Pakistan and China agreed on Monday to revive the second phase of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as the Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng held wide-ranging talks with the Pakistani leaders.
Vice Premier He, a close aide of President Xi Jinping, held formal talks with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, attended a special event to mark the 10-year of CPEC. He also called on President Arif Alvi and the Army Chief General Asim Munir.
He is on a three-day visit to Pakistan to mark 10 years of CPEC. The tangible outcome of his interaction in Islamabad was the renewed push by both sides to stick to the CPEC, the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The fate of CPEC was hanging in balance but the visit of He suggested that the two sides were keen to kick start the next phase of the mega project. For this purpose the two sides signed six memoranda of understanding (MoUs).
Both sides also decided to expedite the process of multi-billion-dollar Main Line (ML)-1 railway project that has been facing a delay for years. Besides they finally signed the minutes of the last Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting.
The JCC is the highest decision-making body on CPEC. The last JCC was held in October and delay in the signing of minutes of the meeting raised several questions.
The MoUs were signed at a ceremony at the Prime Minister Office after a meeting between Prime Minister Shehbaz and Vice Premier He. The two leaders witnessed the signing of the documents.
The signing ceremony was also witnessed by the high-level Chinese delegation led by the Vice Premier He, and several Pakistani ministers and senior officials of the various ministries.
Since the current Shehbaz-led coalition government came into power in April 2022, work on several CPEC projects, which remained neglected in the past, has been revived.
During the signing ceremony, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) Vice Chairman Cong Liang inked the minutes of the 11th JCC meeting held on October 27 2022.
One of the MoUs pertained to the establishment of an expert exchange mechanism between the Planning Ministry and the NDRC, within the framework of CPEC, aimed at facilitating knowledge-sharing between the two governments.
The objective is to obtain intellectual support and consultation for China-Pakistan capacity-building cooperation and conduct in-depth exchanges of Chinese experts with the Pakistani government and enterprises.
Another MoU signed at the ceremony was about the protocol of phytosanitary requirements for export of dried chillies from Pakistan to China.
The signatories for this protocol were Pang Chunxue, Chargé d’ Affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Pakistan, on behalf of the General Administration of Customs of China and Food Ministry Secretary Zafar Hasan.
Similarly, the MoU on the acknowledgement of receipt of realignment of the Karakorum Highway (KKH) Phase-II Project (Thakot-Raikot) feasibility study final report was also signed.
The document was signed by Pang on behalf of the Ministry of Transport of China, and Asim Ameen, Member Planning, of the National Highway Authority (NHA), Ministry of Communications of Pakistan.
The MoU on strengthening workers’ exchange programme was also signed between the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and the Board of Investment, Pakistan under the ambit of CPEC Industrial Cooperation.
The MoU aimed at fostering exchange programmers of the workforce associated with CPEC projects for skills development, technical training, language courses, and Chinese experience sharing in special economic Zones (SEZs) development.
It provides a platform to augment meaningful people-to-people exchanges. It is instrumental in strengthening the Pak-China Industrial Cooperation and the development of SEZs through Chinese intellectual support.
It further enhanced competitiveness of CPEC workforce to meet local industrial requirements and also supported the requirements of skilled labour to attract Chinese industrial relocation envisaged through CPEC industrial cooperation.
Furthermore, an agreement on the announcement of the minutes of the 21st Conference of Technical Committees on Promoting the ML-1 project was also signed. The project promises of transforming Pakistan’s transportation system.
In the agreement, both sides resolved to push forward the ML-1 initiative. By focusing on cost-efficiency, justified capital outlays, and maximised economic returns, the ML-1 project will unfold in a systematic, phased approach.
Meanwhile, addressing a special ceremony to celebrate the completion of first decade of CPEC, Prime Minister Shehbaz and Vice Premier He paid rich tribute to CPEC for its positive contribution to Pakistan’s socio economic development.
They underscored that as the flagship project of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, CPEC has transformed Pakistan’s economic landscape by removing infrastructure bottlenecks and eliminating power shortages.
Expressing satisfaction at the remarkable achievements of CPEC, they reiterated their resolve to build on the achievements of the last decade and continue their cooperation for making it as a high-quality demonstrable project of the BRI.
The leadership of Pakistan and China also appreciated the endeavours of Pakistani and Chinese experts, engineers and workers for their meritorious contribution to timely completion of all CPEC projects in Pakistan.
On the occasion, Vice Premier He also read a special message of President Xi Jinping, congratulating the government and people of Pakistan on the completion of the first Decade of CPEC.
Xi pointed out that since its launch in 2013, China and Pakistan had been advancing CPEC under the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and had achieved a number of early harvests.
This has added new impetus to the economic and social development of Pakistan and laid a good foundation for regional connectivity and integration, he said, adding that it was a vivid testament to the all-weather Sino Pak friendship.
Stressing that China and Pakistan would continue to improve overall planning and expand and deepen cooperation, Xi said no matter how the international landscape may change, China would always stand firmly with Pakistan.
To mark the significance of the occasion, a special Postal Stamp, Commemorative Coin and First Day Cover, were also issued. Both sides also unveiled a first Decade of CPEC memento, capturing the achievements made and the futuristic vision.
Pakistan and Chinakicked off CPEC projects in 2013, after the visit of the Chinese Premier to Pakistan. Under the rubric of CPEC, the two countries initiated and completed multiple projects in the past 10 years in the energy, transport infrastructure, port/airport development and digital connectivity.
Under the Phase-II of CPEC, both countries have expanded cooperation to new areas, including rural revitalisation; agricultural development; industrialisation; green development and science and technology.
Vice Premier He has been overseeing China’s economy and trade relationship with the world. He was instrumental in executing certain CPEC project when he was head of the NDRC from 2017 to 2023.