Xi Jinping’s last minute decision to cancel his Pakistan visit raises a multitude of questions

Xi Jinping’s last minute decision to cancel his Pakistan visit raises a multitude of questions

New Delhi: Chinese President Xi Jinping’s eleventh hour decision to cancel his visit to all weather ally Pakistan has raised eyebrows and many in the South Asia neighbourhood, rattled by the People’s Liberation Army moves along the LAC in India’s Eastern border in the Himalayan region, believe there is more than meets the eye.

China officially cited Covid as the reason for postponing the visit. But ET has learnt that Xi wanted to avoid controversy following serious charges of corruption against Pakistan PM aide-cum-chairman of CPEC, Lieutenant General (retired) Asim Saleem Bajwa.

Last Thursday, Lieutenant General (retired) Bajwa decided to quit from his position as the special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcast.

However, Bajwa said he will continue in his role as the chairman of the China Pakistan Economic Authority (CPEC) Authority. The Chinese authorities postponed Xi’s visit on Friday and conveyed it to Pakistan citing Covid as the reason.

Bajwa, who issued a press release last Thursday, categorically denied allegations of financial misappropriation as a senior military officer over the past two decades.

But observers of Pakistan affairs are of the opinion the episode brings into question corrupt practices of Bajwa. The observers claimed that Xi did not want to face any other controversy at this stage when his actions are facing pushback globally.

Last month Pak Finance Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had visited China to prepare for the big visit. President Xi’s visit was critical to display solidarity amid Pakistan's declining credentials in the Gulf and West.

“Postponement of Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan so soon after the visit of Pak Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to China is indeed curious. The reason being given is Covid. However, Pakistan has been claiming victory in the fight against the pandemic.

Clearly, the Chinese know something that the Pakistanis are not revealing about Covid, or the reason for the postponement has to do with the financial revelations about Lt Gen (R ) Asim Bajwa who continues to be chairman of the CPEC Authority,” Tilak Devasher, an authority on Pakistan and author of four books on Pakistan, told ET.

Pakistan military’s own business empire is now worth over $100 billion, according to watchers of Pak military. Last year Beijing decided to push for a military takeover of CPEC. In November 2019, the CPEC Authority was formed with Lt. Gen. (retd) Asim Bajwa as its head.

In July, a CPEC Authority Bill 2020 was proposed, practically handing over the corridor to the army. Since CPEC’s launch in 2015, the military has eyed its share in the economic spoils.

Meanwhile, a US report indicated that China has deep strategic interests in Pakistan, which will compel both countries to stay engaged than ever before.

In its 2020 report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” in China,” the US Department of Defence (DoD) suggested that Pakistan is among a handful of countries where Beijing seeks to enhance both “bilateral and multilateral” engagements.

The report — published last week — noted that Pakistan is among the countries where China “has likely considered locations for military logistics facilities.”

The US DoD also stated that Pakistan was also among the countries where Beijing has developed a series of “campaigns,” outlining operational military activities to achieve its strategic objectives.

The report also claimed that China’s Strategic Support Force (SSF) “runs tracking, telemetry, and command stations in Namibia, Pakistan, and Argentina.”

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