ISLAMABAD: China and Pakistan concluded nearly 15 billion dollars’ worth of deals on Saturday, as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing would “never give up” on the troubled nuclear-armed Muslim country.
Business leaders formalized paperwork — adding to the 20 billion dollars’ worth of deals signed Friday — under blanket security at Islamabad’s five-star Marriott Hotel, where a huge suicide truck bomb killed 60 people in 2008.
Boosting trade and investment with poverty-stricken Pakistan have been the main focus of the first visit in five years by a Chinese premier to the country that is on the front line of the US-led war on Al-Qaeda.
Pakistan regards China as its closest ally and considers the deals incredibly important to a moribund economy which was dealt a massive blow by catastrophic flooding this year and suffers from sluggish Western investment.
“We signed 18 agreements today worth close to 15 billion dollars and we hope to grow further together in coming years,” said Sultan Ahmad Chawla, president of Pakistan’s chamber of commerce and industry.
According to a list handed out to journalists, the biggest deal was 6.5 billion dollars to develop wind and solar power.
Pakistan suffers from a debilitating energy crisis and produces only 80 percent of the electricity it needs.
Though not specifically mentioned, behind-the-scenes talks were expected on China building a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant as part of Pakistani plans to produce 8,000 megawatts of electricity by 2025 to make up its energy shortfall.
The Islamabad city administration declared Saturday a public holiday, apparently for security reasons with the country on full-time alert for suicide attacks and bombings blamed on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists.
“We have established an all-weather friendship and engaged in all-round cooperation. The China-Pakistan relationship has withstood the test of time and changes in the international landscape,” Wen told a lunch in his honour.
“Under no circumstances we will give up on our commitment to pursuing this partnership.”
Wen pledged China’s full support in the wake of the floods, which affected 21 million people, saying Beijing would help the country “lay a new solid foundation for you to achieve self-owned, stable and sustainable development.”
He inaugurated a cultural centre built as a monument to Pakistani-Chinese friendship and held talks with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and senior figures in the military, which depends on China for hardware.
The 35-million-dollar Pakistan-China Friendship Centre offers the Pakistani capital a conference venue, theatre, cinema and space for multiple events.
Young Pakistani girls decked out in traditional dress and waving the flags of both countries danced, before Wen kissed one of them on the cheek.
President Asif Ali Zardari will host a state banquet late Saturday before Wen addresses a special joint session of parliament early Sunday and leaves.
Pakistan depends on China’s clout to offset the perceived threat from rival India and rescue its economy, overcome its severe energy crisis and make up for poor foreign investment.
But local analysts recognise that China’s support comes at a price — a price that could increase as Beijing edges closer to superpower status.
“China expects Pakistan to be a reliable partner in the region. Here they have a country on whom they can rely. This provides a good outlet for Chinese investment abroad,” said political analyst Hasan Askari.
But he added: “China will expect Pakistan to be more forthright in counter-terrorism. It has worries about militancy in western China”, where it wants to develop Kashgar city into a major industrial and economic centre.
“Pakistan can help China because of its geographical position, but it has to first control terrorism,” said Askari.
Before arriving in Islamabad, Wen visited India, where he and his 400-strong delegation signed deals that will see trade double to 100 billion dollars a year by 2015.