Chinese Vice-Premier He Lifeng visited Pakistan from July 30 to August 1 to mark the 10th anniversary of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He met with President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, and other senior officials to discuss the progress of CPEC and the future of China-Pakistan relations.
He Lifeng is a close aide to Chinese President Xi Jinping and is one of the most powerful figures in the Chinese government. In the past, he has served as minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), which is China’s top economic planning agency. His visit to Pakistan is a sign of the importance that China attaches to CPEC and Pakistan as a strategic partner.
CPEC is a $62 billion infrastructure project that aims to connect China’s Xinjiang province with the Arabian Sea through Pakistan. It is one of the flagship projects of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Throughout his tenure as the chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, He Lifeng played a pivotal role in the planning and execution of multiple CPEC projects, elevating the initiative to new heights. Under his leadership, China invested nearly $30 billion over the past decade, primarily focused on energy and infrastructure projects. This substantial investment has not only facilitated the growth of Pakistan’s economy but has also forged stronger ties between the two nations.
The PML-N’s contribution to the strengthening of CPEC is a testament to its commitment to the nation’s prosperity and progress.
CPEC, as a pioneering project of the BRI, has achieved remarkable milestones in its ten-year journey. It has successfully established power plants, transformed Gwadar into a strategically significant port, and developed crucial transport infrastructure. These achievements have contributed to Pakistan’s economic growth, providing employment opportunities, enhancing energy capacity, and improving connectivity.
In a statement on Twitter, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said, “For us, CPEC is not merely a collection of different projects but a symbol of prosperity and shared development. It is a reflection of our relentless fight against poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment.”
This project was the result of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) visionary leadership. PML-N’s unwavering commitment to the project, its foresight in recognizing the potential of CPEC, and its tireless efforts in ensuring its success have been instrumental in turning this vision into reality. “I would like to pay rich tributes to President Xi Jinping, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for their pioneering role in conceiving and implementing CPEC as a flagship project of the Belt & Road Initiative,” said PM Shehbaz Sharif.
After the groundwork for the project was laid from 2013-2015 during the third tenure of Mian Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan in 2015 and formalised the CPEC agreement by signing several MOUs with the government of Pakistan.
Under the leadership of PML-N, Pakistan embraced CPEC as a game-changing opportunity to uplift its economy, create jobs, and enhance connectivity. The PML-N government’s determination to overcome challenges and propel CPEC forward has set a precedent for effective governance and strategic decision-making.
PML-N, both at the federal and provincial levels, tirelessly worked to create a conducive environment for CPEC’s successful implementation. Their proactive engagement with Chinese officials and their dedication to addressing concerns and bottlenecks played a crucial role in advancing the project.
Unfortunately, CPEC came to a near standstill after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) assumed power in 2018. Work stopped on numerous projects under this initiative and their timelines were badly affected. PTI government’s inefficiency and incompetence led to bottlenecks in implementing the multimillion-dollar projects, at a time when Chinese investors were becoming increasingly disinterested in politically correct but otherwise unprofitable projects. Only when the PDM government assumed charge after removing Imran Khan through a vote of no confidence in 2022 that CPEC has seen life returning to it.
During his visit, He Lifeng and the Pakistani leadership discussed the next phase of CPEC. They agreed to focus on the development of special economic zones, industrial parks, and other projects that will create jobs and boost economic growth.
In a statement on Twitter, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said, “While the first phase of CPEC was about fixing the ‘hardware’ side of development, the upcoming second phase will upgrade the ‘software’ of development by focusing on agriculture, science and technology, skill development, innovation, industrialization, economic growth, health and education.”
One of the notable aspects of this visit is the potential for President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to Pakistan. This anticipated visit reflects the enduring nature of our relationship and heralds a new era of prosperity and development for both countries. Moreover, it emphasizes Pakistan’s dedication to fostering a cooperative relationship with powerful nations while avoiding the pitfalls of bloc politics.
Pakistan held several ceremonies in honour of the visiting dignitary. President Dr Arif Alvi conferred the Hilal-i-Pakistan Award on He Lifeng, at a special investiture ceremony, held at Aiwan-e-Sadr in Islamabad.
At a ceremony in Islamabad, the two countries signed six agreements and MOUs in the presence of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Vice Premier of the State Council of China He Lifeng. The government also hosted a cultural event to commemorate the 10th anniversary of CPEC.
The two countries have been allies for over 70 years, and their relationship is based on shared interests and mutual trust. China is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and source of foreign investment. China has also provided Pakistan with significant military assistance. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been a staunch supporter of China on the international stage, particularly on issues related to Taiwan and Tibet. The relationship is likely to continue to grow in importance in the years to come, as China and Pakistan become increasingly intertwined economically and strategically.
As we celebrate this momentous occasion and mark a decade of fruitful collaboration, we renew our resolve to maintain our steadfast partnership with China. The PML-N’s contribution to the strengthening of CPEC is a testament to its commitment to the nation’s prosperity and progress. Despite external pressures, we remain committed to our long-term strategic alliance, which has proven to be a cornerstone of stability and progress in the region.