which is the London railway with a length of 18 thousand kilometers. According to the report Opendemocracy, the road runs through nine countries: China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium, UK and France.

Islamabad has not found the best opportunity to be at the center of world attention. He also expects economic benefits from the partnership with China on this project. In 2015, the government of Pakistan announced the lease of land area of 152 hectares in the commercial port of Gwadar to a Chinese company, China Overseas Ports Holding for a period of 43 years, to facilitate direct access of Chinese goods in the Gulf region and the middle East.

10 April 2016 the company Director Zhang Baojun said that China Overseas Ports Holding can spend a total of $ 4.5 billion on roads, energy, hotels and other infrastructure in the industrial area of Gwadar. The company also plans to build in Pakistan's port, international airport and a power plant to the first batch of Chinese goods from Xinjiang (at a distance of three thousand kilometers from the port) were in Gwadar at the end of 2016. This will deal a severe blow to the conflict region.

The threat to the port of Dubai

Dubai — a vital nerve for Emiratis, the basis of the image to attract the attention of the world. The Emiratis are investing in the development of Dubai a large part of their investments to the city became the center of international trade, Finance and tourism. It is a multicultural city, able to become the center of attraction for both tourists and businessmen.

The importance of Dubai in the first place due to its infrastructure: it is the middle East's largest port Jebel Ali by Jeff Ali and port Rashid. Dubai — the most famous city in the UAE, where there are nearly five thousand companies from 120 countries around the world.

The UAE economy is dependent on income from services provided via these ports. It is a source of generating gold without interruptions. Dubai is a unique logistics centre, and there are no other projects that could compete with him and to reduce its market share. But what might happen after the launch of the Chinese-Pakistani project that if the Gwadar port can attract international attention thanks to its geographical position and other advantages, mentioned above?

UAE take countermeasures

The leadership of the Emirates were quick to launch a preemptive strike on the project before it becomes a part of reality, as it is expected that the Sino-Pakistan project will have a huge impact on the port of Jebel Ali for ten years. To prevent such a development, the Emiratis are in two areas.

© RIA Novosti, Anna Chernova

The first is the support of the Pakistani opposition, strengthening of its positions in the confrontation with the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, a strong supporter of Chinese-Pakistani project that has been removed from office in July amid allegations of corruption. So, some sources indicate that this (largely) stood United Arab Emirates, after the investigating authorities have received information that the Sharif chaired the Board of the company, owned by his son Hassan in Dubai, and received a salary to the Bank account in the UAE until 2014, including for years after coming to power. The tax authorities did not know about the money, in consequence of which Sharif has been indicted.

The second is the revival of relations with the enemies of Pakistan in the region, headed by India. In particular, in 2015, i.e. a year when the government of Pakistan has announced that it will provide China to lease land at the port of Gwadar, took place the visit of Prime Minister Narendra modi in the UAE. It is known that this is the first visit of the Indian Prime Minister in the UAE for the last 37 years.

In turn, India also welcomes the cooperation with the Emirates as interested in the fact to thwart the project, being one of the countries affected by it. So, the geography of the project is that it will affect the territory of Kashmir — a conflict zone between India and Pakistan, that will mean that this region, being a conduit for Chinese goods, will be under the protection of China.

The struggle for influence

It is obvious that the Gwadar port and Sino-Pakistan project in the region became an arena of regional struggle for power. A circle of opposing players is not limited to such countries as UAE, on the one hand, and Pakistan and China on the other. After India entered the front line, to intensify partnership with Abu Dhabi, went on the stage also Iran. He accelerated the development of the port of Chabahar, which is located 165 kilometers from Gwadar, and handed the port over to the India project cost about half a billion dollars, as fears of the effect of participation of the Pakistani port to the Chinese project.

Qatar also joined the struggle. The Qataris are aware of the key importance of Gwadar port as one of the most important factors that can contribute to redrawing the map of the entire region. This prompted them to announce their willingness to pay 15% of the total cost of the establishment of Sino-Pakistani corridor. This step can be seen as a means of pressure on the UAE, which has led some observers to link the actions of Qatar with the recent crisis in the Persian Gulf.

Thus, the conflict over the Pakistani port outside of the region. The United States, in turn, support India and the UAE, and Russia is siding with China and Pakistan, and this means that the issue became an international struggle for influence and control. The success of China, Pakistan and Qatar in Gwadar not only means that Pakistan has an advantage in the historical conflict with India, Russia gets an additional factor of strengthening its influence in Central Asia, and China as a foothold for access to the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East, and poses a threat to Dubai as a world centre for trade in the next ten years.

Imad Annan (Annan Imad)


RELATED MATERIALS: Politics and Geopolitics