Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif to visit China for the first time, meet President Xi Jinping
China’s decision to invite Shehbaz Sharif within a week of Xi Jinping’s new tenure is a clear sign of close strategic ties between Beijing and Islamabad
BEIJING: China has invited Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for a two-day visit beginning November 1 in Beijing where he will meet President Xi Jinping, who this week began his norm-breaking third term as Communist party general secretary, and outgoing Premier Li Keqiang, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Sharif will be one of the first leaders to visit China and meet Xi after the latter emerged from the Communist Party of China (CPC) 20th national congress last Sunday as the country’s most powerful leader since founder, Mao Zedong.
China’s decision to invite Sharif within a week of Xi’s new tenure is a clear sign of close strategic ties between Beijing and Islamabad.
“At the invitation of Premier Li Keqiang, PM Shehbaz Sharif of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan will pay an official visit to China starting from 1st November,” Wang Wenbin, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson announced on Wednesday.
This would be Sharif’s first visit to China since assuming office in April 2022 and follows his meeting with President Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan on September 16 during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.
A high-level delegation, including foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, will accompany him on the two-day tour, Pakistan’s foreign office separately announced.
Sharif’s visit soon after the conclusion of the 20th CPC national congress, “…speaks to the special friendship and strategic mutual trust between our two countries,” Wang said in Beijing.
“During the visit, President Xi Jinping will meet the PM, Premier Li Keqiang will hold talks with him and Li Zhanshu will meet with him,” Wang said.
Both Premier Li and Li Zhanshu, head of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC) have been left out of China’s top leadership in the reshuffle during the Congress and are set to retire in March, 2023.
Wang said during Sharif’s meetings, the leaders will have “in depth exchange of views on bilateral relations and international and regional issues of common interest”.
“China and Pakistan are all weather strategic cooperative partners and are iron-clad friends for the past 70 plus years since the establishment of diplomatic ties,” Wang said.
Sharif’s visit comes in the backdrop of attacks against Chinese nationals including people of Chinese origin in Pakistan.
In September, an attacker posing as a patient killed a man and injured two other people at a dental clinic in Karachi; all three victims were Chinese-Pakistani dual nationals and had operated the dental clinic in the area for 40 years.
In April, three Chinese language teachers and their Pakistani driver were killed in an alleged suicide bombing, also in Karachi, near the city’s Confucius Institute, which propagates Chinese language and culture.
The separatist Baloch Liberation Army - which says Chinese investment in Pakistan does not benefit locals - claimed responsibility.
Xi Jinping had urged Sharif to provide “solid protection” to its citizens in Pakistan during their meeting in Samarkand in September.
Despite such attacks, China has emerged as Pakistan’s key benefactor both economically and militarily.
Beijing has provided financial aid to Islamabad besides supplying it with key military equipment including fighter jets and warships.
China, in fact, has cemented its place as Pakistan’s largest supplier of major arms including fighter aircraft, warships, submarines and missiles between 2017 and 2021, data compiled by an independent institute focusing on arms transfers and conflict said earlier this year.
Between 2017 and 2021, Beijing met 72 % of Islamabad’s demand for major arms, the data showed.
Conversely, 47 % of all the major arms exported by China went to Pakistan during the period, new data from Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said.
“China looks forward to working with Pakistan to take the visit as an opportunity to further advance our ties, build an even closer community with a shared future and make greater contribution for regional peace, stability and international fairness and justice,” Wang said.
Besides Sharif, the chief of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, is the only other leader confirmed to have been invited to visit China next week.
Nguyen Phu Trong will visit Beijing between October 30 and November 2 at the invitation of President Xi,