CPEC builders crack "hardest nuts" amid nine years' construction
By Jia Wei | China Economic Net May 9, 2022
As a major and pilot project of the Belt and Road Initiative, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has seen fruitful results in the past nine years. Currently, the CPEC projects have been all around Pakistan. From the container liner service, Afghan transit trade, China's offshore fishing trans-shipment business, to the smoothly progressing of New Gwadar International Airport and other supporting projects, Gwadar Port has steadily moved toward playing a greater role in promoting regional connectivity and common development. Builders from China and Pakistan have completed a slew of seemingly impossible projects with their devotion and commitment.
Pakistan "Li Kui" and "female knight"
In Pakistan's Thar coalfield, there was a special group of truck drivers, some of who used to be tailors and have never driven a truck, yet they shared the same identity - Pakistani female driver. Such a group of female truck drivers is rare around the world, let alone Pakistan, which has a stronger sense of tradition. As for why there have been female drivers, the story started with the arrival of China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) at the Thar coalfield.
Beneath the endless yellow sands of the Thar Desert in Pakistan lies the seventh largest lignite coal reserve in the world and the largest lignite resource in Asia. The Thar coalfield was discovered in 1991 with 175 billion tons of lignite coal, accounting for 95% of Pakistan's total coal reserves. This is of great significance to Pakistan, which relies heavily on energy imports.
Although they had psychological preparation for the harsh natural environment, when the team from the Fifth Complete Plants Division of CMEC that was responsible for coal mining came to the site, they were astonished by the scene in front of them - desert sand, unbearable heat and latent poison. It looked like the surface of an alien planet without water, electricity, roads, shelter, labor and equipment. At that time, there was a saying among the Chinese at the Thar coalfield - "A six-month expedition in Thar makes unsung heroes."
Back then, the construction site was covered with desert sand and there were no roads. To make matters worse, their first bulldozer could only be pulled by a trailer to the camp two kilometers away from the site, and there was no proper equipment to unload it. Luckily, the locals offered prompt help, and Izat Khan was one of them. When he heard that the Chinese people came to help build a coal mine in Pakistan, he took the initiative to drive his own forklift to solve their urgent problem. Later, he asked if he could join the CMEC team. As his diligence left a very deep impression on everyone, he successfully joined CMEC.
During coal mine construction, Chinese and Pakistani builders have shed their sweat and devoted their youth on Thar Desert for the same goal. The first batch of six containers of materials sent from China needed to be delivered to the project site, but the trailer suddenly got stuck in the sandy road. At that time, Izat Khan knelt on the ground to scoop up the sand and drag the wire rope to pull the trailer out of the bunker. With the joint efforts of Chinese and Pakistani staff, all six trailers were finally “out of danger”. It was in May and the temperature in the Thar Desert was approaching 50°C. Izat Khan’s clothes were completely soaked, and his face was full of sweat. Due to his stalwart figure and sincere disposition, some Chinese colleagues nicknamed him “Li Kui”, a heroic figure in the Chinese classic Water Margin. Since then, Khan always uses the Chinese name to introduce himself.
“Li Kui” disinfects and sterilizes the equipment at the site of Thar Coal Block II. (Photo provided by CMEC)
According to the contract, the Thar Coal Mining Project shall employ half of the drivers from Pakistan and half from China. However, all the drivers employed by CMEC were Pakistanis. In addition, CMEC established a driving training base to independently recruit and train Pakistani drivers. A total of more than 1,000 Pakistani drivers have been trained, including over 50 female truck drivers. It not only creates local jobs, but also takes up the social responsibility of China's state-owned enterprises when going global.
When COVID-19 broke out in the country in 2020, the Thar Coal Mining Project was at the first phase of operation and maintenance. It was necessary to ensure coal supply to the power plant every month, otherwise it would face unplanned shutdown risk. It was a problem for the Chinese and Pakistani builders to ensure that the 2.2 million households in Pakistan would be supplied with electricity while keeping the Chinese and Pakistani employees safe from the pandemic. Wang Qingzhu, chief engineer and site manager of the Thar Coal Mining Project, became the busiest person on the construction site. He was either holding pandemic prevention meetings with the owners or implementing epidemic prevention measures with subcontractors. He always emphasized that the on-site project department "will not give up every employee" and "will take the safety of employees' lives as the top priority". By this year, it has been Wang's sixth year in Pakistan.
