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Fishermens’ protest in Pakistan Gwadar port is a bone in the throat of Beijing

Al Mayadeen | 13 January 2023

Fishermens’ protest in Pakistan Gwadar port is a bone in the throat of Beijing

by F.M. Shakil

The threat of a burgeoning Balochistan region insurrection by fishermen against economic genocide puts Chinese investments in Pakistan’s deepwater port of Gwadar in jeopardy. Instead of the local government, Chinese investors are now the target of this street protest.

Troubles in Gwadar may raise concerns in Beijing, which has a vested interest in the crucial port built with Chinese funds to satisfy Beijing’s energy and security needs. China views the Pakistani port city of Gwadar as the "jewel" of its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and will thus resist any action that could jeopardize this investment.

Pakistan, which experienced an economic catastrophe, is no different in this regard. Pakistan is wary of angering Beijing because of the substantial financial aid it anticipates receiving from the Chinese capital.


The Haq Do Tehreek (the Gwadar Rights Movement) has long been protesting for an end to illegal fish trawling in the Arabian Sea. In November 2021, the rights movement blocked Pakistan’s port city of Gwadar when thousands of protesters occupied a main road along the coast, and hundreds of women staged a sit-in as part of a protest movement. On December 10, 2021, tens of thousands of local fishermen marched through the streets of Gwadar in a huge procession. At the same time, security measures were put in place that had never been done before to protect Chinese workers at the Gwadar seaport. In 2021, the protests went on for more than 32 days, forcing the government to talk with the protesters and make some promises that were mostly not kept.

When the government didn’t follow through on its promises, the fishermen, under the leadership of Maulana Hidayat-ur-Rehman Baloch, a little-known social and political figure from a nearby tribe of fisherfolk, started their protest once again at the end of October last year.

The protest, which began last year and is now in its third month, has almost forced the halting of the China-Pakistan maritime project, but the authorities are reluctant to take punitive action against the foreign trawlers fishing in Balochistan province’s coastal area, Makran. Protestors claim that large trawlers navigating in the Arabian Sea captured the bulk of Marian’s catch, leaving nothing for the local anglers, who usually use improvised boats to fish. They believe that massive trawling has robbed them of their livelihood.

Since November, there has been a sit-in outside the port’s main entrance, which has caused traffic to be backed up on both the Gwadar East Bay Expressway and at the Gwadar International Airport. The road, airport, and port are all part of the CPEC, a $50 billion Pakistani component of Beijing’s BRI project. Last week, thousands of local women marched through the streets of Gwadar in support of their male coworkers.

Fishermens’ demands

The small fishing community in Gwadar has been demanding an outright ban on trawling in the Arabian Sea, access to the coastline near the port of Gwadar, and the reopening of the Iranian border for the informal imports of petroleum products, which serves as a key crossroads for regional trade and commerce. They also demand the removal of the checkpoints built to guard Chinese nationals as well as access to essential amenities including clean water, healthcare, education, and employment opportunities in Gwadar and other Makran division cities.

The Balochistan government resorted to coercive measures when the protesters demanded last week that Chinese employees leave the area, threatening to halt development projects in the Gwadar port if they didn’t. A large number of protestors including key leaders of the Haq Do Tehreek (HDT) were arrested to put an end to the widespread demonstrations.

According to Maulana Baloch, the China Overseas Port Holding Company made appointments in the Gwadar ports from locations outside of Gwadar and did not prioritize the local population for job opportunities.

"We did not ask for highways, luxurious homes, wealth, or decorations. Simply returning our sources of income would be sufficient for us to be able to maintain ourselves,” Baloch said. In response, he warned, "If they continue to disregard us, we will not allow them to run the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) at the expense of the future of our kids." He said, "We want jobs, potable water, schools, and hospitals.

China’s denial

China asserted in November last year, that the movement did not oppose the multibillion-dollar initiative, despite growing concerns over the safety of hundreds of Chinese laborers working in Pakistan’s volatile Balochistan province. During a media briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning emphasized that the protests in Pakistan’s port city of Gwadar are not directed at the CPEC projects. She claims that these reports are inaccurate.

In its first public response to the massive rallies in Gwadar in 2021, China downplayed the fishermen’s agitation and strongly criticized "attempts" to tarnish the CPEC and China-Pakistan relations. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian remarked in early December 2021 that several media platforms had reported protests in the Gwadar region over the exorbitant fishing privileges granted to Chinese trawlers, which deprived residents of their livelihood. "This is completely false," said the spokesperson. "There has been no Chinese trawler visit to the Gwadar Port region for fishing or docking," he said. He asserted that Gwadar Port was a CPEC flagship project that focused on the development of the entire region and created jobs for the local populace.

In the face of media claims in June 2021 that Pakistan had awarded licenses to Chinese trawlers for deep-sea fishing in Karachi and Gwadar, the Chinese denial had fallen flat. Media had quoted Abdul Berr, chairperson of the Fishermen’s Cooperative Society (FCS) as saying that the Chinese vessels would assist the Pakistani fishing sector in diversifying its exports of fisheries goods and flourishing the industry on modern lines. However, he assured that the Chinese will not utilize bottom trawling in the deep sea to safeguard marine life.

In February 2021, scores of Chinese fishing vessels from the Fujian Fishery Company moored at Karachi’s port after returning from Gwadar, causing a wave of discontent in the local fishing community. They were concerned that commercial fishing vessels and bottom trawling would decrease fish stocks in Sindh and Baluchistan’s maritime zones.

Pakistan exports over $600 million in fish and bycatch each year, and approximately three million anglers make a living along Sindh and Baluchistan’s 1050 kilometers of coastline.

 source: Al Mayadeen