Pakistan PM Sharif talks business on China visit

BEIJING (AFP) - Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday during his first foreign visit since his May election, looking to secure infrastructure projects to tackle a chronic energy crisis and economic malaise.

Since his victory at the polls, PM Sharif has sought to strengthen economic ties with close ally Beijing as he tries to tackle weak growth, inflation and power cuts of up to 20 hours a day.

His first meetings in the Chinese capital included appointments with leaders from state-owned heavyweights the China Investment Corporation sovereign wealth fund, China Development Bank and China Power Investment Corporation.

Mr Sharif also met President Xi at Beijing's Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, China Central Television reported on its main evening news broadcast.

President Xi, calling PM Sharif an old friend of China as well as a good friend, good brother and good partner, said strengthening strategic cooperation with Islamabad was a priority for China's diplomacy with countries on its periphery, it reported.

The prime minister, meanwhile, thanked President Xi for China's help and support, saying he chose the country as his first overseas destination to consolidate and further develop friendship between the countries.

He said his country welcomes Chinese investment and will work to create a friendly enviroment for it.

PM Sharif was due to hold talks with Premier Li Keqiang on Friday, according to a schedule provided by Pakistani officials.

Over the weekend, he will attend a China-Pakistan Energy Forum in Shanghai and meet a power company in the southern city of Guangzhou, before flying home on Monday.

Pakistan, where PM Sharif won praise for high-impact infrastructure projects such as a motorway during his two previous tenures in office, has opened its arms to Chinese investment.

Premier Li - the first foreign leader to visit Pakistan after PM Sharif's election - said in Islamabad that Beijing was ready to speed up work to upgrade the Karakoram Highway as part of a proposed economic corridor between the two countries.

Earlier this year, China took control of Pakistan's Gwadar port, giving it access to the Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormuz, a gateway for a third of the world's traded oil.

China-Pakistan trade last year reached US$12 billion (S$15 billion) and is targeted to rise to US$15 billion in the next two to three years.

The threat of militancy is also likely to figure during PM Sharif's discussions.

China is concerned that the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement - which seeks an independent homeland for Muslim Uighurs in China's western Xinjiang region - is training "terrorists" in Pakistan.