Xi met Sharif on the sidelines of the 22nd Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of State Summit in the city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) poses for a photo on the sidelines of a meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on Friday. (AP)

BEIJING: President Xi Jinping has urged Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to provide “solid protection” to its citizens in Pakistan and sought his assurance that “lawful rights” of Chinese businesses will be protected in the country.

Xi met Sharif on the sidelines of the 22nd Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of State Summit in the city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan on Friday.

“China hopes that Pakistan will provide solid protection for the security of Chinese citizens and institutions in Pakistan as well as the lawful rights and interests of Chinese businesses,” Xi told Sharif according to a readout of the meeting released here by the Chinese foreign ministry.

Xi’s request comes in the backdrop of a terror attack that killed three Chinese tutors and a Pakistani driver outside Karachi University’s Confucius Institute in April this year.

The separatist Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) had claimed responsibility.

In July, 2021, a blast hit a bus carrying workers to an under-construction dam in northern Pakistan, killing 13 people including nine Chinese nationals.

On his part, Pakistani PM Sharif told Xi that Islamabad will “…make its best efforts to protect the security of Chinese citizens and institutions in Pakistan” and continue its active participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The need for more security for Chinese citizens in Pakistan was the only jarring point in the exchange between the two leaders: The rest of the Chinese readout mentions Xi and Sharif lauding each other and their country’s close ties. “The two countries have all along stood with each other through thick and thin. No matter how the international situation evolves, China and Pakistan are always each other’s trustworthy strategic partners,” Xi said.

Xi stressed that the two sides must continue to firmly support each other and work on the “…China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to ensure smooth construction and operation of major projects”.

The CPEC, however, has also come under the cloud of financial mismanagement.

In May, media reports said that nearly 25 Chinese firms operating in Pakistan under CPEC said they would be forced to shut down their operations this month unless payments of 300 billion Pakistani rupees is made to them.

The CPEC is one of BRI’s flagship projects, which passes through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir blatantly violating India’s territorial sovereignty.

Pakistan is resolutely opposed to the attempt of “certain forces” to undermine China’s sovereignty and interfere in its internal affairs, Sharif told Xi, adding: “Pakistan-China friendship is unbreakable and unparalleled.”

China has emerged as Pakistan’s key benefactor both economically and militarily, giving financial aid to Islamabad besides supplying it with key military equipment including fighter jets and warships.

China, in fact, has cemented its place as Pakistan’s largest supplier of major arms including fighter aircraft, warships, submarines and missiles between 2017 and 2021, data compiled by an independent institute focusing on arms transfers and conflict said earlier this year.

Between 2017 and 2021, Beijing met 72 % of Islamabad’s demand for major arms, the data showed.

Conversely, 47 % of all the major arms exported by China went to Pakistan during the period, new data from Sweden’s Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said.

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