Flailing Economy, CPEC, Indo-US Ties: Pakistan PM’s China Visit Fraught with Challenges

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s first visit China, since he took office in April this year, is fraught with challenges. His two-day visit starting November 1 comes at a time when Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has launched a long march against the federal government.

With Pakistan’s economy in doldrums, the delegation is expected to request the Chinese government to roll over deposits and reschedule debts worth $27 billion.

Thus, PM Shehbaz will also have to ensure security of Chinese citizens after the recent incidents of attacks in Gwadar and Balochistan that drew criticism by the Chinese government.

The PM has clearly said, before leaving for China, “We would not let anyone to damage our close friendship and strong economic partnership. My government would spare no effort to bring to justice the perpetrators of these reprehensible acts.”

Besides this, there are other issues that the Pak PM will put on the table with China.

China’s Demand of Outposts

Chinese are demanding outpost in Balochistan for a long time for which Chinese personnel are still working with the Pakistani security agencies in Gawadar, according to sources. How PM Shehbaz will convince his Chinese counterpart to trust Pakistani security agencies will also be a challenge.

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

The CPEC projects have been pending for years and the Chinese funding for CPEC has slowed down in recent years.

Shehbaz’s visit will give a boost to projects such as the $10 billion Karachi to Peshawar railway project.

He will also talk about the optimal use of the second phase of the China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement and enhancing industrial cooperation.

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Geopolitical Challenges

In his recent op-ed in Chinese newspaper Global Times, PM Shehbaz Sharif said geopolitical tensions are leading to conflicts, resurrection of ideological divide, economic and technological decoupling, and costly arms race.

Pakistan has been facing quite a few challenges due to global economic slowdown, rising food and oil prices and supply chain disruptions.

This meeting is important for Pakistan as it will further deepen bilateral ties between Pakistan and China on core issues, and progressively advance strategic partnership of cooperation.

Climate Change and Technology Support

The recent unprecedented floods in Pakistan inundated one-third of the territory and affected over 33 million people with huge economic losses. The Pakistani Premier may also seek some initiatives for technological advancements in this area.

Indo-US Relations

The visit assumes importance in context with the India-China relations. China has recently blocked a move by India and US to designate Abdul Rauf Azhar, younger brother of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) Masood Azhar, as global terrorist at the UN Security Council.

Another issue is that India has been trying to get into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) but China has been opposing it saying the NSG had not arrived at a procedure to admit countries that had not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India has refused to sign the NPT.

Not only this, the Indo-US strategic partnership and the defence agreements signed under it are also issues for China and Pakistan.

New Projects

PM Shehbaz is expected to get China on board for new projects, including the tripartite agreement between China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to set up an oil refinery in Gwadar.

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China’s finance agreements are more depended on the endorsement by the Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) of the CPEC meeting.

It is pertinent to mention that the 11th session of the JCC is also tentatively scheduled for October 27.

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