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China, Pakistan to bolster ties

By DING QINGFEN in Islamabad and LI XIAOKUN in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-23 03:03

China and Pakistan said on Wednesday they will set up an economic corridor to further connect their two economies.

The announcement came as Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Islamabad less than two weeks after the Pakistani general election.

China, Pakistan to bolster ties

Premier Li Keqiang is congratulated by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari after being conferred the Nishan-e-Pakistan honor, for the highest degree of service to Pakistan, in Islamabad on Wednesday. PANG XINGLEI / XINHUA

Officials and experts said the huge plan will greatly support Pakistan's efforts to revive its economy, while the timing of the visit reflects the deep mutual trust between the two nations.

Li met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and with interim prime minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso on Wednesday afternoon.

Later, he and Zardari officiated at the signing ceremony of 11 cooperation documents covering areas including trade, technology and culture.

Li said at a joint press conference with Zardari that China and Pakistan have agreed on a long-term plan for an economic corridor to further connect central and western parts of China with Pakistan.

"China and Pakistan would like to closely link China's (plans) for expanding domestic demand and developing the western regions with Pakistan's plan for developing its domestic economy," Li said.

The plan carries "great strategic significance in maintaining peace and improving livelihoods in China, Pakistan, South Asia and even the whole of Asia", the premier said.

Li is the first world leader to visit the country after Pakistani Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N) party swept to victory in the May 11 general election on a promise to revitalize the struggling economy.

The party's election manifesto put the emphasis on large infrastructure projects, while outlining the involvement of the private sector in infrastructure development — widely seen as an opportunity for China.

China is Pakistan's second- largest trading partner. Bilateral trade reached $12 billion annually for the first time last year, according to Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, and the two countries plan to raise this to $15 billion in the next two to three years.

Tariq Fatemi, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said the visit is crucial in drawing up an economic roadmap 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 AFP.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Song Tao told reporters ahead of the visit that the timing "fully reflects the deep mutual trust and special friendship" between the two neighbors.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said on the eve of the visit that friendly ties with China are the cornerstone of Pakistan's foreign policy.

Former Chinese ambassador to Pakistan Zhou Gang said Pakistan, which shares a 600-km border with China, has an important role in helping to keep stability in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and implementing China's strategy of developing the western region.

Wang Xu, a researcher in South Asian studies at Peking University, said the Pakistani manufacturing sector will be greatly boosted and updated if China can transfer some of its factories to its neighbor.

Wang said he believed changes in Pakistani politics will not affect relations, as "major Pakistani political parties all cherish the country's ties with China".

Pakistan is the second leg of Li's first overseas trip since he became premier in March. He left Mumbai earlier on Wednesday after a visit to India.

After entering Pakistani airspace, Li's plane was escorted by six JF-17 fighter jets from the country's air force. The JF-17 was jointly designed by the two nations.

When Li stepped from his plane, the JF-17s flew past the airbase, while a 21-gun salute heralded his arrival.

Zardari and Khoso greeted Li on the tarmac at Nur Khan air base and held a welcoming ceremony for him.

"The purpose of the visit is to devise a strategy to bolster future cooperation and friendship," Li said in an arrival statement.

He hailed Islamabad's "important contribution" in maintaining peace and stability and promoting development in the region and for the world.

China will "as always firmly support Pakistan's efforts to uphold independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and achieve national stability and development," he said.

Li on Wednesday also met leaders of Pakistan's political parties, and was conferred the Nishan-e-Pakistan honor, for the highest degree of service to the country, by Zardari and Khoso.

Zardari hosted a luncheon in Li's honor, while Khoso hosted a banquet for Li in the evening.

On Thursday, Li is scheduled to meet leaders of Pakistan's military, and address a special session of the country's senate.

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