Beijing : From overhead the port of Gwadar in southwest Pakistan is hard to spot, with its sandy-colored buildings blending into the dusty background. But the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a cooperation program launched in 2013, will soon put the town on the map.
"There will be a ceremony next month marking the completion and commencement of major infrastructure projects in Gwadar that greatly boost the city's function as an economic engine for Pakistan," Gwadar Port Authority Chairman Dostain Jamaldini told Xinhua recently.
A water dam, a hospital and a school will be put into use in August, while the construction on the Gwadar International Airport, a seaside expressway, a training center and a pipeline will begin in the meantime, he said, adding that most of the projects are financed by China and falls under CPEC .
COPHC, a Chinese company managing the Gwadar port, also said it will start developing the Gwadar Free Trade Zone (FTZ) this month with an initial investment of one billion Chinese yuan (150 million U.S. dollars).
"First phase projects in the FTZ include a multi-function business center, a exhibition hall for Chinese goods and cold storage," COPHC Pakistan chief Wu Chunguo said.
The FTZ and the Gwadar Special Economic Zone are two areas that the Pakistani government has granted preferable policies to attract investments, with tax exemptions for companies inside the two zones for 23 years and 10 years respectively.
A town with a population of less than 100,000, Gwadar was once a territory of Oman before being purchased by Pakistan in 1958. It is gifted with a natural deep-water harbor that falls close to main shipping lanes and an anchor-shaped peninsula that acts as a breakwater shielding the harbor from the waves of the Arabian Sea.
An arid climate and isolated location once limited locals to rely on the meager income brought in by fishing.
Though development plans had been drawn up by the Pakistani government in 2002, the town remained dormant for another decade before China chose the port as one of the four focuses for its ambitious scheme to overhaul Pakistan's infrastructure.
The other three are upgrading road and railroad networks, patching up the energy sector and establishing industrial parks, all projects that stand to benefit from a prosperous Gwadar port.
Seizing the momentum brought by CPEC , the Gwadar government is hoping to develop the coastal town into a modern metropolis with a major port, industrial zones, tourist attractions, recreation grounds and high-end real estate.
It certainly seems that the town is moving in that direction, says Wu of COPHC. "We are seeing an increasing number of businesses coming for talks to invest in the port. In April we received more than 350 business representatives, a record high."
Land prices, a barometer that measures investor confidence, has more than doubled in the past two years, Jamaldini said.
An acre of land in the FTZ, which cost 3.4 million Pakistani rupees (32,000 U.S. dollars) in 2014, is now priced at more than 10 million rupees (95,000 U.S.dollars), he said, adding land price for the most prime location on the tip of the peninsula is even higher.
Encouraged by the upcoming boom, locals are ready to move on from harvesting fish to harvesting a better life.
Dubai is the word often used when the people of Gwadar picture their future, believing the huge opportunities created by CPEC will transform their fishing town to a center of business, shipping and tourism.
"What Dubai can achieve, so can we," Jamaldini said.