Wang Qingzhu (2nd L), chief engineer and site manager of the Thar Coal Mining Project, discusses technical arrangements with the drainage team. (Photo provided by CMEC)
With the joint efforts of the builders from both countries, the Thar Coal Mining Project team has successfully overcome the difficulties caused by the pandemic, flood and geological conditions. Pakistani owners exclaimed the smooth operation of the Thar coalfield under the COVID-19 "is a miracle".
However, the wonders of the CPEC are not limited to the Thar coalfield. Since 2013 when it was launched, CPEC has created one miracle after another - Gwadar Port the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, Karakoram Highway that crosses the roof of the world, Port Qasim coal-fired power plant, the power generation capacity of which is equivalent to 10% of the current national power generation capacity in Pakistan, etc. Wherever the Chinese builders go, the place will take on a new look.
As the vanguard of the CPEC, infrastructure enterprises like CMEC not only bear the name of "infrastructure maniac", but also serve as a Chinese business card, bringing energy and employment to Pakistan. Statistics show that the CPEC has created 75,000 jobs in Pakistan since its launch. No wonder Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif once said that CPEC is not just a simple combination of electricity, energy and roads, but a grand blueprint to turn Pakistan into a major emerging economy.
A Pakistani student follows in the footsteps of his Chinese teacher
Muhammad Ali Raza carefully tended to his crops at a demonstration plot in Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan, during the summer season. Unlike traditional food crop cultivation, Ali Raza adopted maize-soybean strip intercropping technology, which was developed by his Chinese mentor Prof. Yang Wenyu at Sichuan Agricultural University.
Maize-soybean strip intercropping technology is developed by Yang Wenyu and his team after 18 years’ research and development. It makes high production of maize and soybean a reality.
With the rise of large-scale and intensive animal husbandry in Pakistan, the demand for high-quality feeds such as corn and soybeans has increased sharply, and the gap between supply and demand is growing year by year. In 2019, Pakistan imported about 2 million tons of soybeans. In order to gain soybean independence in Pakistan, Ali Raza, who was a post-doc in China, tried to bring the new technology he learned in China back to Pakistan and promote it to local farmers. However, his promotion was not always easy.
At first, Ali Raza conducted experiments in Bahawalpur, Punjab, planting about 2 hectares of corn and soybeans. However, local farmers disbelieved what this young man was doing would work, and the most common words Ali Raza heard every day were, "lad, your corn stalks won't produce ears if you plant them in this way."
At the most difficult time for Ali Raza, Prof. Yang Wenyu, who was far away in China, lent him a helping hand by providing him with funds and seeds. "I have full confidence in intercropping technology and you. As long as you work wholeheartedly, this technology will be promoted throughout Pakistan one day,” Yang said.
The mentor's support became a solid backing for Ali Raza. As the corn and soybeans in the demonstration fields thrived, the expectation of "increased yield without increased land, and double income for one plot" became a reality. Local farmers began to change their mindset and gradually became interested in this new technology. Now, there are daily visits to the demonstration fields, and a series of learning and discussion activities. The agriculture minister of Punjab believes this technology could bring a new green revolution to grain and legume production in Pakistan. Through soybean cultivation, Pakistan could save $5 billion from the imports of raw materials such as oilseeds and poultry feed.
Ali Raza works in a trial maize-soybean intercropping field in Pakistan. (Photo provided by interviewee)
Currently, Ali Raza's demonstration field has grown from 0.067 hectares in the first year to more than 26.67 hectares, bringing many Pakistani farmers into the harvest. And the agricultural cooperation between China and Pakistan is not only in Bahawalpur. At present, the construction of CPEC has entered a new stage of high-quality development, focusing on cooperation in agriculture and other livelihood areas. For instance, China-Pakistan Agricultural and Industrial Cooperation Information Platform was launched; Longping High-Tech helped promote Pakistani rice seeds to many countries; and Chinese Juncao, which literally means "mushroom" and "grass", became a new favorite for poverty alleviation in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the new transportation infrastructure and ports in Pakistan are generating positive benefits and facilitating Pakistani agricultural development and China-Pakistan agricultural cooperation. The scenes of cargo ships loaded with Pakistani fruits and crops travelling across the Indian Ocean, and Chinese greenhouses and drip irrigation technology introduced to Pakistan are no longer a figment of imagination, but a portrait of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation in agriculture between China and Pakistan.
CPEC is not a geographical symbol. Instead, it is a bridge of friendship built by thousands of Chinese builders who have left their homes and worked with the Pakistani people. In the mudflats, desert and uninhabited areas, the mutual help and dedication shown by the builders of both countries are the best interpretation of the brotherhood between the two countries.
The article is translated by Fu Bo.
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