Gwadar Port, Economic Corridor tops Sharif`s agenda in China
Beijing: Ahead of his first foreign trip after assuming office, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that clinching the proposed economic corridor linking the strategic Gwadar Port with China`s Xinjiang province, a "game-changer" for the region, would top his agenda in Beijing.
Sharif said the new economic corridor, which will connect the resource-rich western region with Gwadar port, has the potential to "change the fate" of the region.
"The economic corridor taking off from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar is a game changer as far as this region is concerned," Sharif told the Chinese media ahead of his visit.
"We expect the corridor will become a very important economic hub," the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
The proposed corridor will pass through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Sharif`s six-day visit beginning from June 4 coincides with the tour of Defence Minister A K Antony here, bringing the India-Pak-China diplomatic tangle into focus.
Chinese analysts say China maintains a "strategic equilibrium" between India and Pakistan. Sharif`s tour will be a follow up visit to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang`s trip to Islamabad last month.
Li went to Pakistan after his India visit during which he proposed the Economic Corridor project. During Li`s visit China-Pakistan signed 11 agreements.
The Corridor which consisted of a series of special economic zones, a rail link and a pipeline providing China access to the Indian Ocean topped the list.
Sharif said during his visit he would seek bilateral co-operation in "every field", but especially energy and infrastructure. "We are investing in each other`s countries. This is the time for both countries to move forward at a faster speed," he said.
A Pakistani task force held talks with the National Development and Reform Commission on the scheme early this week, the Post reported.
The operation of the Gwadar port, located near the Strait of Hormuz, was handed to the China Overseas Port Holding Co last year after the Singapore firm which secured the contract gave up due to a host of operational problems and questions over its economic viability.
The Strait of Hormuz has strategic importance as it roughly 40 per cent of all world-traded oil pass through this route.
China under the previous leadership headed by Hu Jintao hesitated, according to some analysts here, to avoid ruffling feathers in India as it provided a bird`s eye view of Mumbai port and the western coast and New Delhi`s suspicions that it would strengthen China-Pak military ties.
The sanction for its take over came after the new leadership headed by Xi Jinping was elected in November last year.
China reportedly taking over the port with USD two billion despite concerns over a highly destabilised Balochistan province where Gwadar is located and the recurring violence and riots in Muslim dominated Xinjiang province.
Parts of Xinjiang, where Muslim ethnic Uygurs oppose the expanding settlements of the majority mainland Han Chinese, witnessed riots last week that left 35 people dead.
China sees the port with a long term plan to secure maritime hubs around the Indian Ocean. Wang Dehua, a South Asian studies specialist at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said the economic corridor could serve as an alternate route for trade if the Strait of Malacca were blocked.
Wang said China was building up ties with countries along its western border to counter the United States` pivot to the Asia-Pacific, under which Washington has been firming up ties with China`s eastern neighbours.
The current round of riots in Xinjiang where China in the past highlighted its concerns over infiltration of militants from PoK was also expected to figure in Chinese leaders` talks with Sharif.
China accuses separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement, (ETIM) of carrying out periodic attacks in the province.
Chinese officials regard Pakistan`s role key to crackdown against militants in the border region.
The resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan in the backdrop of US plans to pull out troops from the war-torn country was also expected to come up in the talks as China is already held a series of rounds of talks with India, Pakistan and Russia in this regard.
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