Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) vowed to strengthen his country’s partnership with Pakistan as he arrived yesterday for a visit less than two weeks after the country’s general election.
The long-time allies will look to use the two-day trip to boost trade ties, and Li is to meet Pakistani prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif — who has not yet been sworn in — as well as holding talks with senior officials.
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party swept to victory in the May 11 general election on a promise to revitalize the struggling economy. Help from China will be important to this.
Trade between China and Pakistan hit an annual US$12 billion for the first time last year, according to the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the two sides plan to raise this to US$15 billion in the next two to three years.
Li, arriving from India on his first overseas tour as premier, was met by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the tarmac at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi next to Islamabad.
“The purpose of the visit is to devise a strategy to bolster future cooperation and friendship,” Li said in a statement quoted by state broadcaster PTV. “We will strengthen a strategic partnership with Pakistan in whatever the international scenario and circumstances are.”
Li was to hold talks with Zardari and Pakistani caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso yesterday, before meeting Sharif today.
Former Pakistani ambassador to the US Tariq Fatemi said the visit was crucial in drawing the economic road map for the incoming government.
“Normally, foreign visitors don’t go to countries during the interim setups, but China has recognized that the visit to Pakistan is necessary even at this stage, and that is why they have organized a separate one-on-one meeting with Nawaz Sharif,” Fatemi told reporters.
The PML-N faces a daunting array of problems: a bloody Islamist militancy, sluggish economic growth, high inflation, a crumbling currency, the threat of a balance of payments crisis and crippling electricity shortages.
There are an estimated 10,000 Chinese people and more than 120 Chinese companies in Pakistan, many working on infrastructure and energy projects. Beijing built two nuclear power plants in the country and is contracted to construct two more reactors.
In February, Beijing took control of Pakistan’s port of Gwadar, which through an expanded Karakoram Highway could connect China to the Arabian Sea and the Strait of Hormuz, a gateway for a third of the world’s traded oil.