BEIJING: The expanded and better-equipped port of Gwadar in Pakistan, which forms an important part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, will be operating fully by the end of this year.

This assurance was given on Thursday by the head of the Chinese company that runs the strategic facility.

"The new port's cranes are almost ready and the water desalination plant is in place," said Zhang Baozhong, chairman of China Overseas Ports Holding Co, at a conference in Beijing to promote business opportunities at the port.

"We expect to see its traffic reach 1 million tons by the end of this year, and a significant increase in the following years." But Zhang said it will be some time before China can import natural resources from the Middle East through the port.

The company took over management of the deep-sea port from the Port of Singapore Authority in 2013 and the infrastructure there was very poor due to a lack of maintenance, Zhang said.

The takeover has been viewed as a move by China to seek an alternative to the Strait of Malacca, through which more than 80 percent of the country's imported oil passes.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, integrated in President Xi Jinping's plan to build the Silk Road Economic Belt, will link Gwadar with Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Zhang's company also runs a free trade zone near the port, which will be upgraded gradually to allow ships with a capacity of 70,000 tons to dock. More than US$1 billion worth of projects will be developed at the port by the end of next year.

"About 2,000 Chinese businesses - big and small - visited the free trade zone in 2015 to seek business opportunities," Zhang said. The zone will adopt the format used by Chinese economic zones.