November 2, 2018 / 9:16 AM / 16 days ago

China promises Pakistan support as Khan tells of 'very difficult' economy

BEIJING (Reuters) - China promised to support Pakistan’s economy on Friday as new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke of his country’s “very difficult” economic situation amid a burgeoning financial crisis.

Pakistan’s foreign reserves have plunged 42 percent since the start of the year and now stand at about $7.8 billion, or less than two months of import cover.

Pakistan last month received a $6 billion rescue package from Saudi Arabia, but officials say it will still have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avert a balance of payments crisis.

It would be Pakistan’s 13th rescue package from the multilateral lender since the late 1980s.

Meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Khan said he had come to China to learn.

“My party has only been in power for two months. Unfortunately we have inherited a very difficult economic situation,” Khan said.

“Countries go in cycles. They have their high points, they have their low points. Unfortunately, our country is going through a low point at the moment with two very big deficits, a fiscal deficit and a current account deficit. And so we, as I’ve said, have come to learn.”

Xi told Khan that he highly valued the “all-weather” friendship between the two countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool

“I attach great importance to China-Pakistan relations and am willing to work together with the prime minister to strengthen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic partnership and build a new era of China-Pakistan destiny,” Xi said.

Neither man mentioned any economic aid in comments made in front of reporters.

However, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, told Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in a separate meeting that China would not let Pakistan down.

“The Chinese side will continue to provide support and help to the best of its ability for Pakistan’s economic and social development and national construction,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Wang as saying, without giving details.

Late on Friday, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told reporters Khan would return to the country with “good news and a good package”, according to Pakistan’s Geo TV news channel.

The Pakistan prime minister’s office said later that Xi had accepted an invitation to visit to the country. It gave no timeframe.

Khan will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday, when the two countries are expected to sign a series of agreements.

Though China is Pakistan’s closest ally, Khan’s newly elected government has sought to re-think the two countries’ signature project, the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which Beijing touts as the flagship infrastructure program in its vast Belt and Road Initiative.

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Pakistan has sought to amend CPEC to put greater emphasis on projects that focus on social development, rather than purely on infrastructure.

After visiting Beijing, Khan is set to be a key note speaker at a major import fair in Shanghai, an event being touted by China as an opportunity to show the world the country welcomes foreign companies and their products.

Khan is in China amid unrest at home over the acquittal of a Pakistani Christian woman on death row for blasphemy, which has prompted an ultra-Islamist party to block roads in protest.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Kay Johnson in Islamabad; Editing by Nick Macfie, Richard Balmforth

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