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Pakistan's Prime Minister In Beijing To Discuss Debt, Seek Investment

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (file photo)

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif arrived in Beijing on November 1 for a two-day visit to hold talks with Chinese leaders on plans for the $65 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and debt restructuring.

The CPEC is part of President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to improve China's road, rail, and sea routes with the rest of the world.

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The CPEC, which is set to significantly reduce shipping time for Chinese manufacturers to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, is being opposed by Western powers, including the United States. The BRI was launched in 2015 but slowed down in recent years.

"My discussions with the Chinese leadership will focus on revitalization of CPEC, among many other things," Sharif said in a statement, adding that he will be meeting Xi, who is beginning his third term as Communist Party general-secretary, and other Chinese executives while on the visit.

The CPEC projects are centered on Pakistan's Balochistan Province, where Baloch armed groups are active and have attacked Chinese investments from time to time.

Balochistan is Pakistan's largest and poorest province, despite being rich in natural resources.

Much of the violence carried out by the Baloch separatists is seen as a reaction by Baloch militants to China's investment plans in the region that envisage linking its Xinjiang Province with the Arabian Sea through a network of roads and railways.

Islamabad and Beijing are longtime allies, and Sharif is also expected to discuss security issues while on his visit.

Sharif, on his first visit to China since taking office in April, will also seek some debt relief from China, in particular the rolling over of bilateral debt, according to media reports.

Chinese loans -- estimated at around $23 billion -- make up the largest part of Pakistan's $27 billion of bilateral debt.

Pakistan had been struggling with a balance of payments crisis even before devastating floods hit the country over the summer, causing it an estimated $30 billion or more in losses.

Pakistan has indicated previously that it will seek bilateral debt relief to lessen its balance of payment problems, but it hasn't made any official announcement on whether it will formally ask Beijing for such help.

Pakistan's central bank reserves have fallen to as low as $7.4 billion, barely enough for 1 1/2 months of imports.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa