Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang (centre) receives a bouquet from a girl, while Pakistan’s President Asilf Ali Zardari (third right) looks on as Li arrives at Chaklala air base, in Rawalpindi, yesterday.
ISLAMABAD: China and Pakistan should make power generation cooperation a priority, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, as Islamabad seeks to end an energy crisis that triggers outages of up to 20 hours a day, bringing the economy to a near standstill.
Li arrived in Pakistan under extra-tight security yesterday on the second leg of his first official trip since taking office in March after a visit to India.
His plane was escorted by six Air Force fighter jets as it entered Pakistan air space. Security measures included shutting down mobile phone networks across Islamabad.
Li was welcomed by President Asif Ali Zardari at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi near Islamabad. “The purpose of the visit is to devise a strategy to bolster future cooperation and friendship,” Li said in a statement. “We will strengthen a strategic partnership with Pakistan in whatever the international scenario and circumstances are.”
Pakistan was one of the first countries to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, in 1950, and Li told a lunch attended by prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif and Zardari that China and Pakistan should remain “trustworthy partners” and good neighbours.
Li said he was “really excited by past, present and future of Pakistan-China friendship”.
Later he told the media that there was still “great potential” for the relationship. Bilateral trade last year rose above $12bn and both sides aim to reach $15bn in two or three years. “Our two sides should focus on carrying out priority projects in connectivity, energy development and power generation and promoting the building of a China-Pakistan economic corridor,” Li said.
Joint energy and infrastructure projects are under way in Pakistan and China has taken over operation of the Gwadar port close to the Strait of Hormuz. When complete, the port will open up an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf, across Pakistan to western China.
“I wish to reiterate solemnly China’s continued firm support to Pakistan in its efforts to uphold independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Li said in a possible reference to India and the US, which angers many with drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan.
During the two-day visit, Li will hold talks with Sharif and officials. He will also address a special session of the senate and both countries are expected to sign memorandums of understanding on economic, energy and science issues.
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N swept to victory in the May 11 general election on a promise to revitalise the struggling economy and China’s help will be crucial.
Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US Tariq Fatemi said the visit was crucial in drawing the economic road map for the incoming government.
China’s Xinhua state news agency said Beijing was looking for “pragmatic” military ties with Pakistan, “which is in the front line of the fight against international terrorism”.
“Military exchanges are not directed against any third party and contribute to peace and stability in the region and the whole world,” it said.
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.
Late on Tuesday, in southern Karachi a roadside bomb exploded near the seafront which police said was likely aimed at a passing van full of Chinese port workers. No one was hurt. Agencies