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Chinese President Concludes Pakistan Visit, Praises Closer Ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses a joint session of parliament in Islamabad on April 21.
Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses a joint session of parliament in Islamabad on April 21.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has concluded a two-day visit to Pakistan after signing accords worth some $46 billion to set up an economic corridor linking the two countries.

Xi told Pakistani lawmakers in Islamabad on April 21 during a televised address to the parliament that their country "has a historic development opportunity" and that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif "has crafted the vision of the Asian tiger dream."

In a speech to parliament after Xi, Sharif pledged to strengthen Pakistani-Chinese ties, saying, "We will fight together to eliminate the menace of terrorism."

Xi later met with Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain in Islamabad on April 21 before flying to Indonesia for a summit.

Hussain awarded Xi with the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the country's highest civilian decoration, at a ceremony at the presidential residence also attended by Sharif.

Xi also praised Pakistan in his parliament address, saying the country had "painted a picture" of a special partnership between Beijing and its closest ally in South Asia.

In one of several allusions to Islamic militants and other security threats, Xi said the countries are linked by "similar suffering" and "shared struggles that have brought our hearts and minds together."

He praised Islamabad's counterterrorism efforts, saying China will "never forget" that Pakistan has "contributed greatly" to security along China's western border.

China is a leading arms supplier to Pakistan and has sought its help in combating anti-Chinese Islamic separatists reportedly hiding in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.

Pakistani lawmakers punctuated Xi's speech with polite applause and table-thumping, and gave him a standing ovation at the end.

Military leaders and foreign ambassadors also attended the speech.

On April 20, Xi and Sharif signed agreements to begin building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a network of roads, railway and pipelines linking western China with Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast.

The corridor is part of China's aim to forge "Silk Road" land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe.

They launched energy and infrastructure projects valued at about $46 billion.

Pakistani Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said that up to $37 billion of that would be spent on Pakistan's troubled electrical grid.

Iqbal said projects worth $28 billion were ready to be rolled out, while it will take three to five years for the rest of them to start.

In his speech, Xi said such deals would bolster Pakistan's economy.

China and Pakistan have long maintained close political and military relations, based partly on mutual antipathy toward their common neighbor India.

But China and India have improved their ties recently, and Xi's visit appeared aimed in part to reassure Pakistan.

Xi called Pakistan a "great neighbor and a great friend" and said the countries share an "all-weather friendship."

The Chinese president had planned to visit last year but postponed the trip due to antigovernment protests in Pakistan, and instead traveled to India.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Beijing in the coming weeks.