Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has left for China on a five day official visit. The trip, at the invitation of Chinese President Hu Jintao, aims at further strengthening ties between the two countries. Beijing and Islamabad share decades-old friendship and co-operate in various fields ranging from trade to defence.
Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Pakistan in Nov. 2006
This is the first overseas visit of President Musharraf after the newly formed coalition government took over in Pakistan. He is accompanied by his Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, as well as chairman of Trade Development Authority of Pakistan and other top officials.
The five day visit will include discussions between Musharraf and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on various regional and global issues, especially nuclear cooperation. China has helped Pakistan build its civil nuclear plants and Pakistan clearly wants to enhance this partnership.
The two countries are also expected to sign a number of agreements on further economic cooperation. Minam Jaffrey is the secretary of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs in Karachi. He explains the significance of the visit:
“China is deeply involved in various projects including the energy corridor. Right now we have financial crisis and China has recently supported with 500 million dollars in funding. So President Musharraf is there to ensure the continuation of the support and aid from China. And this visit also reflects the continuation of our old relationship with China.”
China and Pakistan regard themselves as old friends. China is Pakistan’s major arms supplier. The Pakistan Air Force’s latest fighter aircraft, the JF-17 Thunder has been developed with the help of China. Earlier this week, a Shanghai shipyard inaugurated the first of four F-22P frigates that China is building for Pakistan. The project is due to be completed by 2013.
Bilateral trade between the two sides have also flourished in recent years and both sides hope to achieve the trade target of $15 billion within the next five years. The current trip will take Musharraf to Xinjiang, an area bordering Pakistan’s northern areas. Islamabad is particularly keen to attract direct investment from this region. Musharraf is also expected to address the region’s huge Muslim population, urging them to shun their agitation against China. The Uighurs living in Xinjiang have been calling for an independent state.
President Musharraf's visit also comes at a time, when relations between India and China have also been warming up, sparking fears that they can have an effect on the ties between Beijing and Islamabad. However Islamabad insists its ties with Beijing are ‘all weather- and time-tested’ and cannot be affected by any other country. Expert Minam Jaffrey agrees:“ China has made it clear many times that its ties with India are not at the cost of Pakistan. Pakistan has a very special relationship with China. And there are certain strategic areas where Pakistan is involved with China, but India doesn’t come in.“
During his stay, Musharraf will also attend the Boao Forum-a regional meeting initiated by China, which starts from Friday. The four day meeting in China's southernmost province of Hainan will bring together the state leaders, businessmen and prominent personalities from Australia and Asia. President Musharraf will also be a keynote speaker at the Forum and is due to meet several leaders, including the president of Sri Lanka and prime ministers of Australia and Kazakhstan during the conference.