Prior to embark on first foreign visit to China: PM Nawaz

BEIJING: Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif will embark on his first foreign visit to China this week indicating close relations between the two countries.

Pakistan’s government will increase the pace of its economic cooperation with China, especially through a planned economic corridor between the countries, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was quoted as saying during an interview with several Chinese media outlets on Saturday.

Ahead of his July 4-8 visit to China, his first foreign visit since taking office, Prime Minister said “That shows how close we are,” reports China Daily.

Sharif, who was previously elected prime minister in 1990 and again in 1997, took office in early June.

As president of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, he has been a frequent visitor to China, and believes China is “the most reliable friend” of Pakistan.

He said he would focus on bilateral economic cooperation during his China visit, with the Pakistan-China economic corridor project the most important topic.

Pakistan had agreed to build a road and rail network connecting Kashgar in China’s far western Xinjiang region to the southwestern Pakistani port Gwadar, which Sharif said is now “the most important” item on the bilateral economic cooperation agenda, reports China Daily from Islamabad.

Building the economic corridor between China and Pakistan was highlighted as a major agreement between both countries when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Islamabad late May and met with Sharif before the latter was formally sworn in.

It is a project that will “change the fate” of the region, said Sharif.

“Now the management of Gwadar has been handed over to China and we expect that Gwadar is ready to become a very important economic hub and an important Arabian Sea port. China will benefit from it a lot, as will Pakistan,” he said.

The economic corridor will greatly lift bilateral trade, he said, and offer opportunities to businesses in both countries.

“The economic corridor will not only benefit the central west region of China, but also Pakistan and the whole South Asian region,” Sharif said.

He added that the energy, infrastructure, textile and engineering sectors are chief among those in which Islamabad wants to expand its cooperation with Beijing.

China is also expected to help Pakistan deal with its energy shortage and provide support for solar power and electricity generation from coal, Sharif said.

There is a great potential for both countries for economic cooperation, which he said will “benefit 3 billion people”, including the population of China and all South Asian countries.

To address the security of Chinese nationals and companies operating in Pakistan, Sharif said his government is enhancing measures to secure their safety.

Pakistan has been a victim of extremism and terrorism, and more than 40,000 people have been killed, Sharif said.

The Prime Minister said special emphasis will be given to the issue and his government will achieve a major improvement of security in “upcoming days, weeks and months”.