Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang is due to arrive in Pakistan today to “reinforce the strategic partnership” between the two allies.
Li will not only be given a red carpet welcome on the ground, but also in the air: a squad of six JF-17 fighter jets, jointly produced by Pakistan and China, will escort his plane the moment it enters Pakistani air space.
This would be Li’s first trip to Pakistan since taking office in March, and makes him the first foreign head of government to travel to the country following the historic democratic transition that saw an electoral victory for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
Once he arrives, Prime Minister Keqiang will meet President Asif Ali Zardari and interim Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. Li will also have a one-on-one meeting with Nawaz Sharif, who is widely expected to be the next prime minister, a foreign ministry official told The Express Tribune.
The two-time former premier will specially travel to Islamabad for this purpose on Thursday, taking time out from his hectic engagements in Lahore, where he is busy in the formation of his government, both in the Centre and Punjab.
A close aide of the PML-N chief said Nawaz will seek to further cement relations with China. “His focus will be on enhancing economic and trade cooperation,” he added.
Currently, bilateral trade between Pakistan and China stands at $12 billion a year.
“We will certainly want to push this figure to over $15 billion in next two years,” said the PML-N member.
According to the schedule, Li will meet President Zardari and Khoso today, after which a joint press conference will take place.
The caretaker prime minister will host a banquet for the Chinese premier in the evening, where he (Li) will be conferred the highest civil award of Nishan-e-Pakistan.
PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif will call on the Chinese premier tomorrow (May 23). The Chinese Premier will also address the Senate of Pakistan and hold a joint meeting with the Senate chairman and the National Assembly speaker.
The current regional security situation would also figure prominently in discussions between the Chinese premier and Pakistan’s new leadership.
The PML-N believes that China is an important regional and international player; therefore, its role is crucial for any peace deal in Afghanistan. The new government will seek a greater role for regional countries, including China and Russia, to bring long-term peace in Afghanistan.
The country’s powerful security establishment appears to also be on board when it comes to the role of China in Afghanistan’s endgame.
“Pakistan’s civil and military leadership may have differences on many foreign policy issues but China is one country where there seems to be a complete consensus among all the stakeholders,” said security analyst Fida Khan.
The Chinese premier will be accompanied by a high powered delegation, comprising Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Minister for Commerce Gao Hucheng and Chairman of National Development Reform Commission Xu Shaoshi, high ranking officials and leaders of the corporate sector.
Economic Corridor deal
Many important agreements and MoUs in the fields of economy, science and technology, space & upper atmosphere communication and energy will be signed during Li’s visit. “About a dozen agreements are likely to be signed during the visit,” a foreign office official said.
Pakistan has already given China a contract to develop and operate the Gwadar Port, and both countries don’t seem to want to stop there, and will work on deepening their economic and trade ties.
They are expected to set up the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which would turn Pakistan into a hub of regional cooperation. Under this programme, China will make large investments in Gwadar Port, including setting up an oil city.
The Federal Cabinet has given the go-ahead to the corridor, and Islamabad and Beijing are likely to ink a deal in this connection during Li’s two-day visit to Pakistan.
The two countries are also expected to sign a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in marine science and technology, between Pakistan’s Ministry of Science and Technology and China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA). The Cabinet recently gave a go-ahead to signing the agreement.
As a follow-up to the accord, Pakistan and China will establish a joint marine research facility with an integrated observation station at Karachi with major assistance and support from Beijing.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2013.
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