China-Oman (Duqm) Industrial Park, a project under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been playing "a critical role" in boosting Chinese-Omani cooperation, officials and experts said.
Over the past years, China has become the key to Oman's efforts to transform Duqm, a fishing settlement about 550 km south of Omani capital Muscat, into an industrial center aimed to diversify its economy beyond oil and gas.
CONSTRUCTION OF CHINA-OMAN INDUSTRIAL PARK
"China-Oman (Duqm) Industrial Park is the most important foreign cooperation project in Al Duqm Special Economic Zone with high expectations of the Omani government and its people," Lee Chee Khian, chief executive officer of the special zone, told Xinhua in an interview.
The special economic zone, set up in 2011 in the southeastern desert of Al Wusta Governorate, stretches over 2,000 square km with an 80-km coastline, which makes it the biggest in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Under a deal signed in May 2016 between China and Oman, Oman Wanfang, a subsidiary of Wanfang China from the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in China, is developing the 12.72-square-km industrial park.
The planned overall investment for the park amounts to 67 billion yuan (about 9.7 billion U.S. dollars).
It is considered as the largest industrial park invested by a single country in Oman and the largest one invested by China in Arab countries to strengthen production capacity cooperation.
The park will be home to enterprises from nine areas including petrochemical, building materials and e-commerce.
It is planned to comprise of three separate areas for heavy industry, light industry and a resort of five-star hotels.
According to Sha Yanju, the park's director, 10 Chinese enterprises from China's provincial-level regions such as Ningxia, Hebei and Liaoning signed agreements to operate in the park.
The total investment of these enterprises is expected to reach 3.2 billion dollars on about 10 fields, including sea water desalination, power generation, chemical production, and vehicle assembling.
"In line with the BRI, the aim of establishing the industrial park is to promote production capacity cooperation between China and Oman as well as build a platform to encourage Chinese enterprises to invest abroad," Sha said.
The BRI, proposed by China in 2013, refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It aims at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.
Oman speaks highly of the rapidly growing industrial park.
The park "will improve the manufacturing level and promote the economic development of Oman," said Mahmood Sultan Al Hatmi, project assistant at Oman Wanfang.
Saleh Al-Maamari, media specialist at Duqm Special Economic Zone Authority, said that the park has brought hope and vigor to the desert area which is sparsely populated with a relatively low level of economic development.
"The park is like a rose that blooms in the desert," Al-Maamari added.
FORGING BILATERAL COOPERATION
Within the BRI framework, the Chinese and Omani sides have carried out cooperation projects in an orderly manner.
"Thanks to the BRI, the establishment and development of the park have been strongly coordinated by the Omani side," Sha told Xinhua.
He said infrastructure constructions of water, electricity and roads required by the park are underway.
The application for the supply of 5 million cubic meters of natural gas resources per day submitted by the park has been approved by the Omani Economic and Financial Committee.
Meanwhile, since 2016, the park has been sponsoring Omani students' studying trips to China.
Sha said that in cooperation with the Omani government, the park selects high school graduates every year and sends them to study in China. The park plans to help train 1,000 students for Oman in the next eight to 10 years.
In June 2018, the first batch of 39 students returned to Oman after completing vocational training. They will finish their internships and then work for the industrial park.
The Chinese and Omani sides also cooperate on specific projects. A zone for building materials stores is planned to be set up in the industrial park, covering an estimated area of 240,000 square meters to accommodate thousands of shops.
Nasser Al-Mawali, professor of economics and dean of the College of Banking and Financial Studies at Sultan Qaboos University, said that China and Oman enjoy complementary advantages.
He said located on the ancient Silk Road, Oman could serve as China's gateway to the Gulf. In addition to the oil and gas resources shared by the Gulf countries, Oman also has its own unique mineral resources.
When combined with China's production, technology and management advantages, Oman's resources will certainly bring greater benefits to both sides, Al-Mawali added.
Sha agreed that China and Oman are highly complementary in terms of production capacity cooperation.
China's strong manufacturing capabilities and advanced management experience will help Oman implement its economic diversification strategy to accelerate the upgrade of its industrial structure now relying on oil and gas.
The stable political situation in Oman, which has always pursed a neutral and non-aligned foreign policy, also guarantees stable environment for China-Oman bilateral trade.
Moreover, as a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Oman maintains relatively low commodity prices and even half the labor cost compared with other five GCC countries, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.
According to Lee, Oman is a staunch supporter of the BRI and was among the first countries to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a founding member.
On May 25, China and Oman issued a joint statement on establishment of strategic partnership between the two countries.
"Oman and China have a long history of cooperation in a mutually complementary and beneficial way," Al-Mawali said.
At the end of 2016, the volume of Chinese investment Oman reached about 2 billion dollars, while the volume of the bilateral trade reached 17.2 billion dollars.
Moreover, in 2016, Omani oil exports to China reached 237 million barrels, making China the largest importer of Omani oil, which accounts for 77 percent of Oman's total oil exports, and 10 percent of Chinese oil import.
"The two sides have broad prospects for cooperation with the potential in production capacity, which will certainly boost the economic development of the two countries," Al-Mawali added.