–Wang Yi says 47% of Pakistan’s debt comes from IMF, ADB
–Says 22 operational CPEC projects, of which nine have been completed, have triggered investment worth $19bn so far
–Foreign Minister Qureshi assures China of ensuring security of its nationals working in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has defended Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative during a visit to Pakistan on Saturday, rejecting criticism that the project has saddled Pakistan with expensive debt.
State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in Pakistan for a three-day visit in the first high-level meetings between the neighbours since new Prime Minister Imran Khan took office.
Beijing has pledged $57 billion in loans for Pakistan as part of its vast Belt and Road initiative, deepening ties at a time when Islamabad’s relations with Washington are fraying over how to deal with Islamist militants waging war in Afghanistan.
Whether China was overburdening Pakistan with debt has become a sore point for both nations, who both say the loans are sustainable, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July warned any potential International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout for Pakistan’s troubled economy should not provide funds to pay off Chinese lenders.
Wang said the Pakistani portion of the Belt and Road initiative, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), has helped increase economic growth by 1-2 per cent and has contributed 70,000 jobs.
“CPEC has not inflicted a debt burden on Pakistan, rather when these projects get completed and enter into operation, they will unleash huge economic benefits and these will create considerable returns to the Pakistani economy,” Wang said during a news conference in Islamabad.
Standing next to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Wang said 47 per cent of Pakistan’s debt comes from the IMF and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Wang said 22 operational CPEC projects, of which nine have been completed, have triggered investment worth $19 billion so far. He also rejected concerns about the transparency of CPEC by saying those worries were “false” as all the projects had undergone necessary approvals.
Pakistan and China Saturday reiterated the resolve to take the traditional friendship and all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries to new heights while increasing cooperation in economic, trade and defence sectors.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi met with Wang Yi at the Foreign Office in the federal capital.
Wang Yi is on a three-day official visit to Pakistan to hold delegation level talks, said FO Spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal. “Chinese State Councillor Yi underscored Beijing’s firm support to Pakistan’s socio-economic progress and development,” said the spokesperson.
“China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), economic cooperation, cultural and educational exchanges and regional situation were discussed during the meeting,” he added.
‘PAKISTAN-CHINA IRON BROTHERS’:
Addressing a joint press conference after the talks, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that being ‘iron brothers’, both the countries were supporting each other on various international fora and shared the common principles on different international and regional issues.
He said that enhancing the strategic partnership with China was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
“During today’s bilateral talks, we have identified ten areas of cooperation to further the objectives of close relationship and gave impetus to about 20 ongoing projects under the umbrella of CPEC, which is expected to create 70,000 jobs,” he added.
The foreign minister said that they also discussed pressing issues and the need to keep close communication on global issues.
Both the sides had always supported each other on different international issues, Qureshi said, adding that the security of the Chinese people working on different CPEC projects would be ensured and a secure environment would be provided to them by the security forces.
To a question, FM Qureshi said that with the passage of time, CPEC would take its shape in line with the expectations of the people of Pakistan, resulting in the social and economic uplift of the people of Pakistan.
He said that they had also agreed on the importance of relocation of industry, vocational training for making our people more productive, strengthening of agricultural base and the opportunities provided to farmers.
The export of Pakistan’s agricultural produce to China and implementation of the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) were also discussed. The minister said that the trade possibilities of Pakistan’s exports to China with the provision of subsidies could remove the imbalance of trade.
Furthermore, the minister said, “China recognised the immense contributions and sacrifices and fully supported Pakistan in its efforts against terrorism. China also urged the international community to also acknowledge Pakistan’s contributions in the war on terror, which is a global issue.”
Qureshi informed that China had invited Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit China on an official visit during November as a guest of honour at an international import expo.
The minister said that he also conveyed Pakistan’s consistent support to China and expressed gratitude for China’s active support to Pakistan for becoming a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Qureshi said that he also shared with his Chinese counterpart the outcome of his discussion with US Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo.
The minister underlined the importance of defence cooperation with China, especially keeping in view Pakistan’s urgent needs in the evolving regional scenario and the cooperation to counter terrorism and collectively to take out terrorist threats in the region.
‘CHINA COMMITTED TO WORKING CLOSELY WITH PAKISTAN’:
On the occasion, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated his government’s commitment to work closely with the new government of Pakistan to achieve the shared goals of prosperity and development of the people of Pakistan.
He expressed the hope that the people of Pakistan would overcome their issues under the newly elected leadership.
Terming Pakistan as a ‘good friend and partner’, the minister said that China and Pakistan were tied closely with the strategic partnership based upon the mutual support and understanding.
Referring to the proverbial term ‘iron brother’, Wang Yi said the friendship of both the countries always stood tests of the time and international changes as these were strong and unbreakable, deeply rooted in the hearts of the people of two countries.
About his visit to Islamabad, he said China would continue its support to Pakistan and accorded the highest priority to its relations with Pakistan. He said during delegation-level talks, they had discussed ten points and agreed to further cement the existing cooperation.
He said issues of close strategic partnership, implementation of CPEC projects, facilitating export from Pakistan, improving the local manufacturing factories and their integration at the international manufacturing at a fast pace, poverty alleviation and job creation were deliberated thoroughly and unanimity of views was expressed.
He said China was keen to further increase this cooperation in the agricultural, education and healthcare sectors to benefit Pakistani people, besides stressing upon enhanced cooperation and interaction in defence and security.
Minister Wang Yi also acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts and sacrifices in the fight against terrorism and extended full support to all its efforts to eliminate terrorism.
He also underlined the need to further increase people-to-people to contacts and exchanges of delegations of the young people. He announced that they would take steps to further facilitate Pakistani citizens visiting China.
On international cooperation, he stressed upon the significance of reconciliation and peace process in Afghanistan.
He said Pakistan always stood with China in difficult times and the Chinese leadership wanted to reciprocate the same with swift implementation of CPEC.
He said that China had been financially assisting the CPEC projects with concessional loans. The project was set to create about 70,000 jobs and its fruits would not be confined to one specific group or area, but would benefit the whole country and result in the overall development of the people of Pakistan.
The Chinese minister also highlighted the importance of the availability of energy and power for running the industry in Pakistan and said efforts were being made to overcome the issue through early harvesting projects in this regard.
Wang Yi’s visit comes on the heels of the visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He is the first senior Chinese official to hold meetings with the new government, having been invited by the Pakistani foreign minister.