Chinese President Xi Jinping ended his first visit to Pakistan today after more than 50 deals were signed between the two countries covering infrastructure, energy, and other areas relating to the $46bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The corridor idea envisages a rail and road network, oil and gas pipelines, fibre optic cables and a string of power stations running from northwest China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region through Pakistan to Gwadar, a strategic port on the Arabian Sea.
During Xi’s two-day visit the two leaders lavished praise on each other and on their friendship, leading to much commentary in international media on how China seems set to eclipse the US in terms of influence over Pakistan, and the region.
Between 1951 and 2011 the US obligated nearly $67bn (in 2011 dollars) to Pakistan, and since 2011 has earmarked a little over $1bn per year, though not all of that was disbursed.
Relations between the US and Pakistan have been severely tested in recent years by American drone strikes on Pakistani territory. The US, for its part, has accused Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban.
President Xi expressed thanks to Pakistan for its support on issues that will be sensitive to the US, including China’s claims over Taiwan and the South China Sea, Chinese media reported.
In return, Xi said China will continue "to staunchly support Pakistan for its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity", according to Xinhua news agency.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waxed lyrical over the burgeoning relationship: "The Pakistan-China friendship is higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel," he said.
The CPEC corridor was proposed by Xi in 2013, and is part of China’s dual development strategy incorporating the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" – a string of Asian development projects (usually shortened to "Belt and Road") to forge overland and sea links between China and Europe.
China has amassed a $40bn Silk Road Fund for investment in the "Belt and Road". During Xi’s visit it was announced that the first "Silk Road" branded project would be a new hydro power project in Pakistan.Â
Capital will be channeled to China Three Gorges South Asia Investment Ltd., to support Pakistan’s Karot hydropower project and other clean energy projects, according to a joint statement issued by the two countries.
Work on the CPEC corridor itself began in November last year when prime minister Sharif broke ground for the construction of a new four-lane motorway in the Pakistan’s north west.
In March, ratings agency Moody’s gave the CPEC project a "credit positive" designation after Pakistan’s cabinet rubber-stamped the scheme.
Photograph: Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on 20 April 2015 (Xinhua/Lan Hongguang)