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‘Sweeter Than Honey,’ Sharif Says of China Ties

by AFP
Zulfiqar Balti

Zulfiqar Balti

Beijing and Islamabad sign raft of new agreements for economic cooperation.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on Friday that the relationship between their countries was “sweeter than honey.”

Pakistan and China are close diplomatic and military allies, and Sharif, who is on his first foreign trip since being sworn in last month, is looking to secure infrastructure projects to tackle a chronic energy crisis and economic malaise in his country.

At the Great Hall of the People in the Chinese capital, Sharif said his welcome “reminds me of the saying, ‘Our friendship is higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the deepest sea in the world, and sweeter than honey.’” Li told Sharif: “I greatly appreciate your great warmth and deep affection for the people of China.”

A series of agreements were signed by ministers of the two countries as Li and Sharif held talks. Among these was a “long-term plan” over the economic corridor, and agreements on technology, polio prevention, and solar housing. The two countries also agreed on establishing a $44-million fiber-optic cable from the China-Pakistan border to Rawalpindi, which aims to give Pakistan more connectivity to international networks.

An agreement was also signed for cooperation between Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party and the Communist Party of China.

On Thursday, Sharif held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, amid concerns in his country over weak growth, inflation, and power cuts of up to 20 hours a day. Xi, who referred to Sharif as an old friend and a good brother, said strengthening strategic cooperation with Islamabad was a priority for China’s diplomacy, the state-run broadcaster China Central Television reported.

China-Pakistan trade last year reached $12 billion and is targeted to rise to $15 billion in the next two to three years. Sharif said his country welcomed Chinese investment and would work to create a friendly environment for it. The threat of terrorism is also expected to figure during Sharif’s discussions.

The Chinese premier was the first foreign leader to visit Pakistan after Sharif’s victory at the polls in May. Beijing has been involved with the upgrade of the Karakoram Highway as part of a proposed economic corridor between the two countries. Earlier this year China took control of Pakistan’s Gwadar port, giving it access to the Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormuz, a gateway for a third of the world’s traded oil.

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