ISLAMABAD  -    Prime Minister Imran Khan will attend a big event in China next week regarding the Belt and Road Initiative as Pakistani and Chinese leaders move towards defining the next phase of CPEC.

The PM will pay a four-day visit to China - Pakistan’s iron brother - from April 25 to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. He will be visiting China on the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping who will inaugurate the Belt and Road Forum on April 26.

Belt and Road Forum provides a platform to countries participating in BRI for exchanging views and experiences on regional connectivity; policy synergy; socio-economic development and trade and commerce.

Leaders from 40 countries and delegations from over 100 countries, international organisations and corporate sector would participate in the event.

During the visit, the Prime Minister will be accompanied by a ministerial delegation. He will deliver a keynote speech in the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum and participate in the Leaders’ Round Table. He would also hold meetings with several heads of state, government and corporate and business leaders.

The Prime Minister would also hold bilateral meetings with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Pakistan and China will also sign several MoUs and Agreements to enhance bilateral cooperation in diverse areas.

The Prime Minister will also attend Beijing International Horticulture Exhibition-2019 and address Pakistan Trade and Investment Conference in Beijing.

This will be the second visit of the Prime Minister to China. He had earlier paid a state visit to China in November last year.

Meanwhile, Chinese envoy Yao Jing yesterday said that Pakistan and China are entering the ‘new stage of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ under which the areas of cooperation would be expanded.

Leadership level discussion on the next phase of CPEC, the ambassador said, would take place on the margins of Prime Minister Imran’s visit to China next week.

“Our leaders are jointly working with him (PM Khan) to elaborate the new stage,” he said while speaking at the launch of a book “CPEC – A Precursor to Regional Economic Growth and Stability’ published by Strategic Vision Institute.

The edited book contains chapters written by both Pakistani and Chinese scholars. The book seeks to highlight the opportunities and potential of the economic corridor, address misperceptions, and bring back the focus of the discourse from its (CPEC’s) geo-strategic and political implications to economic and development aspects.

The new phase is based on stronger private sector involvement including the activation of special economic zones, social sector cooperation, and the involvement of third country partners.

An agreement on social sector cooperation would be signed during PM’s upcoming visit to China, the envoy said. The social sector cooperation would cover six areas including education, health, agriculture, water and irrigation, poverty alleviation, and human resource development. Twenty-seven projects are being initiated with $1 billion Chinese government grant, he said.

Jing said that both countries had agreed to involve third party countries. “All countries are welcome to join the development of Pakistan’s economy,” he said.

Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, speaking on this occasion, said CPEC was a strategic national project, which was above party affiliations and provincial considerations. He said the corridor was contributing to the strengthening of the federation by developing infrastructure and bringing progress and prosperity to the country.

He said “the best of CPEC” was yet to come, although the project has already made significant contributions in terms of addressing energy crisis, operationalising of Gwadar Port and activation of Thar Coal project.

Mushahid said Pakistan would become hub of emerging ‘greater South Asia’, which he believes would not just include the SAARC countries, but also China, Iran, and the Gulf region. He rejected threats of containing China saying it was an outdated cold-war mindset, which was irrelevant to the 21st century Asia.

Former Defence Minister Khalid Naeem Lodhi, who has co-authored a chapter in the book, said: “The entire framework of relationships between states, government and the people, and people to people may undergo a tactonic shift if the concept of shared prosperity is honestly embraced and common threats to humanity like climate change, environmental deterioration, disease and illiteracy are fought collectively.”

Director Chinese Studies Centre at National University of Science and Technology Syed Javed Hassan, another contributing author of the book, emphasised the need for urgent reforms in governance, agriculture, industrial, energy, taxation, SEZ, SMEs, civil service, electoral, land, labour, administration, higher education, and foreign trade sectors for optimally benefitting from CPEC.

SVI President Dr Zafar Iqbal Cheema said that CPEC not only merits a more informed narrative, but based on the current government’s re-prioritisation of the goals of the project there is a need for resetting of the discourse on CPEC.