ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and China on Monday lifted their time-tested bilateral relations to an unprecedented level by inking 51 MoUs and agreements in diverse fields as Chinese President Xi Jinping started his two-day state visit to the strategic ally amid an extraordinary fanfare.

The multi-billion dollar projects to be launched in Pakistan through Chinese investment include those related to energy, infrastructure, agriculture, research and technology, education and other fields which Pakistan hopes will strengthen its struggling economy and help end chronic power shortages.

But, the focus of spending is on building the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a network of roads, railway and pipelines between the long-time allies – which is estimated to cost $46 billon. The CPEC roads will run some 3,000km (1,800 miles) from Gwadar in Pakistan to China’s western Xinjiang region.

The projects will give China direct access to the Indian Ocean and beyond. This marks a major advance in China’s plans to boost its influence in Central and South Asia and far exceeds US spending in Pakistan. Islamabad, for its part, expects the roads and energy projects will turn it into an economic hub and biggest transit point in the whole region.

When he arrived, Chinese President Xi Jinping was accord a red carpet welcome at Noor Khan Airbase, Chaklala. The moment he alighted from the plane along with the first lady Madam Peng Liyuan, senior ministers, high-level functionaries of the Communist Party and senior government officials, he was presented a 21-gun salute.

President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, federal ministers, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and three services chiefs received the distinguished guest. Children attired in traditional clothes presented bouquets to the Chinese President and the First Lady. A smartly turned out contingent of armed forces presented guard of honor and anthems of both the countries were played.

Children waived Pakistani and Chinese flags and sang friendship songs as the President Xi and the First Lady passed by. Chinese president and prime minister shook hands with the children who also showered rose petals on the visiting guest. Traditional folk dance was also presented on the occasion. The JF-17 thunder fighter jets presented a fly-past. Later, PM Nawaz introduced the cabinet members and other officials to the Chinese president. The Chinese president introduced his delegation to President Mamnoon and the PM.

Later, President Xi and PM Nawaz unveiled plaques of eight projects to be undertaken in Pakistan with Chinese assistance. They also performed ground-breaking of five projects through video link. The leaders witnessed the agreement signing ceremony of as many as 51 MOUs and agreements at the conclusion of their delegation and exclusive talks at the Prime Minister’s Office. Xi Jinping’s state visit is the first by a Chinese president in nine years.

During the talks the two sides reviewed regional and international developments and agreed on making coordinated efforts for peace and security in the region. At a joint press stakeout the two leaders vowed to elevate their relationship to an “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership” with the aim to give fresh impetus to their existing multifaceted relations.

“Chinese Presidents’ visits to Pakistan have always been historic. This visit too is historic. It is a watershed in the history of our relations,” PM Sharif said in a brief statement soon after the signing ceremony. “We are starting a fresh phase in our geo-economic partnership that would create new jobs, start businesses, promote education and professional training, and help eradicate poverty.”

Reciprocating the same feelings and sentiments the Chinese President Xi, who while speaking of elevating their partnership, assured his country’s complete support to Pakistan for full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

President Xi Jinping, terming PM Sharif a “senior and seasoned statesman”, lauded the reforms introduced by him. Xi said, “After coming into power, your government initiated far-reaching reforms which are very important for Pakistan. Your efforts against terrorism are highly appreciated.” He said these reforms would yield far-reaching results for Pakistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described Chinese president as “the leader of our great neighbour - China - and an international statesman”. He said, “President Xi is also a dear brother and a great friend of Pakistan. Our entire nation receives him with immense affection.”

The PM said: “I informed the President that Pakistan desires a peaceful neighbourhood to focus on pursuing growth and delivering prosperity to the people. To this end, we want peaceful relations with all our neighbours.” He said he along with President Xi have taken “momentous decisions” that would raise Pakistan-China relations to new heights and “have deep and far reaching impact for our common economic future and peace and stability in the region.”

President Xi Jinping appreciated Pakistan’s efforts for peaceful co-existence with its neighbouring countries and appreciated Pakistan’s constructive role to help Afghanistan achieve peace and stability. He mentioned that China and Pakistan cooperated with each other in rescuing their stranded nationals in Yemen. Xi said strengthening of bilateral relations Pakistan was important for the brighter future of both the countries.

Nawaz in his remarks said Chinese president welcomed the “resolute steps” taken by Pakistan to counter terrorism, especially since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. He said President Xi also acknowledged sacrifices being rendered by the Armed Forces and people of Pakistan. “Our cooperation in the security and economic fields reinforce each other, and they must be advanced simultaneously,” PM Nawaz said. “I assured President Xi that Pakistan considers China’s security as important as its own security,” he added.

President of China Xi Jinping said 30 of the 51 agreements signed on Monday were related to the Economic Corridor. He said China was working along with Pakistan to help it achieve its economic development and mentioned Gwadar Port, second phase of the Karakoram Highway, Lahore-Karachi Motorway project, Orange Line and several energy projects.

President Xi Jinping was also conferred the country’s highest civil award, the `Nishan-e-Pakistan’ at a special investiture ceremony at the Aiwan-e-Sadr. He will address a joint sitting of the Parliament today (Tuesday).