Brushing aside India’s concerns, China today cemented its “all-weather ties” with Pakistan by agreeing to build a strategic USD 46-billion economic corridor through the PoK as part of 51 deals signed, expanding the communist giant’s influence in the region.
Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled his country’s biggest overseas investment – the ambitious 3,000 km-long China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – during his historic maiden state visit to Islamabad.
A total of 51 agreements were signed in different fields, including infrastructure projects, energy generation, agriculture, education, telecommunications and research.
Of the 51, 30 agreements were linked to the strategic corridor, regarded as the biggest connectivity project between the two countries after Karakoram highway built in 1979.
It will shorten the route for China’s energy imports from the Middle East by about 12,000 kms.
The CPEC will link China’s underdeveloped far-western region to Pakistan’s Gwadar deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea via PoK through a massive and complex network of roads, railways, business zones, energy schemes and pipelines.
The corridor – expected to be ready in three years and provide about 10,400 MWs of electricity – gives China direct access to the Indian Ocean and beyond.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who along with Xi witnessed the agreements signing ceremony after holding talks with him earlier, said the two countries decided to increase regional and economic cooperation and that it considers China’s security as important.
“I have assured Xi, China’s security is as important to us as Pakistan’s security,” Sharif said, adding: “Friendship with China is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.”
“Today, we have planned for the future,” he added.
Xi – who is also the General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party – has undertaken his first foreign visit this year, choosing to go to Pakistan after postponing it earlier.
The Chinese President approved the project, said to be worth USD 46 billion, despite serious security concerns in China’s restive Muslim-dominated Xinjiang province as well as the Taliban threat in Pakistan.
The CPEC is part of the mega Silk Road project initiated by China to firm up its connectivity to Europe, Asia and Africa through roads and port networks.
Pakistan hopes the investment – the initial focus of which is on electricity – will end its chronic energy crisis and transform the country into a regional economic hub by stabilising its cash-strapped economy, that had forced it to seek loans from the World Bank and the IMF in the past.
Xi’s trip is taking place ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China next month.
Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao had played down India’s concerns of it being laid through the PoK, saying that it is a commercial project.
“The project between China and Pakistan does not concern the relevant dispute between India and Pakistan. So I do not think that the Indian side should be over concerned about that,” Liu had said in response to a question.
China and Pakistan also upgraded bilateral ties to all- weather strategic partnership of cooperation.
The two leaders unveiled plaques of eight projects to be undertaken in Pakistan with Chinese assistance and performed ground-breaking of five projects through video-link.
Sharif welcomed Xi and referred to China as an “all- weather friend”.
“There have been critical changes in China and Pakistan, and major regional and international development, but our ties have remained robust,” he said.
“This corridor will benefit all provinces and areas in Pakistan, and transform our country into a regional hub and pivot for commerce and investment… This corridor will become a symbol for peace and prosperity,” Sharif said.
He said President Xi visit was a watershed in the history of Pakistan-China relations that are “sweeter than honey and stronger than steel”.
Xi said that his country was willing to help strengthen Pakistan economy and that the Economic Corridor would have an important bearing on national strategies and livelihoods of the two countries.
The two sides believe that the layout and construction of the corridor should take into account the interest of various regions of Pakistan so that the building of the corridor will benefit people, Xi said.
Earlier, reports said a defence agreement worth USD 4-5 billion for providing eight latest Chinese submarines to Pakistan, more than doubling its fleet.
According to reports, the projected investments – USD 28 billion of which are due to be signed during the course of Xi’s visit – eclipse a US assistance package to Pakistan of USD 5 billion that began in 2010.
Ahsan Iqbal, the minister for planning and development overseeing the projects, said USD 11 billion has been set aside for infrastructure work, while the remaining USD 35 billion will be invested in energy projects.
“I hope, through my visit, the two countries can consolidate the traditional friendship, deepen practical cooperation in all areas, push the strategic cooperative partnership to a new high,” Xi said.
He also hailed Pakistan’s contribution to global counterterrorism efforts and expressed support for its own campaign against militants at home.
Xi, who touched down the Pakistani capital with his wife Peng Liyuan earlier in the day, was accorded a red-carpet welcome and received by President Mamnoon Hussain, Sharif, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and members of the cabinet.
His aircraft was escorted by JF-17 Thunder jets which Pakistan built with the help of China.
He will also address the Parliament tomorrow during his two-day trip, the first by a Chinese president is nine years.