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Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif speaks at the China-Pakistan Business Conference in Shenzhen, Guangdong province on Wednesday. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif lauded on Wednesday the "visionary leadership" of President Xi Jinping and the ironclad ties between China and Pakistan, while urging his country's businesses to seize the "golden opportunities" brought by bilateral cooperation.

Speaking at the China-Pakistan Business Conference in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, Sharif attributed the miraculous transformation of Shenzhen — from a small fishing village to a modern metropolis — to the forward-looking vision of great Chinese statesmen, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi. He called Xi "one of the world's greatest leaders".

Sharif, who is on a five-day official visit to China, his first since taking office in March, praised the remarkable achievements made by China in fighting corruption, alleviating poverty and empowering its youths. Such efforts have delivered rich dividends, he said.

Addressing a roomful of Pakistani and Chinese business leaders, Sharif said he accepted and appreciated the dynamism of the Chinese leadership and President Xi. The Belt and Road Initiative, put forward by Xi, has evolved into "a wonderful system to bring peace" to a world torn by conflicts and wars, he said.

Calling China a "great friend" and "great neighbor" of Pakistan for sup-porting the South Asian nation through thick and thin, Sharif said his country has benefited immensely from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, with Chinese investors committing more than $25 billion to projects in Pakistan.

He noted that China's ascent to a higher level in the industrial chain has presented "golden opportunities" for Pakistan, which has abundant natural resources and comparative advantages in traditional industries.

Sharif, who is leading a delegation representing around 80 Pakistani enterprises, will hold talks with Chinese officials in Beijing and also visit Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province.

Business and investment cooperation is the major focus of his visit, and members of the Pakistani delegation will explore economic, trade and investment opportunities when meeting with their Chinese counterparts.

In 2022, bilateral trade between China and Pakistan reached $26.5 billion, down 4.6 percent year-on-year, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce. Direct foreign investment by Chinese enterprises in Pakistan amounted to $560 million the same year.

Jatin Kewlani, managing director of Pakistani enterprise K.K.Group, which deals in agricultural products, said he sees enormous potential in the Chinese market, given its massive size. China's food market is huge, due to the country's very large population, and it "will bring us a lot of business opportunities", he said.

Zain ul Abideen, chief operating officer of DSG Energy, a solar energy company in Pakistan, said his country is growing fast because of industrialization and privatization, and that offers tremendous investment opportunities for Chinese companies, especially in the renewable energy sector.

"Solar power is ... green energy, and development of the industry is picking up pace in Pakistan. The mandate from our prime minister is to increase the amount of green energy usage in our country," he said, adding, "So there are a lot of opportunities for Chinese people to come and invest in the photovoltaic industry."

Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan's minister for planning, development and special initiatives, said that another delegation of 126 Pakistani business leaders is also visiting China at the moment.

China plays an important role in Pakistan's development, and the economic and cultural connections between the people of the two countries are strong and focused, he said.

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