ISLAMABAD - Pakistan on Monday formally handed over Gwadar Port’s operations and development of its infrastructure to China at a signing ceremony held at the Presidency in Islamabad.

President Asif Ali Zardari, Chinese Ambassador in Pakistan Liu Jian, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, federal ministers, members of parliament and government officials were present at the occasion.

Spokesperson to the President Senator Farhatullah Babar said the ceremony actually marked the transfer of Concession Agreement from the Port of Singapore Authority to the China Overseas Port Holding Company.

He said that the president hailed the transfer as an auspicious development in Pak-China relations as well as for the people of Pakistan particularly of Balochistan, saying that it would open window of ‘new opportunities’ for them.

“Gwadar will soon be a “hub of trade and commerce in the region. It holds the key to bring together the countries of Central Asia, lending new impetus to Pakistan China relations,” the president said.

He traced the history of development of Gwadar and how the PPP leaders Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto envisioned it.

The president highlighted the strategic significance of the port for China and central Asian republics and its potential for integrating the economies of the countries in the region. The Chinese provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet are closer to Pakistani ports than to the ports in China, the president added. He said that the development of a trade corridor linking Xinjiang to the Middle East via Gwadar Port held ‘huge promise’.

Though Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Babar Khan Ghori could not attend the ceremony, the president lauded his efforts in facilitating the transfer of port operations to China.

The president said that nearly 60% of China’s crude oil was imported from the gulf countries. Because of the proximity of those countries to Gwadar, the oil flow to China would be greatly facilitated by the operation of this port, he said.  Expressing sorrow and grief over the Quetta bombing, he said ‘as we fight the menace of militancy, the march for progress and development will also continue’.

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

The deal offered China an energy and trade corridor that would connect it to the Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormuz, a gateway for a third of the world oil trade.

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

China paid 75 percent of the initial $250 million used to build the port but in 2007 PSA International won a 40-year operating lease.

Then president 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. However, spokesman for the Foreign Office last week said that it was bilateral arrangement between Pakistan and China and no one needs to be concerned about it.