Interlocking fates: What does Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif want from China vis-à-vis India?

Sharif's visit to China comes at a time when Pakistan’s economy is struggling under a debt crisis, rising inflation, fiscal deficits and ongoing political instability

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Interlocking fates: What does Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif want from China vis-à-vis India?


Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, serving his second term, visited China from June 4 to June 8. This trip, made at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, aimed to strengthen bilateral relations between the two nations. It comes at a time when Pakistan’s economy is struggling under a debt crisis, rising inflation, fiscal deficits and ongoing political instability.

During the visit, Sharif held meetings with President Xi on Friday (June 7) and, later, other Chinese leaders, discussing ways to strengthen collaboration across various sectors. Their talks focused on taking forward the Phase II of the projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) took over power in March. This visit held particular significance as it coincided with Pakistan’s annual budget presentation and its request for a new loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The discussions for the loan were initiated by the IMF in May after Pakistan successfully completed a short-term $3-billion programme. Sharif’s visit to China served as an opportunity to explore further financial support and collaboration between the two countries.

President Xi expressed China’s eagerness to strengthen economic ties with Pakistan and emphasised the importance of a “safe, stable and predictable” business environment to ensure the safety of Chinese personnel, projects and organisations. He also highlighted China’s commitment to promoting high-quality development projects in partnership with Pakistan under the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. Xi pledged to expand cooperation in such fields as agriculture, mining, social issues and improving living conditions—all tailored to Pakistan’s needs.

Pak’s closest ally China

Pakistan recognises China as one of its closest allies on the global stage. This strong bond has been forged through numerous partnerships and collaborations over the years. China has made significant investments in Pakistan’s infrastructure, particularly through the CPEC project. Since the project was inaugurated in 2013, China has reportedly spent around $28 billion on the CPEC, whose estimated valuation is more than $62 billion.

It is important to note that India strongly opposes the CPEC since the project involves the construction of a transportation corridor that will connect China’s Xinjiang region to Gwadar port in Pakistan. This network will pass through areas in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Additionally, Xi vowed to upgrade the CPEC and emphasised joint efforts in innovation and sustainable industries.

This focus on security comes in response to recent attacks on Chinese workers involved in CPEC projects, particularly in the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. In the most recent incident, a suicide-bomber killed five Chinese workers and their Pakistani driver while they were on their way to the Dasu hydropower dam project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in March.

This event underscores China’s urgent need for enhanced security measures to protect its personnel and projects in Pakistan. This incident followed an alleged attack on Chinese citizens in 2021, when a suicide bomber targeted a bus and killed 13 people, including nine Chinese workers.

The Chinese said in a statement that Sharif promised his government would firmly fight, and severely punish, what he called the “terrorists” involved in the recent attacks. But research fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies Abdul Basit told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) he believed that China was dissatisfied with Pakistan’s current security measures.

However, Zhu Yongbiao, a professor at Lanzhou University’s School of Politics and International Relations, said China wass “generally satisfied” with Pakistan's counter-terrorism efforts, although it sought closer cooperation on security, says SCMP. He added that Beijing would continue to invest in Pakistan, with the primary focus of the visit being economic and trade cooperation to support Pakistan’s development and enhance its ability to be self-reliant.

Afghanistan a significant factor

Additionally, Afghanistan is becoming an increasingly significant factor in security considerations for both countries, as new challenges arise. The SCMP had earlier reported that Chinese diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul were working to convince the Taliban to control Pakistani Taliban militants and prevent a rise in cross-border terrorist attacks. China is leveraging its increasing influence over the Taliban authorities in Kabul, whom it has not officially recognized, to curb the Pakistani Taliban and stop attacks on Chinese personnel and interests.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is adopting a tougher stance towards Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, repeatedly accusing it of harbouring terrorists. Earlier this week, Islamabad announced the arrest of 11 militants linked to the March attack, noting that the suicide-bomber who targeted the Chinese convoy was an Afghan national.

Abdul Basit was quoted by the SCMP as saying that there had been a time when Pakistan had more influence and friendly ties with the Taliban compared to those of China. But now, some things had changed and China had more influence and friendly ties with the Taliban than Pakistan did. For Pakistan, the Taliban is a challenge. But, for China, they represent an opportunity.

Before meeting Xi, Sharif and a business delegation of over 100 people visited two key Chinese cities. On Tuesday, they toured Shenzhen, China’s innovation hub and a model for economic reforms. On Friday, they visited Xian, a centre for science and technology in the northwest. Sharif talked of closer ties in such areas as new energy and information technology (IT) with government and business leaders that he met from Shenzhen and Zian.

With inflation at 20 per cent and the economy struggling, Islamabad is increasingly looking to upgrade and expand the CPEC, a project that plans to connect China’s western Xinjiang region to the Arabian Sea and West Asia. Abdul Basit says the second phase of the CPEC focuses on industrialization. Pakistan plans to establish special economic zones in partnership with China, pursue agricultural reforms and enhance cooperation in such emerging technologies as information technology.

Negotiating a framework to extend Pakistan’s loan repayment schedule is also expected. In 2023, Pakistan’s foreign debt touched $130 billion, double that in 2015, said State Bank of Pakistan estimates. China accounted for 13 per cent of Pakistan’s total foreign debt, Zhao Shiren, China’s consul-general said in Lahore.

A joint statement at the end of Sharif’s trip emphasised the importance of keeping the peace and stability in South Asia. It also highlighted the need to resolve all ongoing disputes and expressed opposition to any one-sided action.

As far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, Pakistan has cut down its diplomatic ties with India in protest against the removal of Article 370—which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir—on August 5, 2019. India has consistently stated it wants normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan, but insists it is up to Islamabad to create a terror-free and non-hostile environment for such relations to develop.

(The author of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach him at:

(Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of DNA)

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