The visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to China was being keenly awaited by the Chinese as the 50-billion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) future depends on it. China direly needs to re-energize its economy amid the trade war with USA, and CPEC is the key to it. Pakistan too was anticipating the agreements expected to be signed during the Prime Minister's visit as the country is severely cash-strapped and any assistance, be it in the form of balance of payment support to meet the remaining 6-billion-dollar shortfall for the remaining nine months of the current year, and investment to preempt the possibility of a default would be welcomed. And last but not the least, there is discussion on the need to make progress on a Free Trade Agreement with China that is mutually beneficial and seeks to end the disparity between our exports to China (less than 2 billion dollars) and imports from China (in excess of 15 billion dollars).

Now, as the visit almost concludes, it is safe to say that some of these goals were achieved. There is no point in masking that Imran Khan was not comfortable during the visit. A visit structured around a begging bowl, really doesn’t go down well with Khan’s temperament, as his first interview showed.

However, it is safe to say that he did manage to hold his ground by the end of it. Both Premier Li Keqiang and Vice-Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou have made it clear that China will in principle provide necessary support and assistance to Pakistan in tiding over the current economic difficulties. However, no specific amount has been discussed, despite the hubbub created by Pakistani media. Nevertheless, there is an assurance that the amount will be discussed in future meetings. Meanwhile, the one-sided trade relationship was also highlighted at China International Import Expo, seeking an equal partnership in trade is the way forward. China cannot continue to dump its products in Pakistan and kill the local market.  

All boxes seemed to have been ticked except one. The issue of "re-negotiation" of Chinese loans that Imran and his team have been batting for seems to have been swept under the rug. Nothing at all emerged on that front, and presumably, is going to be part of future discussions, but nothing is sure. This needed to be addressed as United States has been blaming China for Pakistan’s economic condition. The US has termed the Chinese debt to be ‘responsible’ for the economic challenges Pakistan is facing, in a move to turn friends against each other. The pressure to sabotage is CPEC is in full force, however, both the countries need to stay strong during this time. Pakistan and China have been firmly categorized as countries with which the Trump administration is reluctant to do business unless changes that challenge our national, security and economic interests are implemented - changes that are simply untenable for the two countries. Hence, addressing the Chinese debt issue was crucial to silence the criticism.

CPEC has already made great achievements in infrastructure and energy development. In the future, it will shift its focus to industrial cooperation and improvement of people's livelihood, boosting collaboration in agriculture, fisheries and advanced technology industries, so as to make more contributions to Pakistan's economic development, employment and poverty alleviation, as the official joint statement mentions.

The western media can blame the CPEC for Pakistan's external debt and liabilities, and label the visit as a failure. But the truth is that foreign debt, weak governance and tax evasion have always been a major problem with Pakistan's economic development and Imran has brought back the much needed assurance the country needed from its ally.