Beijing: President Xi Jinping on Wednesday expressed “deep concern” over the security of Chinese nationals working in Pakistan on the CPEC projects and sought “reliable and safe environment” for them during his talks with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who is here on his maiden visit to bolster the all-weather friendship.

Sharif, who arrived here on Tuesday night on a two-day visit, met Xi and the two leaders held wide-ranging talks during which they agreed to strengthen the all-weather friendship and the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

“I am deeply concerned about the security of Chinese people in Pakistan and hope that Pakistan will provide a reliable and safe environment for Chinese institutions and personnel going to Pakistan for cooperation,” Xi told Sharif in their meeting at the ornate Great Hall of People here, according to an official statement here.

Sharif is the first Head of the State to felicitate Xi on his recent record victory as General Secretary of the once-in-a-five-year Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), a privilege accorded only to party founder Mao Zedong.

This is the second time in about two months Xi expressed concern over the recurring attacks on Chinese nationals working in Pakistan by the Baloch Nationalist Army and other militant groups that oppose the Chinese investments in the troubled province under the USD 60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

India has objected to China over the CPEC as it is being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Sharif met Xi last month on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at Samarkand in Uzbekistan.

In his Samarkand meeting with Sharif, Xi had called for providing solid protection for hundreds of Chinese working on the CPEC projects.

With recurring attacks on its workers, China is reportedly pressing Pakistan to permit the Chinese security agencies to provide security for their personnel which, according to press reports, Islamabad is resisting as it meant boots on the ground for Chinese armed forces.

In his meeting with Sharif, Xi who is expected to be in power for his life like Mao and accorded priority to China’s ties Pakistan in his last 10 years with the CPEC, said China and Pakistan are good friends, good partners and good brothers” and they demonstrated “iron-clad friendship” by supporting each other in a “chaotic world”.

“China has always viewed China-Pakistan relations from a strategic height and long-term perspective, and has always placed Pakistan in priority in our neighbouring diplomacy,” he said.

China is willing to work with Pakistan to enhance all-round strategic cooperation, accelerate the construction of a closer China-Pakistan community of shared future in the new era, and inject new impetus into the all-weather strategic cooperation partnership between China and Pakistan, he said.

He said both sides should make good use of the mechanism of the Joint Cooperation Committee of the CPEC to promote the construction of the projects more efficiently and build it into a high-quality development demonstration project of the BRI.

Recent reports said China is deeply unhappy over the inordinate delays of the CPEC projects which Sharif says will be accorded priority to complete with new deadlines.

“We should accelerate the construction of supporting infrastructure of Gwadar Port, and give play to the role of the port in radiating and driving the development of regional connectivity,” Xi said.

The CPEC connects Xinjiang with Pakistan’s strategic Gwadar port in Baluchistan.

“Both sides should make joint efforts to create conditions for the early implementation of the upgrading and reconstruction project of Mainline No. 1 railway line and the Karachi ring railway project,” Xi said.

The Mainline No. 1 railway line refers to the Karachi-Peshawar rail line, which the previous Imran Khan government was not keen on as it was estimated to cost about USD 10 billion, increasing Pakistan’s debt burden.

According to reports from Pakistan, Sharif is expected to make a case for Beijing to provide more help for his government to shore up the balance of payments position to avert a crisis similar to Sri Lanka.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Pakistan’s total non-Paris Club bilateral debt currently stands at about USD 27 billion, of which Chinese debt is about USD 23 billion.

Pakistan’s state-run APP news agency reported that in his meeting with Sharif, Xi announced 500 million yuan (USD 70 million) as relief for the victims of recent floods in Pakistan. China earlier announced USD 70 million in aid for flood relief.

Xi told Sharif that China deeply sympathizes with the Pakistani people who suffered from the devastating floods, and will provide additional emergency assistance to help Pakistan in post-disaster reconstruction.

Sharif told Xi that the world cannot live without China.

“The world cannot live without China, and no force can contain China’s development in isolation. It is believed that President Xi Jinping’s foresight will not only continue to lead China to create more brilliant achievements, but also lead the world to a brighter future,” the Chinese statement quoted Sharif as saying.

“I am very honoured to be one of the first foreign leaders invited to visit China after the successful convening of the landmark 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which fully demonstrates the deep ‘iron-clad’ friendship between Pakistan and China,” Sharif said.

“On behalf of the Pakistani government and people, I would like once again to warmly congratulate President Xi Jinping on his re-election as General Secretary of the CPC. Over the past decade, under the wise leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has made great achievements in development that can be called the miracle of the times,” he said.

He also said Pakistan firmly pursues the One-China Policy, firmly supports China’s position on issues of core interests such as Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

After the talks, Xi held a welcome banquet for Sharif in the Golden Hall of the Great Hall of the People.

Sharif will also meet Premier Li Keqiang and Li Zhanshu, the Chairman of China’s Parliament — the National People’s Congress (NPC) — to discuss the all-weather ties.

During his visit, a number of agreements are expected to be signed, officials said.