by Ali Jaswal, Wang Houyuan
Zhao Hang, an employee of China's State Grid Shandong electric extrahigh voltage, was among the first batch of operation and maintenance personnel from 2020 to 2023 at the Matiari-Lahore high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
"I went to Pakistan to help with the operation and maintenance of the project during the last three years. Our work is to transmit Pakistan's electricity from south to north, and during this period I forged friendships with a lot of Pakistani employees," said Zhao, after returning to his home in China in August this year, where he has placed a special gift of a "family portrait" on his desk from his Pakistani apprentice.
Officially put into commercial operation in September 2021, the 886 km-long Matiari-Lahore HVDC transmission project was Pakistan's first HVDC transmission project funded, constructed and operated by China's State Grid.
To ensure the smooth operation of the project, batches of skilled Chinese engineers including Zhao brought China's advanced HVDC technology from Jinan, the capital city of east China's Shandong province, to Lahore, capital of Pakistan's eastern Punjab province.
While working on the project, Zhao befriended many Pakistani employees, including Mohammad Ashraf, his partner and apprentice.
"I was away from home during my time abroad, but my apprentice Ashraf gave me this painting of a family portrait and I did not feel that lonely. We Chinese spent festivals together with local employees, and now we still keep in touch, although the distance is far," said Zhao.
The project has now operated safely for over 1,000 days, with a cumulative transmission of 26.8 billion kWh, guaranteeing the electricity use of 10 million households in Lahore and its surrounding areas.
As an operation assistant supervisor of the converter station, 26-year-old Ashraf has been working for the project for 3 years. His routine work is to inspect every core equipment like converter transformer, converter valve, smoothing reactor, AC filter and DC filter, as well as to observe the operation status of each equipment in the control room of the station.
"Zhao taught me a lot. We have become good friends with each other in a short time. I can understand it is very difficult to work without family, that's why I gave him the painting." said Ashraf, adding that, under the guidance from Zhao and other Chinese engineers, the project not only helps young Pakistani engineers learn advanced technologies to enhance the national power grid, but also provides a lot of jobs to local people.
The transmission line project has created around 7,000 jobs during its construction which started at the end of 2018. It has the maximum capacity to transmit electricity of 35 billion kilowatt-hours annually.
Although Zhao has left Pakistan, three years of friendship between a mentor and an apprentice continues through the internet while the deep friendship bond has developed and enhanced between more and more employees from both countries under the CPEC.
"Through the implementation of the CPEC, the two countries will further increase personnel exchanges in various industries and platforms, deepen mutual understanding and friendship between the people of the two countries, and promote people-to-people bond," said Wang Jian, operation manager of the project's converter station.
Launched in 2013, the CPEC, the flagship project of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, is a corridor linking the Gwadar port in southwestern Pakistan with Kashgar in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which highlights energy, transport and industrial cooperation.
As of 2022, the CPEC has brought 25.4 billion U.S. dollars in direct investment to Pakistan and has created about 236,000 jobs for the country. Furthermore, it has helped Pakistan generate 8,000 megawatts of electricity and build 886 km of the national core transmission grid, according to the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan.