Beijing, April 17 – Chinese President Xi Jinping will go ahead with his long-awaited first visit to Pakistan early next week, more than seven months after cancelling his trip to the country due to security concerns.
Chinese officials told India Today Xi will travel to Islamabad on a State visit on Monday and Tuesday, before travelling to Indonesia to attend the sixtieth anniversary of the historic Asia-Africa Bandung Conference of 1955. Xi was supposed to have first travelled to Pakistan last September, following his visit to India. That trip was cancelled as Pakistan was, at the time, roiled by political protests.
The Pakistani government subsequently lobbied for Xi to attend a high-profile military parade last month – the first to be held after seven years – looking to send a signal following United States President Barack Obama’s attendance at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi in January.
That plan, too, was shelved on account of security considerations, shortly after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi travelled to Islamabad to discuss the security situation and arrangements ahead of the visit.
The visit next week is expected to focus on taking forward the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, an ambitious initiative that has, in recent months, gained traction under Xi’s pet Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road initiatives.
The corridor envisages improving road links and connectivity between China’s western Xinjiang region, all the way up to the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea that China has helped finance and manage.
In recent weeks, a Chinese team of engineers has gone forward with feasibility studies, with the Pakistani government taking unprecedented security measures to ensure their safety. Among proposed projects is expanding the Karakoram highway, exploring an alternate road link, a pre-feasibility study for a railway link from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar and a slew of energy projects.
“The Pakistani Army has set up a security division of 12,000 just for the corridor,” said Hu Shisheng, a leading Chinese strategic expert on South Asia at the Beijing-based China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR).
The Pakistani government has estimated that the infrastructure and energy projects will require an investment of more than $45 billion over the next few years, and have sought a Chinese commitment on investment. Chinese officials said discussions were on-going, and projects would more likely be taken forward on a case-by-case basis depending on financial viability and security considerations.