Imran Khan arrived in Beijing today in what is termed as the most significant visit to China by a Pakistani Prime Minister in recent years as the all-weather allies grapple to iron out differences over the multi-billion dollar so-called 'China-Pakistan Economic Corridor' or 'CPEC'. The two nations will also discuss financial aid for Pakistan. Islamabad has approached "friendly nations" to avoid a bailout package by the IMF over its tough terms and conditions.
Imran Khan arrived in Beijing early this morning for his four-day visit, official sources said.
He is scheduled to hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on shoring up the all-weather ties. Both countries are expected to sign several agreements.
Mr Khan will also attend China's International Import Expo on November 5 in Shanghai, which is billed as the most significant one by a Pakistani Prime Minister to China in recent years.
Reports in Pakistan's media said that Imran Khan was accompanied by Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Finance Minister Asad Umar, Advisor on Commerce and Trade Abdul Razzak Dawood, Railway Minister Sheikh Rasheed among others.
Imran Khan's visit evoked considerable interest in Beijing due to his past criticism of the USD 50 billion so-called 'China-Pakistan Economic Corridor' or 'CPEC' projects and remarks by his ministers to cut down some of the projects over debt concern.
However, the cricketer-turned-politician, during his first visit to China, is expected to seek more Chinese loans to avoid approaching International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package.
Mr Khan secured USD three billion funding from his recent visit to Saudi Arabia besides differed payment for oil imports worth about USD three billion for a year.
Pakistan has already approached the IMF but is concerned about the stringent terms and conditions the international lender may impose specially to scrutinise the so-called 'CPEC' projects.
For its part, China is also concerned about critical remarks made by ministers from Imran Khan's Cabinet.
While Pakistan's Commerce and Trade Advisor Abdul Razzak Dawood told the Financial Times that some of the agreements were unfair to Pakistani companies and should be put on hold for a year, the country's Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid said that Pakistan wants to cut the size of the USD eight billion Karachi-Peshawar rail line, the biggest project under the so-called 'CPEC', by USD two billion.
The statements evoked serious concerns in China as the so-called 'CPEC' is the flagship project of Chinese President Xi Jinping's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The so-called 'CPEC' has also become a major irritant in India-China relations with New Delhi voicing its opposition to the project as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Mr Khan, however, assured his support to the so-called 'China-Pakistan Economic Corridor' when Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Islamabad in September.
China also agreed to address his concerns that projects under the so-called 'CPEC' were mainly benefitting the dominant Punjab region and the new projects will focus on Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
From Beijing's point of view, Pakistan's criticism of the project was a shocker, specially after China's takeover of Sri Lanka's Hambantota port on a 99-year lease as debt swap.
China is concerned over cash-strapped Pakistan's plans to approach the IMF for a bailout package amid assertions by the global lender officials to scrutinise loans given by China under the so-called 'CPEC'.
Beijing is also uncomfortable over Pakistan roping in Saudi Arabia to invest in Balochistan, which borders Iran.
Balochistan is key to the so-called 'China-Pakistan Economic Corridor' as it terminates at the strategic Gwadar port.
China do not want the so-called 'CPEC' projects to get caught in the Saudi-Iran rivalry. For its part, China has been giving a top billing for Imran Khan's visit and vehemently deny the debt concerns.
Imran Khan's visit to China will provide an "opportunity" for the two countries to open a "new chapter" of bilateral relations "under the new circumstances," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Monday.
Mr Lu also refuted criticism that the so-called 'CPEC' is causing financial and debt problems for Pakistan, saying Islamabad has already made it clear that debts incurred by the project only account for a very small portion of Pakistan's total debts and is not a reason why the country is experiencing financial difficulties.