|The port of Gwadar is expected to be one of the topics to be discussed during Wen’s visit [EPA]|
The Chinese premier has arrived in Pakistan on a visit aiming at reassuring the country that energy, military and economic ties remain tight, despite China’s warming relations with India, Pakistan’s rival.
Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, and other members of the government received Wen Jiabao and his delegation at Chaklala Air Base in Rawalpindi on Friday.
The Chinese leader arrived after a three-day visit to India, and is expected to sign off on trade deals officials estimated at between $10bn and $14bn with Pakistan, and was likely to pledge Chinese help to develop a strategic port.
Ties between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan remain tense over a host of issues, and China’s ties with Pakistan irk India.
Yet while China is India’s largest trade partner, it invests seven times more in Pakistan and is helping it build nuclear reactors, despite grave misgivings in the West.
China wants to use Pakistan as a gateway to the Muslim world and as a new “Silk Road” for China’s energy-hungry interior, as well as a balance against India’s military rise.
Pakistan, in turn, plans to further rely on China for the bulk of its weapon systems, as a major investor for its ports and roads, and as a counter-weight to American demands and conditions in the fight against “Islamist” militancy.
During his New Delhi visit, Wen used more than $16bn in trade deals and promises of political support to charm India into temporarily setting aside disputes with China.
He will want to assure Pakistan that China’s improving ties with India do not come at Pakistan’s expense.
“China still looks at Pakistan and India through the same lens,” Hamayoun Khan, an independent analyst and former China-Pakistan expert at the Institute of Strategic Studies said.
“Whereas the US considers Pakistan as part of Af-Pak and India as a separate country, which is not taken well in Pakistan.”
According to a Pew survey of Pakistan public opinion last year, 84 per cent of respondents said they had a favourable view of China, while 16 per cent had a favourable view of the US.
Pakistani diplomats like to refer to China as an “all-weather friend”, whose needs – strategic and economic – fit in with what Pakistan wants and has to offer.
“It’s a question of where each country finds itself and gets the most out of the other,” Talat Masood, an independent defence analyst, said.
China has already invested $200m in Pakistan’s deep-water Gwadar port, on the Arabian Sea coast.
Singapore’s state-owned PSA International Ltd. was given a 40-year contract to run the port, but Pakistan is contesting that in court, and wants more Chinese involvement, officials said.
The port will help Pakistan, struggling to revive its debt-laden economy, to become a conduit for trade to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia. It would also enable China to ship oil from the Gulf to its interior more directly.