Chinese Premier Visits Pakistan to Reinforce Ties

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao arrived in Islamabad on Friday for a three-day visit that Pakistani officials said was aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership and economic cooperation between the two neighboring countries.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and members of his cabinet welcomed Mr. Wen at Chaklala Air Base in neighboring Rawalpindi on Friday afternoon. A red carpet was rolled out and elaborate ceremonies were held to signify the importance Pakistan attaches to China, which is considered a close ally.

“Friendship with China is a matter of pride for our nation,” Mr. Gilani was quoted as saying by local media as he welcomed his Chinese counterpart.

Apart from holding meetings with Mr. Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari, Mr. Wen was scheduled to address a special joint session of the Parliament on Sunday.

Pakistan’s military ties with China are strong and China has assisted Pakistan in tank production, fighter aircraft manufacturing and naval technology. But since the late 1990s, economic concerns have gained increased importance. Trade and energy have taken precedence in Pakistan’s relations with China.

Mr. Wen was accompanied by 260 business executives.

Pakistani officials say there is a need to enhance trade between the countries that stands around $7 billion a year. But there also are concerns here that the trade deficit is growing heavily in favor of China.

“The relationship is undergoing a qualitative change,” said Mansoor Ahmad, an independent security analyst based in Islamabad. “This change is manifested in China’s relationship with emerging markets and developing countries, which is essentially based on forging and enhancing trade linkages and securing new markets for Chinese investment.”

The Chinese are also cooperating with Pakistan in developing its civil nuclear energy program despite discontent from Washington and New Delhi.

Mr. Wen, the Chinese prime minister, arrived here after completing a two-day tour of India, the estranged neighbor of Pakistan.

China would have to undertake a fine balancing act regarding enhancing its cooperation with both India and Pakistan, said Mr. Ahmad. China and India would forge economic ties despite their continuing territorial disputes, given India’s huge market, he said. Tensions between India and Pakistan worsened after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, which India and the United States blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamic group based in Pakistan.

The Pakistan government sees China as a counterweight to India, and officials said that closer Chinese cooperation with India would not affect Pakistani ties with China.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wen’s visit to India this week yielded greater immiediate progress on the economic front than toward resolving the more complicated geostrategic issues.

“In Pakistan’s case, we have already had a longstanding strategic partnership which is now being supplemented by increasing Chinese investment in infrastructural development, civil nuclear cooperation and establishing rail and road linkages between the two countries,” Mr. Ahmad said.

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