China and Pakistan on Friday signed deals to push forward a long-discussed economic corridor and to lay a first-of-its-kind fibre optic link from the Chinese border to Rawalpindi.

The deals were signed as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met China’s top leaders, and hailed the relationship as “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the deepest sea in the world and sweeter than honey” during a meeting with Premier Li Keqiang here on Friday morning. “I am very proud having undertaken this visit to China as my first visit [overseas]” after taking over as Prime Minister, Mr. Sharif added.

The highlight of the eight agreements signed on Friday was a “long-term” plan to build an $18-billion economic corridor from Xinjiang on China’s western border to the Gwadar port. The two countries also signed a deal for a fibre optic link from Xinjiang to Rawalpindi. The 820-km link would cost $ 44 million, with 85 per cent of the financing coming from the Chinese, and take three years to complete, said officials.

Both the economic corridor and the fibre optic link will pass through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), underscoring China’s willingness to pursue projects in the region despite India’s objections.

Mr. Sharif was quoted as saying by Pakistani media that the Gwadar economic corridor may be given “special status through necessary legislation” to ensure its completion. He also called for an early completion of the repairing of the Karakoram Highway, which runs from Xinjiang through PoK.

Mr. Sharif met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday evening. Mr. Xi strongly backed deepening the “all-weather” ties between the two countries, describing the relationship as one of “good neighbours, friends, partners as well as brothers”.

“The partnership with Pakistan is a priority in China’s foreign policies,” Mr. Xi said.

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