China on Thursday told Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif that it will always put its “all-weather ally” as a priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy as it praised his commitment to promote the $60 billion CPEC initiative.
Shehbaz met Chinese Embassy’s Charge d ‘affaires Pang Chunxue in his office on Tuesday during which he stated that his government attaches great importance to developing relations with China and is willing to further strengthen bilateral cooperation in agriculture, science and technology, education and poverty alleviation, according to official media reports here.
Shehbaz said that his government will push forward the construction of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with greater vigour and efficiency and create a “Pakistan speed” to bring more benefits to the two countries.
Commenting on Shehbaz’s meeting with the Chinese diplomat, spokesman of China’s Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian told a media briefing here that “we appreciate the positive comments by Prime Minister Shehbaz”.
“China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperation partners and iron-clad brothers. We will as always put Pakistan as a priority of our neighbourhood diplomacy and to support its efforts to realise revitalisation.
“We will continue to work with the new Pakistani administration to have close communication at different levels and add new impetus into our bilateral cooperation and to build CPEC with high standards in a sustained manner,” he said.
The CPEC, containing a host of infrastructure and energy projects, is being laid between China’s Xinjiang province and the Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
China is reported to have spent about $28 billion on different projects so far in which thousands of Chinese personnel are working.
India has protested to China as it is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Besides the CPEC projects, China has been aiding Pakistan with loans and debt deferments as its “all-weather ally” continues to face a serious economic crisis.
On March 30, then Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, during his visit to China, said that Beijing has agreed to rollover USD 4.5 billion which was maturing last month.
Since his election, Shehbaz highlighted his priority for CPEC projects, which reportedly faced delays under the previous Imran Khan government.
Also, security of thousands of Chinese personnel working in the host of CPEC projects remained a concern for China in view of attacks at different places.
Ahead of his China visit two months ago, Khan had approved a USD 11.6 million in compensation for the families of Chinese engineers who were killed and wounded in a terrorist attack last year at the Dasu Dam hydropower project.
Thirteen people, including nine Chinese, were killed in a bomb attack on a bus carrying Chinese engineers at Dasu hydropower project in Pakistan last year.
Before his visit to Beijing, Khan had also ordered the removal of bureaucratic obstacles delaying CPEC projects to address the criticism of the Chinese investors.
As Khan was set to lose the no-confidence motion moved by the united Opposition led by Shehbaz on April 10, the Chinese official media projected that the “all-weather ties” between the two countries would get better under him than during Khan’s government.
China had reservations on Khan as he was a critic of the CPEC when he was in the Opposition though he later became its big admirer after he became Prime Minister.
Commenting on Shehbaz’s election, Liu Zongyi, secretary-general of the Research Centre for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told state-run Global Times earlier that Shehbaz promised to vigorously promote CPEC in a speech after winning the election on Monday.
Shehbaz had previously spoken highly of the CPEC several times, calling it an ambitious blueprint to transform Pakistan into a major emerging economy so that the less developed parts of the country could enjoy the dividends of development, Liu said.
Long Xingchun, a senior research fellow at the Academy of Regional and Global Governance of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said Shehbaz spoke of the construction of the CPEC in his victory speech, which showed that he intended to safeguard the China-Pakistan friendly cooperation and stabilise Pakistan’s economy.
“It also highlighted the importance he attached to the relationship. In fact, the CPEC has been through several changes of government since its establishment, but it has always been highly appreciated and promoted by the Pakistani side, which shows that the project is a reflection of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation, and also helps the two countries and the people of the region,” Long told Global Times.
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