BEIJING: China has said that Nawaz Sharif's disqualification from Pakistan's premiership will not affect its USD 50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, amid reports that some of Beijing's big ticket investments in the country may come under a widening corruption probe.
"We believe that the China-Pakistan strategic cooperative partnership will not be affected by the change of the situation inside Pakistan," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang was quoted by Pakistan's state-run APP news agency as saying.
Terming the Supreme Court judgement against Sharif over the Panama Papers scandal as Pakistan's "internal affairs", he said, "the all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan has withstood the test of time".
He urged political parties in Pakistan to unite for its national interest.
"As a friendly neighbour, China hopes that all parties and sections in Pakistan can prioritise state and national interests, properly deal with their domestic affairs, maintain unity and stability, and keep focusing on the economic and social development," Lu said.
Meanwhile, a report in Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said that China has been assured by Pakistan's powerful military and politicians that its investments in the CPEC would not be disrupted by Sharif's fall, "even though some of its investments could come under the widening corruption probe".
Despite the assurances it has received, the Supreme Court's ruling has put China in a "peculiar position", Arif Rafiq, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute, a US think tank, told the Post.
Sharif stepped down after the Supreme Court disqualified him for failing to declare "receivable" salary from a UAE-based company of his son in his 2013 nomination paper. The court termed the salary which was not paid to Sharif as an "asset".
"The Chinese are treading into new waters: this is the first civilian government in Islamabad Beijing has fully invested in. (But) while the Communist Party of China is deeply leveraged in the civilian government, military to military ties also continue to strengthen," Rafiq said.
"Nonetheless, some CPEC projects are bound to be investigated because of existing allegations of corruption linked to the Sharifs," he said.
"Some projects, such as the Port Qasim Coal Power Project, could come under greater scrutiny given the involvement of power brokers allegedly connected to Sharif family financial improprieties," Rafiq said.
CPEC passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
India has strongly protested CPEC. Its protests have taken a concrete shape after Sharif came to power in 2013, the year Chinese President Xi Jinping also took over office, promising the implementation of his grand multi-billion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which included the CPEC.
The CPEC, which involves huge investments by China to gain access to the strategic Gwadar port in Balochistan through rail and road connectivity, has taken shape under the Sharif-Xi leadership with firm backing from the Pakistan military.
The CPEC is headed by the Sharif's close aide, Ahsan Iqbal, who was the Minister for Planning and Development in the Sharif government. Reports from Pakistan say Iqbal too may face investigations.