Imran calls for tackling poverty, climate change

April 27, 2019

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beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Great Hall of the People on Friday.—INP
beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomes Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Great Hall of the People on Friday.—INP

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday proposed a five-point action plan for improving the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) outcomes as he called for removing barriers to sustainable growth and making development people-oriented.

In his speech at the inaugural session of the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in Beijing, Mr Khan said: “As the Belt and Road Initiative takes a further concrete shape, I suggest we direct our efforts and focus on the peoples of our countries, and towards addressing impediments on their way to sustainable growth”.

PM Khan is among the 37 heads of state and government participating in the second edition of the Belt and Road Forum, which is a platform for BRI partners to come together for reviewing their cooperation under the programme and charting the roadmap for future. As many as 122 states and 49 international organisations are part of Chinese BRI.

The PTI government is still reeling from a controversy erupted over a recent statement of Mr Khan in which he erroneously mentioned Japan and Germany as neighbours. But, a PTI minister had explained to the National Assembly that Mr Khan’s statement was a “slip of the tongue” and he had intended to mean France and Germany.

PM meets heads of IMF and World Bank on sidelines of Belt and Road Forum; claims five billion trees planted in KP

Apparently the PM made another slip of the tongue during his speech in the Chinese capital on Friday when he said Pakistan had planted “five billion trees” in one of its provinces alone.

“In our country in last five years we successfully planted five billion trees in one of our provinces called KP,” he said, adding: “Now we have launched a nationwide project to plant 10 billion trees in next five years.”

The prime minister had often taken credit that his party’s government in KP had planted one billion trees during its five-year rule in the province. But, the latest claim regarding five billion trees is very hard to believe.

Mr Khan’s five-point action plan includes joint efforts for mitigating climate change, establishing a BRI tourism corridor for promoting people-to-people contacts and inter-cultural understanding, setting up an office of anti-corruption cooperation, creating a poverty alleviation fund, and further liberalising trade and investment flows by encouraging private sector and businesses to collaborate in projects.

The prime minister’s proposals reflect Pakistan government’s priorities and he recalled his administration’s massive tree plantation drive and efforts for alleviating poverty, including the launch of Ehsas programme. Some of the proposals also reflected Chinese priorities as Beijing seeks to enhance the ‘quality of cooperation’ under the BRI.

The prime minister recalled that Pakistan was one of the BRI’s “earliest and most enthusiastic” supporters. “Pakistan is proud to have partnered and pioneered with China in this transformational endeavour,” he said.

He praised the BRI as “a model of collaboration, partnership, connectivity and shared prosperity” amid growing geopolitical uncertainty, trade restrictions and inequalities.

Despite greater participation of world leaders in the second edition of the BRF, and Italy, a G-7 member country lately joining the BRI, the Chinese project is increasingly coming under criticism because of economic implications for countries participating in it and widening trade imbalances between China and the BRI partners.

Addressing those concerns, Chinese President Xi Jinping in his key note address said: “China will take a series of major reform and opening-up measures and make stronger institutional and structural moves to boost higher quality opening-up.”

It was expected that China would use the gathering to address global concerns about the project. The Islamabad Policy Institute, a think tank in its report titled ‘BRI & CPEC: Venturing into the Future’, published on the eve of the BRF, noted that the meeting was expected to “yield a number of inter-governmental agreements and projects involving the private sector”. It said China would on this occasion seek “a cooperation framework” under which it would strengthen bilateral cooperation with individual BRI partners, encourage trilateral cooperation in BRI projects by bringing in third partners in bilateral projects and persuading the BRI partners to cooperate in third markets and increase cooperation with multilateral financial institutions.

CPEC: Prime Minister Khan recapped the progress made under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), considered the flagship project of BRI.

“Pakistan’s energy supplies have increased massively. Our critical infrastructure gaps are being plugged. Gwadar, once a small fishing village, is transforming rapidly into a commercial hub. The Gwadar airport will be the largest in the country,” he said.

About the next phase of the CPEC on which the two countries are set to embark, Mr Khan said it would be characterised by “greater emphasis on socio-economic uplift, poverty alleviation, agricultural cooperation and industrial development”.

He mentioned increasing cooperation between Pakistan and China in the fields of education, innovation and technology, the upcoming special economic zones with investment opportunities for Pakistani, Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs and the expanded Pakistan-China Free Trade Agreement that the two countries would be signing on the sidelines of the BRF.

“I take this opportunity to invite all of you to avail of our liberal foreign investment regime and participate in our economy, in particular infrastructure, railways, dams, IT and manufacturing,” the prime minister said.

Meetings

Prime Minister Khan held meetings with International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, World Bank’s Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva and Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon.

Mr Khan and Ms Lagarde underscored the importance of the fund programme and committed to working together for an agreement for which the IMF’s delegation would shortly visit Islamabad.

A statement issued by PM Office said: “The meeting reviewed the relationship between Pakistan and the Fund. The prime minister identified the areas of reform and initiatives being undertaken by the government to stabilise the economy, control inflation and achieve fiscal balance.”

The two sides, the statement said, agreed on the need for a social safety net for vulnerable groups of society.

Mr Khan also spoke at a luncheon hosted by the China-Pakistan Friendship Association and International Cultural Communication Centre and attended a banquet hosted by President Xi in honour of leaders attending the BRF.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2019