China on Tuesday congratulated Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and said that besides ramping up ties by “resolutely” backing each other, Beijing looks forward to building a “high quality” USD 60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan’s Parliament on Monday elected unopposed Sharif as the 23rd prime minister of the country.
“We congratulate Shehbaz Sharif on his election as the Prime Minister of Pakistan,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing while replying to a question. “China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic and comprehensive cooperation partners with rock-solid and unbreakable relations,” he said.
“China looks forward to working together with the Pakistani side, carrying on our traditional friendship, resolutely supporting each other, depending on cooperation in various areas, and building a high-quality CPEC to build an even closer China-Pak community of shared future in the new era,” he said. As ex-prime minister Imran Khan was set to lose the no-confidence motion moved by the joint Opposition led by Sharif on April 10, the Chinese official media projected that the all-weather ties between the two countries would get better under him than during Khan’s government.
Sharif spoke highly of China-Pakistan ties in his victory speech. He spoke about the special relations with China, calling the country “the most faithful friend and a partner through thick and thin”. “No matter what happens, no one can deprive the two countries of their friendship. This friendship will last till the day of judgment,” he said and announced to speed up work on CPEC projects.
China had reservations over Khan as he was a critic of the CPEC when he was in the Opposition and later became its big admirer after he became the prime minister. Commenting on Sharif’s election, Liu Zongyi, secretary-general of the Research Centre for China-South Asia Cooperation at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the state-run Global Times on Tuesday that the new prime minister promised to vigorously promote CPEC in his winning speech.
Sharif has previously praised the CPEC several times, calling it an ambitious blueprint to transform Pakistan into a major emerging economy so that the less developed parts of the country could enjoy the dividends of development, Liu said. Long Xingchun, a senior research fellow at the Academy of Regional and Global Governance of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said Sharif spoke of the construction of CPEC in his victory speech, which showed that he intended to safeguard China-Pakistan friendly cooperation and stabilise Pakistan’s economy.
“It also highlighted the importance he attached to the relationship. In fact, CPEC has been through several changes of government since its establishment, but it has always been highly appreciated and promoted by the Pakistani side, which shows that the project is a reflection of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation, and also helps the two countries and the people of the region,” Long said.
Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, said CPEC has entered the second phase of high-quality construction. “It is expected that the new prime minister will pay more attention to the positive social and economic effects brought by the project, and continue to work with China to advance the project in the direction of high quality,” Qian said. Qian also said the instability caused by political struggles within Pakistan could have some negative effects on CPEC projects, but these would be temporary and the projects will continue to get better in the long term.
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