ISLAMABAD - High-level exchange of visits between Pakistan and China will pick up this year as the two countries come out of the Covid restrictions.
Senior Pakistani diplomats told The Nation that the visits of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other cabinet members are expected this year before the general elections, expected in October. “The PM and the FM are eager to visit Beijing before going into the elections. The options are being considered through the diplomatic channels,” said one diplomat. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal is already scheduled to visit China this week for discussions on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and other bilateral matters.
Another diplomat said Pakistan also expects high-level visits from China during the next few months. Last week, cash-strapped Pakistan received a rollover of $2 billion in deposits for a period of one year from China to help Islamabad get a much-required bailout from the International Monetary Fund to stabilise its economy.
The rollover, which basically is not a loan but a financial deposit to be kept at Pakistan’s central bank for a period of one year, is one of the requirements of the IMF in meeting its external financing needs in order to move towards inking the staff-level agreement.
Pakistan and the IMF have been negotiating the release of a $1.1 billion loan since February but so far without any success due to the tough conditions by the donor which Pakistan is slow to fulfil. Pakistan is scrambling to increase its forex reserves which are estimated to be at $4.8 billion after China refinanced $500 million last week. Earlier, a Chinese bank provided $700 million to Pakistan. Despite a slight improvement in the reserves, the situation is still grim as the country needs to pay $7 billion till June this year, making further borrowing necessary. The total Chinese SAFE deposits stand at $4 billion and the remaining maturity would become due in a few months. China’s support has been critical as it has already provided financial support in this critical hour to help Pakistan avoid the default. This month, Foreign Secretary Dr Asad Majeed Khan visited China from March 16-18. He called on China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang and held meetings with Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong and with Chairman CIDCA Lou Zhaouhui. On the 18 March, Dr Asad Majeed Khan and Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong co-chaired the Third Round of Pakistan-China Bilateral Political Consultations (BPC).