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Nawaz Sharif to attend two-day international gathering in Beijing

12 May, 2017

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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is traveling to Beijing to attend a two-day international gathering promoting China's plan for a vast trade network, a spokesman said Friday.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that the premier leaves for China later Friday at the invitation of the President Xi Jinping to attend the event which is part of “Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” initiative, which was launched by Xi in 2013.

Sharif will be accompanied on the visit by a high-level delegation and chief ministers of the four provinces, the statement said.

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation opens Sunday and will be attended by 27 countries.

During the summit, Sharif will address a high-level dialogue and the 'leaders' roundtable', the PM Office said. Besides attending the forum, the prime minister will hold bilateral meetings with President Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

"A number of agreements/ MoUs related to CPEC projects are also expected to be signed on the occasion," the statement said.

Sharif will also hold bilateral meetings with several other heads of state on the sidelines of the forum. He will also visit Hangzhou and Hong Kong where he will interact with business leaders and attend investment conferences.

Xi has championed what China formally calls the “One Belt, One Road” or OBOR initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids.

China has dedicated $40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the $50 billion China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

While China has portrayed the New Silk Road as a genuine effort to share the bounty of China's economic development and to fund infrastructure gaps, many Western countries are concerned about a lack of detail and transparency in the project and are suspicious about China's broader political intents.

Diplomatic sources said the presence of Putin and other leaders from countries with dubious human rights records, like the Philippines and Central Asian states, had contributed to a reluctance among Western leaders to attend.

“What Western leader wants to sit on the same stage as Putin?” said one senior Beijing-based Western diplomat who is familiar with the planning for the summit, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Still, at a time of uncertainty about the US place in the world following President Donald Trump's pledges to put America first, China sees an opportunity to become more of a global leader and has found a receptive audience for its New Silk Road.

Leaders from countries that would appear to have little, if any, connection to the plan are coming to the summit, including Chile and Argentina.

“Everyone wants to be China's friend now with Trump in office,” said a senior Asian diplomat in Beijing. While China says the New Silk Road is not political, it has run into opposition from India due to a section of it in Pakistan, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.

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