Pakistani PM Visits China as Fiscal Crisis Looms
Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, is in China on a four-day visit, his first trip to the country since taking office in mid-August. The visit comes as the Pakistani government struggles with a financial crisis and as it looks to foreign countries for aid, while negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund. On Friday, Khan met with China’s president, Xi Jinping, and told him that his country is going through a “very difficult” economic situation. Neither Xi nor Khan said anything about possible aid to Pakistan in front of reporters, but China’s leader did talk about his commitment to China-Pakistan ties and what he called their “all-weather strategic partnership.” Pakistan has dealt with the question of bailouts before, but the situation is dramatically more complex this time as it seeks an $8 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund. Questions are growing about the country’s ability to pay back loans connected to China’s massive infrastructure and trade plan known as the Belt and Road. One of the initiatives’ biggest projects is the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). At the same time, however, Washington has stressed that the U.S.-backed IMF should not provide Islamabad with funds to pay back loans to China. A former cricket star and opposition politician, Khan has raised questions about the benefits CPEC brings to Pakistan. Khan’s PTI party, an acronym for its name in the Urdu language, has said the project is too heavy on infrastructure, has too many projects in India’s Punjab state and too much corruption. A review that the new administration has undertaken has so far has turned up no irregularities and Khan has softened his criticism some, but the visit may force Islamabad to choose between CPEC and the IMF. During his meeting with Xi on Friday, the prime minister voiced confidence in the belt and road project, and what he called the Chinese president’s vision of connectivity.