Imran plays CPEC card, wants Sri Lanka on board

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PTI

Colombo

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said that he was looking forward to enhancing trade ties with Sri Lanka through the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Khan, in an address following his meeting with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa, said that his maiden visit is aimed at strengthening the bilateral relationship.

“It is to strengthen our trading ties. Pakistan is part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China, the CPEC is one of its flagship programmes,” he said.

Khan said that the CPEC means connectivity right up to Central Asia.

“We also discussed other areas where we can enhance our trading ties where Sri Lanka can benefit from Pakistan’s connectivity in the future, right up to central Asia. And our trading ties will also mean that the two countries will get together,” he said.

The CPEC, which connects Gwadar Port in Balochistan with China’s Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious BRI.

India has been severely critical of the BRI as the USD 50 billion CPEC, which is part of the BRI, passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Khan and Mahinda held a one-on-one meeting at Temple Trees, the official residence of the Sri Lankan prime minister here, Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s Office said in a tweet.

The meeting was followed by delegation-level talks between Khan and Mahinda, it said.

Khan said Pakistan was pleased to help Sri Lanka in combatting terrorism, asserting that terrorism has impeded the island nation’s development and growth as a country which relies on tourism.

He said Pakistan has also suffered from terrorism and in the last 10 years, tourism dried up and hardly any investment came into Pakistan due to the threat of terrorism.

Khan in his address also recalled his past cricketing links with Sri Lanka, saying he was pleased that the country has become a strong cricketing nation.

Khan, who is the first head of state to visit Sri Lanka since the COVID-19 pandemic, will hold meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday.

He will also participate in a joint ‘Trade and Investment Conference’ aimed at promoting trade and investment between the two countries. A number of agreements to enhance bilateral cooperation will be signed during the visit.