Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has arrived in Beijing for a four-day visit. He is due to meet his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao and also hold talks with Premier Wen Jiabao and other top officials. In an interview with Chinese official Xinhua news agency, Zardari hailed China as the world’s future and said that building economic ties would be his top priority. The two sides are expected to sign a number of agreements in areas ranging from the economy, energy, and space technology to the environment.
As Pakistan verges on bankruptcy President Zardari looks to old ally China for support
Pakistan and China have been close allies for decades. But with President Zardari’s maiden trip to China, Pakistan wants to take bilateral ties to “new heights”.
Yiyi Lu, an expert on Chinese affairs at the London-based Chatham House think tank says the two countries are very significant for each other strategically: “Pakistan is China’s long-term ally in South Asia and China can count on Pakistan’s support for its policies internationally.”
“In Pakistan, there have been many changes in leadership but, with every new government, its friendly policy towards China has continued. I think both countries know that their friendship is consistent and that they can rely on each other in difficult times.”
Looking east for support in tough times
At present, Pakistan is facing extremely tough times. Its relations with the US are on the rocks -- tensions have simmered in recent weeks as US forces based in Afghanistan have carried out a series of cross border raids on Pakistan’s tribal areas, which are considered safe havens for Taliban and al-Qaeda militants.
Moreover, its economy, which was already suffering because of political instability and rising violence, has also been hit by the ongoing global financial crisis. Some economists fear Pakistan could go bankrupt by early next year.
In this hour of need, Islamabad is looking east for financial help. During his trip to China, Zardari will hold direct talks with the heads of Chinese financial institutions and executives from the corporate sector.
High expectations from Beijing
Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst from Lahore, says that Pakistan has high expectations from Beijing. “During this trip, the two sides are expected to discuss issues, which concern Pakistan, such as power generation, where China has helped Pakistan before, and also the financial crisis. Expectations are that China will offer Pakistan co-operation in investment or provide a long-term financial security plan.”
But experts don’t think China alone can completely bail out Pakistan. “Obviously China won’t be able to help Pakistan single-handedly but it can offer some help as it has done in the past -- e.g. with a trade agreement, loans and investment,” said Yiyi Lu.
China has boosted its investment in Pakistan in recent years. Bilateral annual trade between the two countries is currently worth more than 5 billion euros. China is Pakistan’s biggest arms supplier and the two sides have also been co-operating for years in the area of nuclear power.
Possible civil nuclear deal
Now, there is speculation that they might negotiate civil nuclear deal during Zardari's trip although there has been no official confirmation from either side.
“China will be careful about exactly what a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan involves -- because it will be under international scrutiny. Countries such as India, which is developing a similar technology, will be watching closely. At the same time, China does want to go ahead with the cooperation with Pakistan as long as it is committed to international guidelines.”
President Zardari is also expected to discuss the issue of terrorism with China’s leaders. He told China’s official Xinhua news agency that the two countries were keen on carrying out closer cooperation to combat it.
China, for its part, will likely raise the issue of the fate of two Chinese engineers, who were kidnapped by Pakistani Taliban militants near the Afghan border six weeks ago.