Chinese president to visit Pakistan next week: FO

ISLAMABAD: Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Pakistan next week, Foreign Office said Thursday, with investment in the energy sector and Taliban talks in neighbouring Afghanistan likely to feature on the agenda.

Xi was originally scheduled to visit Pakistan last September but Beijing cancelled the trip as Islamabad was in the grip of major anti-government street protests.

China has been a key financial and military ally of Islamabad over the years and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif secured promises of $42 billion worth of investment when he went to Beijing in November last year.

Much of that centred on the energy sector – Pakistan has wrestled with chronic power shortages in recent years that have scrubbed several points off GDP growth and inflicted misery on the everyday lives of its citizens.

“The Chinese President will visit Pakistan on April 20-21. He will be accompanied by a high-powered delegation,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam told a press briefing in Islamabad.

She gave no further details but said a number of important agreements and memorandums of understanding will be signed between the two countries during the visit.

Pakistan has for decades been China´s closest ally in South Asia, and Beijing is a major trading partner and key supplier of military technology to Islamabad.

Analysts believe the visit will pave the way for greater Chinese investment in Pakistan. Recent reports suggested Beijing may agree to finance key sections of a long-stalled gas pipeline connecting Pakistan to Iran.

“The visit is both symbolic and substance wise, China will enhance investment and economic activity in Pakistan,” analyst and retired general Talat Masood told AFP.

Attempts at reconciliation between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul government may also come under discussion.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on a visit to Islamabad in February that Beijing was ready to support Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in his efforts to reach a negotiated end to the insurgents´ 13-year fight.

China had already promised major financial assistance to Afghanistan but before Wang´s comments Beijing had said little about supporting political efforts in Afghanistan, with which it shares a 76-kilometre (47-mile) border.

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