China's visit to close ally Pakistan canceled amid political protests

Chinese leader Xi Jinping's first presidential visit to Pakistan had been scheduled for mid-September. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tweeted Friday that the visit was postponed and blamed antigovernment protesters who have been demanding his resignation.

B.K. Bangash/AP
Supporters of Pakistani cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader's speech outside the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. Antigovernment demonstrators led by opposition politician Imran Khan and Qadri converged on the capital in mid-August, demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's ouster over alleged fraud in last year's election. Their protests turned violent this past weekend, when clashes between demonstrators and security forces killed a few people and wounded hundreds.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping's first presidential visit to close ally Pakistan was in doubt Friday amid ongoing political protests in Islamabad. Meanwhile, Xi is slated to travel to Pakistan's archrival India this month amid warming ties between New Delhi and Beijing.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tweeted Friday that the visit was postponed and blamed anti-government protesters who have been demanding his resignation. The Chinese president had been scheduled to visit Pakistan in mid-September.

However, Sharif later told the parliament in Islamabad that "doubts have surfaced about the visit of the Chinese president." He said the presidents of Sri Lanka and the Maldives have already cancelled visits to Islamabad because of the anti-government rallies, which have been large and sometimes violent.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam, said Thursday that discussions were ongoing about Chinese president's visit to Pakistan.

"Both sides are closely monitoring the situation in Islamabad. At the moment, I have nothing more to say," Aslam said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang sidestepped a question about the postponement, saying the visit hadn't been formally announced.

"The two sides have maintained close high-level contact. The two sides are in close contact over high-level visits," Qin told reporters at a daily briefing.

It would've been Xi's first to Pakistan since taking office last year. Sharif said that investment agreements worth $34 billion had been expected to be finalized during Xi's stay in Pakistan.

Xi is scheduled to visit India in late September, also his first there since taking office, amid what some analysts see as a subtle reordering of China's foreign policy priorities away from Pakistan. The Asian giants have essentially shelved a border dispute that led to a 1962 war and are focused on boosting trade and investment between them.

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