ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to send his government’s first delegation to China, signalling an increased emphasis on a regional approach for tackling national issues.
The delegation will be led by the Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, and will comprise the PM’s adviser on foreign affairs and officials from various economic ministries.
Both sides are expected to hold discussions on areas of mutual cooperation, especially in the fields of economics and regional security, the two biggest problems faced by Pakistan, officials said.
While talking to The Express Tribune, Iqbal said the purpose of the visit was to hold preliminary discussions and come up with a framework for cooperation that serves the interests of both nations. He said the delegation will visit China on the invitation of China’s National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC), and will exchange proposals for initiating projects.
Officials said both sides will exchange ideas, which will later be converted into projects when PM Sharif visits China sometime in the near future. However, the PM’s visit dates have not yet been finalised.
The delegation’s visit is a follow-up to the discussions that took place between PM Sharif and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the latter’s visit to Pakistan last month, when both sides agreed to establish a regional trade corridor.
China is keen to now sign agreements rather than mere Memorandums of Understanding (MoU), as Islamabad is perceived as too slow to work on agreed common goals, officials said.
During the Chinese premier’s visit, both sides had signed a MoU to conduct a feasibility study and come up with a concrete plan for connecting both countries through rail and road links.
PM Sharif, in his maiden speech, had said that Islamabad and Beijing keenly desire to implement the Gwadar-Khunjerab-Kashgar rail and road network, which is aimed at connecting Gwadar with China and making the former a free port.
During discussions, both leaders had also agreed to constitute a task force to pursue the common agenda and implement it within the next five years. It is expected that Pakistan’s Planning Commission and China’s NDRC will host the task force.
The successful implementation of the Gwadar-Khunjerab-Kashgar rail network will help China secure oil supplies and commercial routes on the Indian Ocean, furthering its plans to secure yet another strategic energy and trade corridor in the region.
Pakistan is hoping to benefit from China, which is now the world’s second-largest economy and is poised to take over the top slot from the US by 2020. The plan is to create a trade corridor that largely hinges on China’s willingness to give a mix of grants and concessionary loans to construct the infrastructure, officials added.
The inclusion of PM’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi in the delegation points to the fact that Pakistan may also approach China for the resolution of outstanding issues in the wake of the US withdrawal from the region.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2013.
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