PM Shehbaz Sharif begins China trip as two nations move to upgrade infrastructure network project
PM Shehbaz Sharif begins China trip as two nations move to upgrade infrastructure network project
Anadolu Agency

KARACHI: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Tuesday arrived in China on a five-day official visit, seeking initiation of the long-due second phase of the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, aside from attracting more Chinese investment.

This is Sharif’s maiden visit to Islamabad’s longtime ally after assuming his second term in March this year.

Accompanied by a high-level delegation, including Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar, Federal Minster for Planning Ahsan Iqbal, who is also in charge of the CPEC-related projects in the country, and several other ministers and officials.

Besides Beijing, Sharif will visit the cities of Xi’an and Shenzhen.

He will meet President Xi Jinping and hold delegation-level talks with Premier Li Qiang in Beijing. He will also hold meetings with the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Zhao Leji, and heads of key government departments.

Minutes before departure from the northeastern city of Lahore, Iqbal, in a video statement, said “a large number” of Pakistani and Chinese companies would be participating in the business forum to be held on June 5 in Shenzhen.

During the forum, he added, several memorandums of understanding and agreements for cooperation and partnership between Pakistani and Chinese companies will be signed.

  1. Focus to be on 2nd CPEC phase

Launched in 2014, the $64 billion CPEC — a network of roads, railways, and pipelines — is aiming to connect China’s strategically important northwestern Xinxiang province to the port of Gawadar in the southwestern Balochistan province. The project is part of Beijing’s ambitious BRI (Belt and Road Initiative).

While the corridor will give China easy access to Africa and the Middle East, it will make Pakistan earn billions of dollars and spur business activities along the road network replacing the fabled Silk Road.

CPEC has attracted $25.4 billion in direct investment in 10 years, according to details shared by Beijing.

The project, however, has been facing opposition from Baloch separatists who accused Beijing of “stealing” Balochistan’s natural resources.

Chinese workers operating in Pakistan have faced a series of attacks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and Baloch separatists.

In the latest terrorist attack, five Chinese workers, along with their driver, were killed in a suicide bombing in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders neighboring Afghanistan, in March.

Rana Gulzar Ahmad, an Islamabad-based political economist, reckons that the focus of Sharif’s visit will be on “reinvigoration” of the ongoing CPEC projects, and initiation of the mega project’s second phase, “which is long-due.”

“The CPEC’s second phase should have started in 2023 but because of a string of reasons, including unstable political and security situation, and slowing down of ongoing (CPEC) projects, especially during the PTI (Pakistan Tehereek-e-Insaf) government,” it could not start on time, Ahmad told Anadolu, referring to jailed ex-prime Minister Imran Khan’s government from 2018 to 2022.

Khan’s political opponents accused him of slowing down the CPEC projects during his tenure under the guise of fight against corruption, which angered Beijing. The PTI rejects the contention.

Citing recent visits of Pakistan’s foreign and planning ministers to Beijing, Ahmad said the two sides have already done “homework” for the initiation of the CPEC’s second phase. “It’s all set to kick off.”

He said Islamabad wants the Chinese president to visit Pakistan in August to inaugurate the Gwadar International Airport, which is almost complete, as well as the second phase of the CPEC.

Ammar Habib Khan, a Karachi-based economist, said the two governments are in the process of “settling the earlier payments” before the inauguration of the second phase.

“Basically, Pakistan wants the Chinese to invest in Pakistan more, but the same can only be done if earlier payments are settled, which is in process,” he told Anadolu.