[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he army chief of Pakistan, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, began a three-day visit to China on Sunday, Pakistan’s military said, days after a minister stirred unease about Chinese Silk Road projects in the South Asian nation.
Bajwa is the most senior Pakistani figure to visit China since Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in August. His trip also comes a week after China’s top diplomat visited Islamabad. Pakistan has built better ties with China in recent years as relations with the United States worn out.
Last week, Pakistan’s commerce minister, Abdul Razak Dawood, suggested projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistan leg of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that includes recreating the old Silk Road trading route, to be suspended for a year.
Dawood, in an interview with the Financial Times, also suggested the CPEC contracts had been unfairly negotiated by the previous government and were too favourable to the Chinese. Later he said the comments were taken out of context, but did not dispute their veracity.
The critical comments were published just after China’s top diplomat, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, visited Pakistan and the two sides reaffirmed the mutual benefits of the Beijing-funded projects.
Bajwa, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), regularly holds meetings with world leaders due to the Pakistan armed forces’ outsize influence in the nuclear-armed nation, where the military controls security and dictates major foreign policy decisions.
A statement on the official Twitter account of the Pakistan Government had read, “Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has reiterated that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is economic future of #Pakistan and its security will never be compromised. He was talking to Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing in Rawalpindi.” Beijing has pledged to invest about $60 billion in Pakistan for infrastructure for the Belt and Road project.
On Thursday, Pakistan’s government said it wanted CPEC to include more projects with a focus on socio-economic development, something which would align more with the populist agenda of Khan’s new administration.
(With inputs from Agencies)