Saudi Arabia is set to become "an important partner of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)", a Pakistani minister said over the weekend as Riyadh confirmed that the Gulf kingdom will build a mega refinery in Pakistan's deepwater port of Gwadar, which is being developed with funding from China.
An agreement for the 10 billion U.S. dollar refinery will be signed by both the governments during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's forthcoming visit to Islamabad in February, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Saturday after leading a delegation to the site of the proposed refinery in Gwadar in Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province.
"Saudi Arabia wants to make Pakistan's economic development stable through establishing an oil refinery and partnership with Pakistan in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” Falih, who is also chairman of the Board of Saudi Aramco said, adding that Saudi Arabia would also invest in other sectors. The two countries discussed cooperation in refining, petrochemicals, mining and renewable energy, the Saudi news agency SPA reported.
The Saudi delegation was received by Pakistan's Petroleum Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Port and Shipping Minister Syed Ali Haider Zaidi and Balochistan Information Minister Zahoor Ahmed Buledi, Riyadh-based Arab News English daily reported.
"With setting up of an oil refinery in Gwadar, Saudi Arabia will become an important partner in CPEC," Khan said, adding that his government has already given the approval for the memorandum of understanding (MoU) to be signed next month during Prince Mohammed's visit.
"This would be the biggest investment of Saudi Arabia in Pakistan," Khan said.
The Pakistani petroleum minister said that the project would not only prove to be a milestone in the development of Pakistan but also write a new history of prosperity and economic development in the entire region.
The visiting Saudi delegation was briefed by the chairman of Gwadar Development Authority, Dostain Jamaldini, about the development of deep sea port, which is being constructed with the help of China, and is among CPEC's key destination.
Beijing has pledged 60 billion U.S. dollars to CPEC, the flagship project of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The corridor project includes building a network of major highways, railways, ports and power stations to transform Pakistan into a major overland route linking western China to the oil-rich Persian Gulf and beyond.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has assured its support for the BRI as the Gulf kingdom seeks to diversify its economy from a largely oil-based model through collaboration and foreign investments. China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, while hosting his Saudi counterpart Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir in Beijing last July, called for "deeper alignment" between Beijing's BRI and Riyadh's "Vision 2030" development strategies.
'Forging closer ties'
Pakistan, as a strategic partner of both China and Saudi Arabia, lies at the cusp of these two complementary visions, according to experts.
"Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are long-standing partners with strategic cooperation in numerous areas - the relationship is based on mutual respect and trust," Zoon Ahmed Khan, a visiting fellow at the Institute of Belt and Road Initiative, Tsinghua University, Beijing, told CGTN Digital.
Describing CPEC as a bilateral (China-Pakistan) manifestation of the larger BRI vision, she said that the proposed Gwadar refinery is indeed "a BRI project more than a CPEC one".
While "CPEC welcomes other countries to join", it currently has only China and Pakistan as partners, she said, adding: "As of now, CPEC also includes high-level government cooperation through the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC), which other countries aren't going to be a part of in the foreseen future."
However, "the BRI vision is to promote deeper connectivity and cooperation in Eurasia. It includes what Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and other countries are doing to promote regional prosperity, just like the ancient Silk Road," Khan elucidated.
She also acknowledged that without the Chinese investment and hard work in Gwadar, other countries now joining hands with Pakistan would have been less likely to do so.
"So, in this sense, I emphasize that this (Gwadar refinery) is engaging CPEC, complementing CPEC, and very much a part of the BRI Vision," Khan said.
The Tsinghua University fellow also felt that the Saudi move to invest in CPEC-related projects is likely to forge closer ties between Beijing, Islamabad, and Riyadh.
"China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia can become closer partners even strategically because of this development. And for Pakistan, there would be a more positive perception about other countries joining CPEC," Khan said, adding: "More stakeholders in CPEC can only be of benefit to Pakistan and for regional connectivity."