ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is embarking on a two-day official visit to China on Tuesday (today) in an effort to revive the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), expand trade and investment ties with the neighbouring country by making optimal use of the second phase of the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement.

According to the Prime Minister Office (PMO), PM Sharif is paying his first visit to China since assuming office in April, at the invitation of Li Keqiang, premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.

“Pakistan can serve as the manufacturing base for China and an extension of its industrial and supply chain network,” the PM wrote in an opinion article published in Chinese newspaper Global Times on Sunday.

“There are three types of good friends: one that is dir­e­ct and honest; one that is trustworthy, dependable and generous when you need help; and one that is knowledgeable and talented to gui­de you and show you what you can’t see,” he quoted Con­­fucius as having once said about friends and friendships.

Mr Sharif further said in the article that the 21st century demanded a new paradigm to deal with the emerging challenges as well as opportunities, and to wean the region away from conflict and conflagration.

“We seek friendly relations with our neighbouring countries on the basis of mutual respect and spirit of cooperation, and desire peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes, including the Kashmir issue, through dialogue and diplomacy based on the UN charter and resolutions,” he stated.

Read more: Pakistan willing to bridge US-China differences, says Shehbaz

He also wrote that the two countries could fast-track bilateral cooperation to boost corporate farming, efficient water usage, development of hybrid seeds and high yield crops and establish cold storage chains. “This cooperation has assumed an added importance to address common concerns related to food security,” he added.

He also said the CPEC’s next phase would encompass key areas such as industry, energy, agriculture, ICT, rail and road network and developing Gwadar port as a hub of trade and transhipment, investment and regional connectivity.

“Our overall aim is to harness the potential of CPEC for Pakistan’s inclusive and sustainable growth, socioeconomic development and for improving the livelihoods of our people,” he added.

The PMO said Prime Minister Sharif was looking forward to meeting the Chinese leadership for a series of “productive and fruitful meetings” aimed at boosting business, strategic and people-to-people relations.

Later, addressing the first steering committee meeting of the Pakistan China Business and Investment Forum (PCBIF), he emphasised on creating a favourable environment for building a business-to-business relationship.

“Let’s join hands and move forward to create a win-win situation for the Chinese and Pakistani businessmen and investors,” he added.

He termed the CPEC a game-changer for development in Pakistan with billions of dollars of investment already committed by Chinese companies. He stressed the need for relocation of the labour-intensive Chinese industry to Pakistan in view of cheap labour by establishing Special Economic Zones, calling it a win-win scenario for both sides.

The PM expressed gratitude to China for being one of the largest donors of relief assistance for the flood-affected people in Pakistan and also for setting up an air bridge for the supply of tents, food and medicine.

Also read: PM Shehbaz hopes to further deepen ties with China during his visit

He also lauded the efforts of Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong for his immense contribution to strengthening Pak-China relations in diverse fields.

Economic potential

Later, in a press conference, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal while terming Pakistan and China iron brothers stressed the need for exploiting the potential of their economic cooperation. He said the CPEC had added a new dimension to the bilateral relations of Pakistan and hoped the PCBIF would encourage Chinese investment in Pakistan because the future belonged to “turning the iron brotherhood into economic partnership”.

The minister urged the PCBIF to work towards the inclusion of Pakistani enterprises into China’s global supply chain.

“The best help China can provide to Pakistan is to help improve its export potential,” he said, adding the government looked forward to building a robust private-sector partnership with Chinese enterprises. He assured removing bottlenecks to attract Chinese investors.

Federal Minister for Board of Investment (BOI) Chaudhry Salik Hussain said the board was fostering business cooperation between Pakistan and China and also signed a framework agreement on promoting Special Economic Zones and relocation of industries to Pakistan.

Aimed at industrial cooperation, he said, the BOI had drafted a set of joint initiatives that would be submitted to the Chinese investors and enterprises during PM Sharif’s visit to China.

Chinese Ambassador Nong Rong, who is also the PCBIF patron, expressed satisfaction with the forum’s pace of work, which included holding of the first-ever meeting of the steering committee and the launch of an exclusive website.

In line with the directives of Chinese President Xi Jinping, he said, the country would continue to provide flood relief assistance to Pakistan.

According to the PMO, a high-level delegation would be accompanying the prime minister during his visit to China where he would meet President Xi Jinping and hold delegation-level talks with Premier Li Keqiang.

“The visit is also expected to advance the wide-ranging bilateral cooperation agenda with the conclusion of a number of MoUs/agreements in diverse areas, and consolidate the momentum of CPEC cooperation in the wake of the 11th meeting of the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee on Oct 27,” an official statement said.

Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2022

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