By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
BEIJING (AP) â¿¿ China and Pakistan set their sights Friday on developing a transport link through rugged mountains and lawless lands, a route they hope will boost economic growth and bring critical oil supplies to power-hungry China much faster.
A broad agreement for the "economic corridor" was among eight pacts signed following a meeting in Beijing between Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) transport link was described as a "long-term plan" to connect Kashgar in northwestern China to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, likely by road in the beginning and possibly by rail later.
Pakistan is hoping to attract greater Chinese investment to revive its moribund economy beset by inefficiency, corruption, political instability and chronic electricity shortages, while expanding two-way trade that exceeded $12 billion for the first time last year.
For its part, China wants Pakistan to crack down on insurgents from China's Muslim Uighur minority who have taken refuge in Pakistan's northwest alongside al-Qaida-linked extremists. Pakistan says it has killed or extradited several of those militants over the past few years, but acknowledges that some remain at large in the area.
Another agreement is for a fiber-optic cable to be laid from the Chinese border to the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi which will boost Pakistan's access to international communications networks. China is to provide 85 percent of the financing for the three-year project's $44 million budget, with Pakistan covering the rest.
Sharif's visit to China is his first foreign trip since returning to power last month, highlighting the importance Pakistan places on its 63-year-old relationship with its most important ally in the region. The two cooperate closely in diplomatic and defense affairs, and share a common rival in their mutual neighbor and occasional military opponent India.
"Let me tell you very candidly and very sincerely that what I am witnessing here on my visit to Beijing, it reminds me of the saying our friendship is higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the deepest sea in the world, and sweeter than honey," Sharif told Li at the start of their meeting, employing the usual effusive language with which the two nations describe their relationship.