By K J M Varma
Beijing, Apr 26 (PTI) Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday called for greater cooperation among the China-backed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) member countries to promote tourism and combat climate change, corruption and poverty.
Pakistan will partner with all those who share the vision for a peaceful and prosperous world, he said while speaking at the 2nd Belt and Road Forum (BRF) here.
Khan said that the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is entering the next phase after substantial progress.
China is holding the BRF, which provides a platform to countries participating in the BRI, from April 25 to 27 here.
The BRI is a multi-billion-dollar initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.
The forum is being attended by 36 heads of states and governments besides officials from 150 countries and international organizations.
Prime Minister Khan said the BRI, which raised concerns of debt trap, offered a model of collaboration, partnership, connectivity and shared prosperity.
India and the US skipped the BRF. India has protested over the USD 60 billion CPEC which is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. CPEC is officially regarded as a flagship project of the China’s trillion dollar BRI.
The US has termed the BRI as promoting predatory financing leading to heavy debt among smaller countries.
Khan’s government itself was reported to have planned to cut down some of the CPEC projects soon after it came to power owing to concerns related to debt burden.
Addressing the BRF, the Pakistan prime minister said that in a world of geopolitical uncertainty, of rising inequality, and barriers to trade, the BRI offers a model of collaboration, partnership, connectivity and shared prosperity.
Pakistan has been among one of the BRI’s earliest and most enthusiastic proponents, and the CPEC is, one of the major components and one of its earliest manifestations and it has made substantial progress, he said.
Skirting India’s criticism of the CPEC as well as its objections, Khan said the CPEC has helped in Pakistan’s progress specially filling the critical infrastructure gaps.
He said that Pakistan and China are entering the next phase of the CEPC together, with greater emphasis on social economic upliftment, poverty alleviation, agriculture cooperation and industrial development.
Both the countries are signing an expanded Pakistan-China Free Trade Agreement, he said.
He also mooted cooperation among the countries signed up to BRI climate change cooperation.
In the last five years, Pakistan successfully planted five billion trees in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, he said, adding that Pakistan has launched a nationwide project to plant 10 billion trees in the next five years.
He suggested that there should be some joint and ambitious projects of planting trees among the BRI countries to mitigate climate change.
He suggested the establishment of the BRI tourism corridor to promote people-to-people contacts, inter-cultural understanding and most importantly to establish anti-corruption cooperation to combat the scourge of white-collar crimes.
Khan also mooted the creation of a poverty alleviation fund, saying that the aim should be to emulate China’s spectacular success in lifting 800 million people out of poverty within a matter of decades.
He said that Gwadar, once a small fishing village in Balochistan, is transforming rapidly into a commercial hub and the Gwadar Airport will be the largest in the country.
Khan also thanked China and its leadership for the “unwavering support to Pakistan”.
“Our deep-rooted friendship, partnership and brotherhood with China remains strong, resilient and unbreakable, standing tall in the face of every challenge,” he said.
Pakistan will continue to work on the basis of mutual respect and equal opportunity, with China and other BRI partners, Khan added.