Visit aimed at reassuring Islamabad that relations remain tight despite Beijing’s warming relations with New Delhi.
Wen Jiabao, the first Chinese premier in five years to visit Pakistan, met his counterpart, Yusuf Raza Gilani [Reuters]
China and Pakistan have signed nearly $20bn in economic deals, boosting trade and investment as Wen Jiabao became the first Chinese premier in five years to visit the nuclear-armed state.
Business leaders formalised another $10bn worth of deals on Saturday at Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel, where a devastating suicide truck bomb killed 60 people in 2008.
Pakistan, on the front line of the US battle with al-Qaeda and struggling with Taliban fighters in its northwest, considers China its closest foreign ally and treated Wen and a massive business delegation to a red-carpet welcome upon his arrival on Friday.
Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistan’s information minister, said the countries signed 13 agreements and memorandums of understanding on Friday in fields ranging from energy to railways, from reconstruction to agriculture and culture.
Kaira said China had promised to fund “all the energy projects of Pakistan,” which he termed a “major breakthrough”. Pakistan suffers from a debilitating energy crisis and produces only 80 per cent of the electricity it needs.
“China will provide assistance in 36 projects in Pakistan to be completed in five years,” he said.
“Basically this is a five-year development plan.”
Although not specifically mentioned, behind-the-scenes talks are also expected on China building a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant as part of Pakistani plans to produce 8,000 megawatts of electricity by 2025 to make up its energy shortfall.
Tariq Pirzada, a strategic affairs analyst, told Al Jazeera that this relationship had a two-fold purpose and served the interest of both Islamabad and Beijing.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reports from Islamabad on growing ties between Pakistan and China
“Today, in a show of massive strategic and military support, a Chinese leader is visiting a Pakistani military base – something that has not happened too often,” Pirzada said.
“With some $20bn worth of investment, China is sending a strong message to New Delhi and Washington.”
Wen is expected to inaugurate a cultural centre built as a monument to Pakistani-Chinese friendship, and is scheduled to hold talks with the country’s opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and senior figures in the military, which depends on China for hardware.
After the business leaders’ meeting, Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, is to host a state banquet, before Wen addresses a special joint session of parliament early on Sunday.
“The outcome of the visit is beyond our expectations. It is an historic day,” Masood Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Beijing, said.
Pakistan depends on China’s financial and political clout to offset the perceived threat from rival India and rescue its economy from the doldrums of catastrophic flooding, a severe energy crisis and poor foreign investment.
Pakistan’s prime minister has expressed hope that trade will rise to between $15bn and $18bn over the next five years.
China, meanwhile, has been concerned about the threat of fighters infiltrating its territory from Pakistan.
Before arriving in Islamabad, Wen visited India, where he and his 400-strong delegation inked deals that will see bilateral trade double to $100bn a year by 2015.