THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published — Friday 5 July 2013
Last update 5 July 2013 2:01 am
BEIJING: Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met yesterday with China’s President Xi Jinping during an official visit to Beijing focused on courting Chinese investment in his country’s ailing transport and electricity generating sectors.
The visit is Sharif’s first to his country’s close ally since he returned to power last month. The nations cooperate closely in diplomatic and military affairs, and share a common rival in mutual neighbor India.
Sharif said he chose China for his first overseas visit to strengthen and develop friendly neighborly ties between the two countries, according to Chinese state television. Pakistan hopes to expand economic exchanges, especially in developing basic infrastructure, and welcomes Chinese businesses to invest there, Sharif said.
Xi told him China hoped to move ahead with plans for a “China-Pakistan economic corridor.”
“All-weather strategic cooperation is the precious wealth our two countries share,” Xi said.
Sharif is hoping to attract greater Chinese investment to revive Pakistan’s moribund economy. That includes building rail and road links linking the Chinese border to the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, control of which was transferred to a state-owned Chinese company in February.
Pakistan is also seeking Chinese help in overcoming a chronic energy shortage, while China wants Pakistan to crack down on insurgents from China’s Muslim Uighur minority who have taken refuge in Pakistan’s lawless northwest alongside Al-Qaeda-linked extremists. Pakistan says it has killed or extradited several of those militants over the past few years, but acknowledges that some remain at large in the area.
Sharif’s visit follows one by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Pakistan in May, during which the sides alluded to their friendship in typically effusive terms.
China provides Pakistan with aid and foreign investment, while Islamabad offers Beijing important diplomatic backing in the face of Muslim-majority nations who might otherwise criticize China’s handling of its Muslim population.
Pakistan has viewed China as an important counterweight to the United States, which provides valuable aid but often pressures Islamabad to do more to crack down on Islamic militants. Pakistan and China have also been close because of their mutual distrust of India, which borders both countries.
Yet, despite the close ties, trade between the two countries exceeded $ 12 billion for the first time last year.