China and Pakistan today signed eight agreements, including a whopping USD 18 billion deal to build a 200 km-long strategic tunnel through the rugged PoK, as the two all-weather allies sought to boost economic ties and supply critical oil to China.
The agreements were signed after visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang here at the Great Hall of the People.
China has strategic interest in the Pak-China Economic Corridor, Li said on the 200 km-long tunnel which will connect Pakistan's Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea and Kashghar in Xinjiang in northwest China.
China took control of the strategic Gwadar port this year, which gave it access to the Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormuz through which a third of the world's oil is transported.
According to experts, the corridor will speed up development in Xinjiang, which has seen frequent unrest, and also open up a new route for China's energy imports from West Asia. The corridor will pass through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), which borders Xinjiang and provides the only feasible transport link between China and Pakistan.
The USD 18 billion deal was inked by Pakistan's Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal and Chairman National Development and Reforms Commission of China, Xu Shao Shi.
Earlier welcoming Sharif, who chose to visit China for his first foreign tour after returning to power in May, Li said, "I greatly appreciate your great warmth and deep affection for the people of China."
Sharif said his welcome "reminds me of the saying, our friendship is higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the deepest sea in the world, and sweeter than honey".
While discussing bilateral and regional issues, the two leaders agreed to promote the policies aimed at advancing the cause of peace, co-operation and harmony creating a win-win situation in the region, Pakistan's state-run news agency APP reported.
China reaffirmed that its relationship with Pakistan was always a matter of highest priority in its foreign policy, and it would continue to strengthen this strategic partnership.
It vowed to continue extending its full support to Pakistan in the latter's efforts to uphold its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, while respecting the development path chosen by the people according to its national priority, and support Pakistan in maintaining social stability and economic development.
Pakistan reiterated that friendship with China was the cornerstone of its foreign policy, enjoying a national consensus and appreciated the support and assistance of the Chinese government and people for Pakistan’s sovereignty and socio-economic development.
"Pakistan will continue to adhere to its one-China policy, oppose Taiwan and Tibet's independence and support China's efforts in combating the "Three Evils" of extremism, terrorism and separatism. We regard ETIM as our common threat and stand united in combating this menace," Sharif said.
Ahead of Sharif's visit, China's restive Xinjiang province bordering PoK was rocked by violence, claiming 35 lives.
The violence in the Muslim-majority province brought to the fore Beijing's concerns that the Uygur militants of the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are being trained in terror camps in Pakistan.
An agreement for cooperation between Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) was also signed.
A USD 44 million project was also agreed between the two countries to erect a fibre optic cable from the China-Pakistan border to Rawalpindi, which aims at providing Pakistan more connectivity to international networks.
Trade between China and Pakistan exceeded USD 12 billion for the first time last year, while it is targeted to rise to USD 15 billion in the next two to three years.
Yesterday, Sharif held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and sought China's assistance to tackle a severe energy crisis and economic woes.
Xi said the all-weather strategic cooperation were treasures to both countries and the foundation for the future development of the bilateral relations. China and Pakistan are "good neighbours, friends, partners as well as brothers," Xi said.