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Economic corridor tops agenda

Sharif pushes cooperation, pledges improved security in Pakistan 

Pakistan's government will increase the pace of its economic cooperation with China, especially through a planned economic corridor between the countries, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Saturday

Sharif was interviewed by several Chinese media outlets ahead of his July 8 visit to China, for his first foreign visit since taking office. "That shows how close we are," he said

Sharif, who was previously elected prime minister in 1990 and again in 1997, took office in early June

As president of the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, he has been a frequent visitor to China, and believes China is "the most reliable friend" of Pakistan

He said he would focus on bilateral economic cooperation during his China visit, with the Pakistan-China economic corridor project the most important topic

Pakistan had agreed to build a road and rail network connecting Kashgar in China's Xinjiang region to the southwestern Pakistani port Gwadar, which Sharif said is now "the most important" item on the bilateral economic cooperation agenda

Building the economic corridor between China and Pakistan was highlighted as a major agreement between both countries when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the neighboring country in late May and met with Sharif before the latter was formally sworn in

It is a project that will "change the fate" of the region, said Sharif

"Now the management of Gwadar has been handed over to China and we expect that Gwadar is ready to become a very important economic hub and an important Arabian Sea port. China will benefit from it a lot, as will Pakistan," he said

Speculation by Western countries and their media has run high after the Gwadar port was established and transferred to Chinese management in February

Accusations have alleged China will use the Gwadar port as a military outpost, affecting navigational freedom, although it has been clarified as for civil purposes

"We do not have to worry much about accusations, especially false accusations. We are dedicated to our goals and objectives, " Sharif said

The economic corridor will greatly lift bilateral trade, he said, and offer opportunities to businesses in both countries

"The economic corridor will not only benefit the central west region of China, but also Pakistan and the whole South Asian region," Sharif said

He added that the energy, infrastructure, textile and engineering sectors are chief among those in which Islamabad wants to expand its cooperation with Beijing

China is also expected to help Pakistan deal with its energy shortage and provide support for solar power and electricity generation from coal, Sharif said

There is a great potential for both countries for economic cooperation, which he said will "benefit 3 billion people", including the population of China and all South Asian countries

To address the security of Chinese nationals and companies operating in Pakistan, Sharif said his government is enhancing measures to secure their safety. Two Chinese were killed in Pakistan-administered Kashmir by Taliban terrorists on June 23, sparking concerns over remaining pockets of terrorists in the mountainous area

Local police said the incident took place in the morning, when unidentified gunmen opened fire on tourists in a hotel near the base camp of Nanga Parbat, a mountain that is popular with adventurous travelers

Sharif delivered deep condolences on the tragic deaths. "We should never forget," he said

Pakistan has been a victim of extremism and terrorism, and more than 40,000 people have been killed during armed riots, Sharif said

The prime minister said special emphasis will be given to the issue and his government will achieve a major improvement of security in "upcoming days, weeks and months". 

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