China urges Pakistan to help maintain trust after new government hints at rethink over economic corridor

Xi Jinping makes comments after meeting army chief of staff after new government takes another look at infrastructure projects

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 10:38pm

China has urged Pakistan to help maintain mutual trust and ensure the smooth development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a project that has been criticised in the South Asian nation for the levels of debt it has incurred as a result.

President Xi Jinping made the comments in a meeting with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistani army’s chief of staff, following reports that Pakistan might rethink the US$62 billion project.

“China and Pakistan should … firmly support each other’s core interests,” Xi said to Bajwa.

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Bajwa started a three-day trip to Beijing on Wednesday, making him the first senior Pakistani official to visit since the inauguration of a new government in August.

The economic corridor consists of a series of Chinese-funded infrastructure projects – including the expansion of Gwadar port, roads and railways linking China’s restive western province of Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea – and a number of power plants and industrial development plans.

Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan has established a nine-member committee to evaluate the projects, and his commerce adviser Abdul Razak Dawood has questioned whether the deals worked to Pakistan’s advantage.

Last week, China and Pakistan agreed to invite third-country investors to be part of the economic corridor project, a move which was seen by observers as a way of easing concerns about China pushing Pakistan into high levels of indebtedness.

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The Financial Times quoted Dawood – the Pakistani member of cabinet responsible for commerce, textiles, industry and investment – as saying that companies from Pakistan had been put in a “disadvantaged” position, but Beijing denied Islamabad was seeking to delay or alter the project.

Xi and Bajwa also called on the two militaries to work together to fight terrorism and guarantee the security of the economic corridor.

The Pakistani military, which has a history of staging coups and remains a powerful influence on domestic politics, has always maintained a solid alliance with China, according to Wang Dehua, a South Asian expert at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies.

“Khan and his PTI party in the election for the first time ever defeated the established political dynasties of Pakistan. They have to rely on the support from the military,” he said.

“And the Pakistani military has always being a supportive force of the China-Pakistan relations.”