Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif begins China trade trip

In Nawaz Sharif's first visit as premier, he seeks to cement infrastructure projects, while terrorism tops agenda for hosts in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 July, 2013, 4:14am

Nawaz Sharif began his maiden foreign trip as Pakistani prime minister yesterday, visiting China in hopes of securing infrastructure projects to help tackle Pakistan's economic and energy problems.

Sharif is due to meet President Xi Jinping , and Premier Li Keqiang , before heading to Shanghai. He will also meet financial and corporate leaders, and visit major industrial centres during his trip.

The visit is the second high-level meeting between the two nations since May, when Li visited Pakistan.

Both sides are expected to highlight a tradition of friendship and pledge to boost investment.

Trade between China and Pakistan last year reached US$12 billion - a fraction of China and India's US$67 billion bilateral trade.

But observers said both China and Pakistan still find each other strategically important. China wants to boost development in the restive region of Xinjiang and cement ties with countries along its western border, while Pakistan aims to get rid of internal violent unrest through fixing its ailing economy, they said.

The two nations are "telling the outside world that there is a strong investment relationship between Pakistan and China", said Ahmad Rashid Malik, director of China and Asia-Pacific at the Islamabad-based Institute of Strategic Studies.

Sharif said on Saturday that one of his priorities for discussions with the Chinese leadership was the China-Pakistan economic corridor. A Chinese firm has the rights to operate the corridor, which links Kashgar in Xinjiang and the Indian Ocean port of Gwadar in Pakistan.

The corridor, which included a rail line and special economic zones, was expected to boost bilateral trade and reduce the journey time for goods being taken from eastern parts of China to central Asia, Sharif said.

Zhao Gancheng , director of South Asia studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said China wanted to use the corridor to promote Xinjiang's development as part of counterterrorism measures. Violent clashes in recent months have killed at least 56 people in the restive region.

But he said China was concerned the instability in Pakistan would make the corridor more vulnerable to attack, especially after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan next year. China has previously blamed the surge in violence on the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which it claims trains in Pakistan.

A source close to the Pakistani army said Islamabad was willing to co-operate and share anti- terrorism intelligence with Beijing, but insurgents who sneaked into China were mainly from central Asian countries.

Zahid Anwar, a political science professor at the University of Peshawar, said Pakistan, which currently faces power cuts of up to 20 hours a day in some areas, is expected to call on Chinese help to tackle its energy crisis.

"The government is seeking Chinese help to provide 100 per cent electricity to its people and industries," he said.