Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting China this week to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics and meet with Chinese leaders.
A spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry told media last Friday that Khan's visit would reinforce the all-weather strategic cooperative partnership between the two countries, in addition to advancing the objective of building a closer China-Pakistan bond with a shared future. Khan's trip is his first in nearly two years. However, some people are skeptical over the reasons for his visit.
Although Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi claimed last Thursday that the visit was aimed at expressing solidarity with Beijing, as some countries have boycotted the Olympics, some Pakistani media outlets report that Islamabad is eyeing a $3 billion (€2.6 billion) loan from China, the world's second-largest economy after the United States, in addition to pinning hopes on Chinese investment into six sectors.
The English daily Express Tribune recently reported that the government was considering requesting that China approve another $3 billion loan, which could be kept in China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) so as to boost its foreign exchange reserves.
Pakistan seeks investment in six industries
Islamabad is also seeking Chinese investment in the industries of textiles, footwear, pharmaceuticals, furniture, agriculture, automobile and information technology. The newspaper further wrote: "The government is expected to tell the 75 Chinese companies that it could provide access to trade routes to the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the world, offering greater incentives in the shape of reduction in freight costs."
Pakistan relies heavily on China for economic assistance and cooperation. The communist country has already pumped billions of dollars into the Islamic republic under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Islamabad completed a number of energy and infrastructure projects under the CPEC.
Economist Kaiser Bengali believes that Pakistan is now 100% dependent on China for financial and economic assistance. He told DW that the immediate purpose of the visit is to seek the loan from Beijing, reflecting Pakistan's growing reliance on China.
"While the conditions of the IMF are made public, China keeps the terms and conditions of loans and projects secret, which leads to suspicions," he said.
Many nationalists in Pakistan's western province of Balochistan are skeptical of the Chinese investment, which they say does not benefit the residents of the region that houses the Chinese-run strategic Gwader port.
The residents of Gwader recently erupted in protest against the scarcity of drinking water, complaining that Chinese investment did not help improve access or help the province in other ways.
Some Baloch nationalists fear that, if Pakistan defaults on its loans, China would seek mining contracts in the mineral-rich province at an extremely discounted rate — or possibly take over the port.
Bengali said such suspicions are exacerbated by the secrecy surrounding Chinese development projects and the terms of the loans.
During the Cold War, the United States was the main ally of Pakistan, supplying the country with weapons and military training. Islamabad also joined western military alliances to counter communism.
Strained ties with West
Pakistan's ties with the United States were somewhat strained during the 1990s, but the country again became Washington's ally in the "war on terror" after the September 11, 2001, attacks. However, following the US pullout from Afghanistan, the South Asian country is now looking to the East for strategic alliances.
Talat Ayesha Wizarat, a Karachi-based expert in international relations, told DW that Pakistan is heavily dependent on China because the West did not turn out to be a reliable ally, abandoning Islamabad and instead cozying up to New Delhi, a common foe of both Pakistan and China.
Wizarat said loans from the International Monetary Fund came with strings attached, and added that Western-backed financial institutions asked about the details of CPEC projects.
She said that in contrast, China didn't put conditions on its loans. "It has already pumped billions of dollars into the CPEC but did not attach strings," Wizarat told DW.
The US has no interest in the region after pulling out from Afghanistan, she said. As a result, she added, Pakistan will need China's assistance to bolster its economy, stabilize Afghanistan, promote trade in the region and consolidate its defenses.
Pakistan offers access to Indian Ocean
Wizarat said Pakistan could reciprocate by granting China access to the Indian Ocean and supporting the country at international forums.