China’s Xi in Pakistan to unveil $46 bn investment plan


Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Islamabad Monday to unveil a $46 billion investment plan that Pakistan hopes will end a chronic energy crisis and transform it into a regional economic hub.

With the plan, known as the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing hopes to increase investment in Pakistan as part of its ambitions to expand its trade and transport footprint across Central and South Asia, while countering US and Indian influence.

The projected investments, $28 billion of which are ready to be signed during Xi’s visit, dwarf a US assistance package to Pakistan of $5 billion that was begun in 2010 but has made less impact than hoped.

Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country of 200 million that has been battling an Islamist insurgency for over a decade, hopes the investment will spur its long-underperforming economy, which the IMF projects to grow 4.3 percent this year.

Xi was given a lavish welcome as he arrived on Monday morning at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad, where he was greeted by President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

After talks in the afternoon, Xi and Sharif symbolically broke ground on five projects around the country via video link, before inking a series of agreements.

The two allies have enjoyed close diplomatic and military relations for decades, though economic ties have only grown more recently. Bilateral trade crossed $12 billion last year compared to only $2 billion a decade earlier.

“The real opportunity of this China Pakistan Economic Corridor is that it changes the scope of the relationship from geopolitics to geoeconomics,” Ahsan Iqbal, the minister overseeing the projects, told AFP.

The projects foresee the creation of road, rail and pipeline links that will cut several thousand kilometres off the route to transport oil from the Middle East to China, while bypassing mutual rival India.

The upgrade will stretch 3,000 kilometres (1,860 miles) from the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea to China’s western city of Kashgar.

Pakistan transferred control of the port to a Chinese public company in 2013. Iqbal said $11 billion has been set aside for infrastructure work on the corridor, while the remaining $35 billion will go on energy projects.

Gas, coal and solar projects are planned to provide 16,400 megawatts of electricity — roughly equivalent to the country’s entire current capacity, said Iqbal.

Pakistan has wrestled with chronic power shortages in recent years that have scrubbed several points off GDP growth and inflicted misery on the everyday lives of its citizens.

“These are very substantial and tangible projects which will have a significant transformative effect on Pakistan’s economy,” Iqbal said.

In Monday’s edition of Pakistani daily The News, Xi said the two countries should align their development, trade and economic strategies more closely.

And in keeping with the flowery rhetoric that usually accompanies China-Pakistan exchanges, Xi wrote that he felt like he was “going to visit the home of my own brother” on his two-day visit.

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