China has launched the first of four “most advanced” warships it is building for Pakistan amid deepening defense and economic ties between the two allied nations.
The development comes as both the countries are locked in border tensions with their mutual neighbor India.
The Pakistan Navy said Sunday that Chinese state-owned Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai held the launching ceremony for the Type-054A/P frigate, with top officials from the service in attendance.
The Navy said in a statement the vessels are state of the art frigates equipped with modern surface, subsurface and anti-air weapons and sensors. “These ships will significantly contribute in maintaining peace and security in our area of responsibility,” it added.
The statement did not mention the cost of military vessels, but reported estimates are more than $350 million each.
Once constructed, the ships will be one of the largest and technologically advanced surface platforms of the Pakistan Navy fleet, boosting its capability to respond to future challenges, the service said.
The Chinese builder is expected to deliver all four units to Pakistan by 2021, which Chinese media said could “double the combat power” of the Pakistan Navy fleet.
Pakistani officials said the Type-054A/P frigate is in service with China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and recognized as its backbone.
China and Pakistan are jointly producing various military-related hardware, including the JF-17 multirole combat aircraft, demonstrating the strong mutual defense ties.
The two allies in recent years have also cemented economic cooperation under Beijing’s global infrastructure Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The BRI-related China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has brought nearly $30 billion in Chinese investment over the past six years, building Pakistani roads, ports and power plants.
Critics, however, see the investments as a burden on heavily indebted Pakistan.
U.S. officials have termed CPEC loans as a “debt trap” for Islamabad, though Pakistan and China dismiss the criticism, saying it has stemmed from “a lack of information and misunderstandings” about the collaboration.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to visit Islamabad later this year that Pakistani officials say will boost the BRI-linked economic cooperation. Xi was expected to visit Pakistan in May but the trip was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week hosted his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, for a bilateral “strategic dialogue,” where the two sides agreed to push ahead with new mega projects under CPEC. They include a $6.8 billion railway program to improve Pakistan’s main railway line, known as Main Line 1 (ML1), which runs for nearly 1,900 kilometers.
“Both China and Pakistan reaffirmed the vitality of the time-tested and all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries,” a post-meeting joint statement said.