BEIJING: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif started his first foreign visit on Thursday after being elected in May. With China the first port of call, he looked to secure infrastructure projects to tackle a chronic energy crisis and economic malaise.
Since his party’s victory at the polls, PM Nawaz has sought to strengthen economic ties with close ally Beijing as he bids to tackle weak growth, inflation and power cuts of up to 20 hours a day.
His first meetings in the Chinese capital included appointments with leaders from state-owned corporations the China Investment Corporation sovereign wealth fund, China Development Bank and China Power Investment Corporation.
Speaking to a delegation of the China Power Investment Corporation, the premier said fool-proof security would be provided to power producing companies in Pakistan and every deal agreed upon with a company would be approved within seven days.
Nawaz said Pakistan was facing a serious energy crisis and it would welcome Chinese companies who may be interested to invest in energy related projects such as the Thar coalmine project, wind energy and solar energy.
“Start an energy project now and I shall approve it right away,” the premier told the delegation.
PM wows to cut red tape
Prime Minister Nawaz took immediate notice of complaints by Chinese companies who told him in the meeting that there were always bureaucratic hurdles in the way of investing in projects in Pakistan.
He immediately wrote his direct email address on a piece of paper and gave it to the heads of the companies, saying they could write to him at anytime if there was any such problem and that he would respond to them within 24 hours.
Nawaz was also successful in convincing the Chinese companies to finance the building of Karachi-Peshawar, Karachi-Lahore-Kashghar and Karachi-Kashghar-Gwadar road and rail links.
He assured them full security of their investment and said the federal government would provide sovereign guarantees to these.
In return, the investors said they wanted a tax holiday for these projects, to which PM Nawaz said he will provide more tax relaxations than the previous government did.
Nawaz meets President Xi
Nawaz also met President Xi Jinping on Thursday and will meet Premier Li Keqiang on Friday, according to a schedule provided by officials.
The chief executive of Pakistan told President Jinping that Pakistan was facing an economic crisis in tandem with internal and regional security issues and expressed hope that China would stand by Pakistan in difficult times.
“We are proud that you have chosen China for your first overseas visit,” the Chinese president said, adding that he hoped tangible outcomes would emerge as a result of the visit.
The premier was warmly welcomed by President Jinping, saying “I have great liking for you and your brother.”
“Pakistan is a great country and we have enormous love and affection for it,” he added.
Both the leaders pledged to carry forward their all-weather friendship to new heights. They held discussions on bilateral and other issues of concern. PM Nawaz said “It is an honour for me to visit Pakistan’s friend and ally, which is a source of strength for Pakistan.”
Speaking on the economic and security crises in the country, the prime minister said he was committed to surmounting all the challenges.
He said that he was fully cognizant of the internal security situation in parts of the country and the government was working out a strategy to improve it.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2013.
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