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Chinese Leader Unveils Multibillion-Dollar Investments During Pakistan Visit


Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) is welcomed by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after arriving in Islamabad on April 20.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping have inaugurated five projects and inked a series of agreements.

Xi, who arrived in Pakistan on April 20, is expected to formally inaugurate projects worth $28 billion in Pakistan during his two-day trip.

The projects are part of a $46 billion investment in infrastructure and energy projects called the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor. It aims to link the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea and China's western Xinjiang region.

Islamabad hopes it will help resolve the country's chronic energy crisis and transform Pakistan into a regional economic hub.

"The real opportunity of the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor is that it changes the scope of the relationship from geopolitics to geo-economics," Ahsan Iqbal, the minister overseeing the projects, told AFP.

The Pakistan-China Economic Corridor will include road, rail and pipeline links to serve as a short energy and trade link between the Middle East and China. It will bypass India, an archrival of Beijing and Islamabad.

Pakistan and China have been close allies for decades, but their cooperation was until recently mostly limited to diplomatic and security ties. Bilateral trade has grown in recent years, surpassing $12 billion last year compared with just $2 billion a decade ago.

But the corridor has also divided Pakistan. Earlier this year, leaders from two of Pakistan's minority provinces called on Pakistan's dominant eastern province of Punjab to refrain from changing the route of the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor.

Politicians in the underdeveloped provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan has accused Islamabad of diverting the much-needed Chinese investment from their constituencies to prosperous Punjab, the key powerbase of Prime Minister Sharif.

In addition, the corridor faces significant obstacles in Balochistan. The resource-rich, underdeveloped and marginalized region has long been plagued by bad governance, a separatist insurgency, criminal gangs and Islamist militants. Baluch separatists have repeatedly warned Beijing to refrain from investing in the region. They are also suspected of being behind attacks on Chinese workers in Gwadar and other parts of the vast region.

Xi was also expected to discuss cooperation on Afghanistan and China's fears that Muslim separatists from Xinjiang are linking up with Pakistani militants.

On the eve of his visit, Xi spoke of the knock-on effect of economic cooperation about progress on security.

"China and Pakistan need to align their security concerns more closely to strengthen security cooperation," he said in a statement to Pakistani media. "Our cooperation in the security and economic fields reinforces each other, and they must be advanced simultaneously."

Xi will address a joint sitting of the two houses of Pakistani Parliament on April 21.

According to Iqbal, Pakistan's minister for planning and development, China will provide about $34 billion in investment for the energy projects.

"These are very substantial and tangible projects that will have a significant transformative effect on Pakistan's economy," he said.

Major Chinese companies investing in the energy sector will include China's Three Gorges Corporation and China Power International Development Limited, Pakistani officials said.

Analysts say Sharif vowed to end chronic power blackouts during his 2013 election campaign and will be hoping for an improvement before the next polls in 2018.

The United States has given $31 billion to Pakistan since 2002, according to the Congressional Research Service. About two-thirds was earmarked for security.

Pakistan got $710 million in foreign direct investment in the first nine months of this fiscal year, the central bank said last week.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal and dawn.com

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