Xi-Imran understanding

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PAKISTAN and China have once again agreed to further strengthen bilateral economic and commercial ties, including fully realizing the potential offered by the Phase-II of the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement to overcome economic headwinds.

The understanding came during a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping when the two leaders discussed different aspects of bilateral relations including the need to strengthen the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework.

The telephonic interaction between the two leaders was the need of the hour in the backdrop of several developments on regional and global fronts and attempts being made by some powers to sow seeds of discord between the two otherwise close friends and strategic partners.

There are no two opinions in Pakistan that China-Pakistan friendship is mutually beneficial and a guarantee of regional peace and development but pressure is being applied on Pakistan to abandon this sure path to progress and prosperity.

It is, therefore, satisfying that apart from normal courtesies like felicitation on celebration of 70th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and references to Pakistan’s Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Initiative, Chinese cooperation in tackling the menace of Covid-19, Beijing’s unprecedented victory in the battle against poverty and China’s stellar development in four decades, the two sides discussed substantive issues that are most relevant in the present context.

Imran Khan lauded the successful, timely and high-quality implementation of the CPEC projects, and welcomed Chinese investment in the CPEC Special Economic Zones besides underscoring the need for early start of work on the ML-1 railway project as it has the potential to complement Pakistan’s geo-economics vision for national and regional development.

The two leaders agreed to strengthen Pakistan-China cooperation in the relevant areas and to promote CPEC’s green development as a high quality demonstration of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Though the official press release is silent on whether or not the issue of suspension of work on Dasu dam was raised, one hopes it might have been discussed and the work would resume soon.

Similarly, there are some unresolved issues vis-à-vis some CPEC power projects besides slow progress on important infrastructure projects and relevant ministries and departments should be sensitized to expedite their completion.

It is in the interest of both Pakistan and China to not just complete the already agreed projects under the CPEC framework but remain continuously engaged to take the initiative to new heights of cooperation.

As CPEC is the flagship project of China’s broader Road and Belt Initiative (BRI), its success would send positive messages and signals to other countries to join the historic initiative which is based on shared prosperity.

And for Pakistan, this is a once in a century opportunity to get rid of some of its chronic economic problems and challenges and accelerate the pace of socio-economic development in different parts of the country.

Luckily, the Chinese are ready to provide money for projects and programmes that Pakistan would not be able to undertake on its own for decades because of financial constraints and other factors.

CPEC is, perhaps, the only foreign funded initiative that made a visible impact on the life of the people as a number of expressways, power plants and vocational schools have been made operational.

Gwadar is the focal point of cooperation under CPEC but regrettably the pace of work on different projects aimed at making it hub of trade and economic activities is not picking up momentum.

Given the economic and financial advantages of development of Gwadar for the entire country, the issue needs to be taken up seriously at the highest level and impediments should be removed on a priority basis.

It is also encouraging that Pakistan and China have similarity of views on the Afghan issue and President Xi and Prime Minister Imran were unanimous in urging the international community to provide immediate humanitarian and economic assistance to the people of Afghanistan to alleviate their sufferings, prevent instability and flight of people as well as continued engagement for rebuilding of the country.

It is satisfying that China has already announced economic assistance for troubled Afghanistan but the magnitude of the crisis in the country and continued reluctance on the part of other countries demands that Beijing may consider offering a larger and comprehensive package to provide meaningful relief to Afghanistan, where, according to a latest AFP report, hunger is forcing people to sell their young daughters into marriage.

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