ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Pakistan on Friday armed with multi-billion dollar deals to reassure its ally that military and economic ties remain tight, despite China’s warming relations with India.
Wen, who flew in after a two-day visit to India, is expected to sign off on trade and business deals worth about $19 billion (12.2 billion pounds), a senior government official told Reuters. He is also likely to pledge Chinese help to develop a strategic port.
“Both countries will use this visit to reaffirm the partnership,” said Zhang Li, a professor of international relations at the Institute of South Asian Studies of Sichuan University in southwest China. “In dealings with South Asia, China tries to strike a balance between India and Pakistan, and this visit will be to reaffirm that position.”
His visit is to assure old friend Pakistan that China’s improving ties with India do not come at Pakistan’s expense.
Relations between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan remain tense over a host of issues, and China’s alliance with Pakistan irks India.
Wen used more than $16 billion in trade deals and promises of political support to charm India into temporarily setting aside disputes with China.
But Pakistan is getting even sweeter deals. The two sides are expected to sign 14 agreements in areas of trade, health, education, agriculture, energy and infrastructure worth between $10 billion and $14 billion, a government official said.
On Saturday, businessmen from the two countries are expected to ink more deals worth about $4.8 billion, the official said.
Some of the agreements between the governments would come into force immediately while others would be implemented between 2011 and 2016, he added.
Two-way trade during Jan-Sept, 2010 stood at $6.2 billion, an increase of nearly 30 percent compared with the same period last year, according to official figures. The two countries aim to increase their bilateral trade to $15 billion by 2015.
“China still looks at Pakistan and India through the same lens,” said Hamayoun Khan, an independent analyst and former China-Pakistan expert at the Institute of Strategic Studies. “Whereas the U.S. considers Pakistan as part of Af-Pak and India as a separate country, which is not taken well in Pakistan.”
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.
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.
Zhang said that in his meetings in Pakistan, Wen might confirm that China continues to seek cooperation with Pakistan in civilian nuclear energy, but he did not think this visit would bring major announcements.
“The consultations and discussions over nuclear energy have been going on for some time. It’s an incremental process. I think that at most, the two sides will confirm their willingness to cooperate, but nothing more than that.”
Pakistan has long lobbied for a civilian nuclear deal like the one negotiated between India and the United States. But on Friday, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter was not encouraging.
“The arrangement that we have with India was an arrangement that took many, many years and was very, very difficult,” he told journalists. “We’ll talk with Pakistan and we’ll see how it goes. But this is not something that can develop overnight.”
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 counterweight to American demands and conditions in the fight against Islamist militancy.
Wen is expected to spend almost exactly the same amount of time in Islamabad that he did in New Delhi.
A key topic will be Pakistan’s deep-water, strategic Gwadar port, on the Arabian Sea coast, in which China has already invested $200 million.
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.
India, of course, will loom large during talks: both Pakistan and China want to hem in India as a rising military power.
“In a way they give us (Pakistan), say, annually $2 billion,” said analyst Khan. “What do we do? ... We’re a pain in the ass for the Indians.”
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony in Islamabad and Chris Buckley in Beijing; Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson