Shehbaz Sharif arrives in China on maiden visit to felicitate President Xi Jinping on his record win
Beijing, Nov 01: Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif arrived in Beijing Tuesday night on an official visit to China during which he will meet President Xi Jinping and the two leaders are expected to discuss measures to ramp up strategic all-weather ties as the Chinese leader is set to begin his record third five-year term.
Sharif, who is visiting China at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang, was received by senior Chinese officials at the Beijing Airport.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Railways Minister Saad Rafique and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah are part of Sharif's delegation.
During his stay, Prime Minister Sharif will meet President Xi and hold delegation level talks with Premier Li.
This is Sharif's first visit to China since assuming office in April this year.
Sharif, who is scheduled to meet Xi on Wednesday, will be the first head of state to felicitate the Chinese leader who was recently re-elected as General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) for an unprecedented third term, perhaps for life, a privilege accorded only to party founder Mao Zedong.
Besides greeting Xi, who inaugurated the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during his first five-year term making it a flagship project under his multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Sharif was expected to discuss the current political and economic crisis his country is going through at present.
In his talks with Xi, Sharif is expected to make a case for Beijing to provide more help for his government to shore up the balance of payments position to avert a crisis similar to Sri Lanka.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan's total non-Paris Club bilateral debt currently stands at about USD 27 billion, of which Chinese debt is about USD 23 billion.
Besides Xi, Sharif will meet Premier Li and Li Zhanshu, the Chairman of China's Parliament - the National People's Congress, to discuss the all-weather ties.
Sharif's visit is taking place amid a political impasse in his country as former prime minister Imran Khan queered the pitch to press for elections with Long March and the deepening economic crisis.
Ahead of Sharif's visit, Pakistan's Foreign Office said that the trip is also ''expected to advance the wide-ranging bilateral cooperation agenda with the conclusion of a number of MoUs/Agreements in diverse areas, and consolidate the momentum of CPEC cooperation in the wake of the 11th meeting of the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) on October 27.'' The two sides will also review the all-weather strategic cooperation partnership and exchange views on regional and global developments.
This will be Sharif's second meeting with Xi after he assumed office in April. He met Xi last month on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit at Samarkand in Uzbekistan.
In his Samarkand meeting with Sharif, Xi had called for providing solid protection for hundreds of Chinese working on the CPEC projects.
India has objected to China over the CPEC as it is being laid through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). With recurring attacks on its workers, China is reportedly pressing Pakistan to permit the Chinese security agencies to provide security for their personnel which, according to press reports, Islamabad is resisting as it meant boots on the ground for Chinese armed forces.
The issue is expected to figure again during Sharif's meeting here with Xi.
China is also unhappy over the delays in the projects of the CPEC, which is the flagship scheme of Xi's multibillion-dollar pet project BRI, resulting in cost overruns and discontentment among Chinese investors.
Last month, Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa held talks with Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe in a surprise visit to China ahead of his retirement amid reports that China is also concerned over Pakistan warming up to the US, the reported use of Pakistan air bases by American drones to conduct attack in Afghanistan.
Chinese observers say that China is also increasingly worried about the continued political turmoil in Pakistan resulting in the weakening of its public institutions, especially the erosion of the influence of its military, over which Beijing banked on to sustain the close ties.
The Prime Minister's Office in Islamabad said Prime Minister Sharif was looking forward to meeting the Chinese leadership for a series of "productive and fruitful meetings" aimed at boosting business, strategic and people-to-people relations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian during his briefing in Beijing said China looks forward to further advancing high-level strategic cooperation with Pakistan and bringing more fruitful outcomes from the Sino-Pak friendship to the benefit of the two peoples.
The spokesperson said no matter how the international or domestic situations evolve, the friendship between the two nations has been carried on from generation to generation.
He said both countries have always supported each other on issues concerning respective major interests and have stood together.
''Pakistan can serve as the manufacturing base for China and an extension of its industrial and supply chain network," Sharif wrote in an opinion article published in the Chinese newspaper Global Times on Sunday.
''There are three types of good friends: one that is direct and honest; one that is trustworthy, dependable and generous when you need help; and one that is knowledgeable and talented to guide you and show you what you can't see," he quoted Confucius as having once said about friends and friendships.
Sharif further said in the article that the 21st century demanded a new paradigm to deal with the emerging challenges as well as opportunities and to wean the region away from conflict and conflagration.
He also wrote that the two countries could fast-track bilateral cooperation to boost corporate farming, efficient water usage, development of hybrid seeds and high-yield crops and establish cold storage chains.
''This cooperation has assumed an added importance to address common concerns related to food security," he added.
He said the CPEC's next phase would encompass key areas such as industry, energy, agriculture, ICT, rail and road network and developing Gwadar port as a hub of trade and transhipment, investment and regional connectivity.
''Our overall aim is to harness the potential of CPEC for Pakistan's inclusive and sustainable growth, socio-economic development and for improving the livelihoods of our people," he added.