With eye on aid, Pakistan PM meets Chinese counterpart

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and China's Premier Li Keqiang attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. [Photo: AFP]

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang in Beijing Saturday, as he seeks aid and investment from the world's second largest economy in hopes of staving off a financial crisis.

Before travelling to China -- one of Pakistan's firmest allies -- Khan said he was striving to obtain financial aid from two unnamed countries after Pakistan secured $6 billion in funding from Saudi Arabia.

His government has also entered talks with the International Monetary Fund over a potential bailout as it grapples with a balance of payment crisis and current account deficit.

China is already a major investor in Pakistan, where the two countries are building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multi-billion-dollar project at the heart of Chinese president Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious, globe-spanning trade infrastructure programme.

The corridor aims to increase energy and transport links between the western Chinese region of Xinjiang and the Arabian Sea via Pakistan.

However, given Pakistan's deteriorating finances, there have been concerns in recent months that portions of the agreement may have to be scaled down.

In his meeting with Li, Khan invited the Chinese premier to visit Pakistan and see for himself the difference the mega-project has made in the country.

"CPEC in 2013 was just an idea. Now it is on the ground. And it has caught the imagination of the people of Pakistan," he said.

"We feel that this a great opportunity for our country to progress, to attract investment. It gives us an opportunity to raise our standard of living, growth rate."

Li praised the relationship, saying "China and Pakistan are all-weather partners."

"Pakistan has always been regarded as a foreign policy priority by China."

The meeting follows talks with President Xi Jinping on Friday, where the former cricket star bemoaned his country's financial woes, saying the economy was at a "low point".

Since taking power in August, Khan has sought loans from "friendly" countries like Saudi Arabia, vowed to recover funds stolen by corrupt officials, and embarked on a series of populist austerity drives to raise cash.

Pakistan has gone to the IMF repeatedly since the late 1980s.

The last time was in 2013, when Islamabad got a $6.6 billion loan to tackle a similar crisis.

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