Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Hu Jintao solidifies ties with Pakistan

'SWEETER THAN HONEY' Heaping praise on his Pakistani counterpart for his moderation, the Chinese leader struck a series of deals consolidating ties with China's historical ally

AP AND AFP , LAHORE, PAKISTAN

Welcomed by cheering crowds in a red-carpet reception, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) arrived in this ancient cultural center yesterday to tour some of Pakistan's historical sites a day after bolstering economic and defense ties with China's longtime ally.

Hu was scheduled to visit the mausoleum of renowned national poet Allama Iqbal and stroll a landmark Mogul-era garden before attending a banquet hosted by the governor of Pakistan's Punjab Province.

The visit to this northeastern city, close to the Indian border, underscores Hu's pledge on Friday to promote cultural exchanges in a cross-border relationship traditionally focused on trade and military cooperation.

On Friday, Hu and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf signed numerous agreements advancing defense, nuclear and economic collaboration while ratifying a breakthrough free trade deal.

Hu, the first Chinese leader to visit Pakistan in 10 years, also promised to help nuclear-armed Pakistan and India resolve long-running friction over the disputed Himalayan Kashmir region, the cause of two of three wars between the countries since their 1947 independence from Britain.

Beijing's relations with Pakistan were ``higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean and sweeter than honey,'' Hu said on Friday in a nationally televised speech.

Echoing his regal reception in Islamabad on Thursday, Hu was feted with a red-carpet welcome when his jumbo jet touched down in Lahore. Crowds of cheering children in traditional dress waved miniature Pakistani and Chinese flags as a ceremonial brass band played on the tarmac. Hu was then whisked to his hotel in a limousine motorcade.

The new free trade deal was expected to more than triple bilateral trade to US$15 billion over the next five years, and Hu said that would contribute to regional peace and stability. Tariff reductions would begin immediately and all restrictions would be phased out in five years, Pakistan's commerce minister said.

Hu meanwhile said China wanted to "work with Pakistan to raise our strategic ties to a new level," quelling Pakistani fears that Beijing is getting too close to neighbouring India.

Hu later addressed the 150 million-strong nation live on state TV and Musharraf presented him with Pakistan's highest civilian award.

The Chinese president praised Musharraf's "enlightened moderation" program to counter extremism and made an apparent reference to Western policies of intervention.

"One cannot make irresponsible remarks about the internal affairs of other countries simply because of differences among countries and it is equally wrong to blame a particular civilization, nation or religion for some problems and conflicts in the world," Hu said.

Hu also said that Beijing would carry on cooperating with Pakistan's nuclear power industry -- China has built one reactor there and is helping to construct another -- but he did not announce any new deal.

Beijing remains Islamabad's largest arms supplier and the two are jointly developing the JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft. China has also invested millions of dollars in a deep sea port in southwest Pakistan to access the Arabian Sea.

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