Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday stressed on his government’s resolve to fast-track all ongoing and new projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during a “comprehensive” phone call with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, as well as discussing other bilateral matters.
According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, Sharif noted that the “transformational” CPEC had immensely contributed to the socio-economic development of Pakistan, adding that both sides needed to work together to enhance cooperation toward operationalizing Special Economic Zones at the earliest. Referring to various sister-city partnerships between Pakistan and China, He said that Islamabad could learn from the experience of Chinese officials who had set up SEZs in their home cities.
“The prime minister also expressed his commitment to working with renewed zeal and enthusiasm, in concert with China, especially on projects of strategic significance for both countries, such as the ML-1 project,” read the statement. It said the prime minister had emphasized people-to-people contacts and also discussed the desire of Pakistani students who wished to return to China to resume their studies.
Many Pakistani students who returned to Pakistan at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have not yet been allowed to return and have been urging the government to intervene on their behalf so they could complete their higher studies.
Karachi suicide attack
During their phone call, the prime minister reiterated his condolences to the government and people of China over the deaths of three Chinese nationals in a suicide bombing in Karachi last month. Expressing his sympathies with the families of the victims, he strongly condemned the attack and reaffirmed Pakistan’s resolve to hold a thorough investigation, apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice in accordance with law.
“The prime minister reiterated that Pakistan attached the highest importance to the safety, security and protection of all Chinese nationals working in Pakistan on economic projects and institutions,” read the statement, adding that he had also assured Li that the incumbent government would take all necessary measures to enhance the safety and security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan.
According to China’s state-run Global Times, the Chinese premier urged Sharif to bring justice to the victims of the Karachi terrorist attack as soon as possible. “We hope that Pakistan will bring the perpetrators to justice as soon as possible, make every effort to deal with the aftermath, comfort the bereaved families and the injured, and comprehensively strengthen security measures for Chinese institutions and personnel in Pakistan to ensure that tragedies like this will not happen again,” he was quoted as telling the Pakistani premier during the call.
“China and Pakistan are friendly neighbors and close friends. China always gives priority to its relations with Pakistan in its neighborhood diplomacy, and will, as always, firmly support Pakistan to defend national sovereignty and security, support the development of the Pakistani economy, improve people’s livelihood, and maintain financial stability,” it said, adding that he had also expressed Beijing’s willingness to work with Islamabad to strengthen strategic communication, promote CPEC and other projects, and strengthen personnel exchanges on both sides under the conditions of epidemic prevention and control.
According to the Prime Minister’s House statement, both leaders had agreed that no one would be allowed to harm the “time-tested, all-weather strategic cooperative partnership” between Pakistan and China. “Premier Li assured the prime minister of China’s readiness to enhance economic cooperation, expand trade and encourage greater investments from China to Pakistan,” it said, adding that bilateral ties between the neighboring states must continue to serve the broader interests of peace and stability.