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PM, chief ministers travel to China to attend Belt and Road Forum

Updated May 12, 2017
PM Nawaz Sharif arrives at Beijing's International Airport ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. —AP
PM Nawaz Sharif arrives at Beijing's International Airport ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. —AP

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived In Beijing on Friday to participate in the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) forum, aimed at regional development through win-win cooperation.

Li Shixiang, vice chairman of Beijing Municipal Chinese People Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and China's ambassador to Pakistan Sun Weidong and senior government officials received the prime minister at the Beijing International Airport.

Pakistan's Ambassador Masood Khalid was also present.

A contingent of static guard presented salute to the prime minister as he alighted from his aircraft. The prime minister's entourage included the four chief ministers; Shahbaz Sharif of Punjab, Pervaiz Khattak of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sanaullah Zehri of Balochistan and Murad Ali Shah of Sindh.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Railways Minister Saad Rafique, Minister for Planning Dr Ahsan Iqbal, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir, State Minister for Information Technology Anousha Rehman and PM's Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz also accompanied the prime minister.

The Belt and Road Forum (BRF) is part of the 'Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road' initiative launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013 and is being attended by 27 other heads of states or governments.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship programme of OBOR.

At the forum, the prime minister will address the plenary session of high-level dialogue besides addressing the two leader's roundtable sessions on 'policy synergy for closer partnership' and 'connectivity cooperation for inter-connected development'.

A number of agreements and MoUs related to CPEC projects are also expected to be signed on the occasion.

Besides attending the BRF, the prime minister will hold bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

PM Nawaz Sharif and his wife Kalsoom Nawaz reach Beijing. —AP
PM Nawaz Sharif and his wife Kalsoom Nawaz reach Beijing. —AP

The premier will also hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines with several other heads of state and government attending the forum.

Nawaz Sharif will also visit Hangzhou and Hong Kong where he will interact with business leaders and attend investment conferences.

The prime minister will address a business forum in Hong Kong.

Besides attending the forum, the prime minister will hold bilateral meetings with President Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

"A number of agreements/ MoUs related to CPEC projects are also expected to be signed on the occasion," read a statement issued by the government.

Sharif will also hold bilateral meetings with several other heads of state on the sidelines of the forum. He will also visit Hangzhou and Hong Kong where he will interact with business leaders and attend investment conferences.

Xi has championed what China formally calls the “One Belt, One Road” or OBOR initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids.

China has dedicated $40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the $50 billion China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Global friend

While China has portrayed the New Silk Road as a genuine effort to share the bounty of China's economic development and to fund infrastructure gaps, many Western countries are concerned about a lack of detail and transparency in the project and are suspicious about China's broader political intents.

Diplomatic sources said the presence of Putin and other leaders from countries with dubious human rights records, like the Philippines and Central Asian states, had contributed to a reluctance among Western leaders to attend.

“What Western leader wants to sit on the same stage as Putin?” said one senior Beijing-based Western diplomat who is familiar with the planning for the summit, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Still, at a time of uncertainty about the US place in the world following President Donald Trump's pledges to put America first, China sees an opportunity to become more of a global leader and has found a receptive audience for its New Silk Road.

Leaders from countries that would appear to have little, if any, connection to the plan are coming to the summit, including Chile and Argentina.

“Everyone wants to be China's friend now with Trump in office,” said a senior Asian diplomat in Beijing. While China says the New Silk Road is not political, it has run into opposition from India due to a section of it in Pakistan, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.

China has dismissed those concerns, saying CPEC had nothing to do with the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the New Silk Road.