The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pak trade on China lips

Beijing, Feb. 22: Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-day visit to China is not deepening strategic ties between the two countries as much as Islamabad would like.

Though Beijing is, and is likely to remain, Islamabad’s largest arms supplier, the Chinese leadership repeatedly parried Musharraf attempts to make headway on sensitive geo-political issues.

Instead, officials here focused on trying to jump-start bilateral trade, which reached only about $4.25 billion last year.

“China wants its ties with Pakistan to also have economic benefits so if you notice, every agreement signed on this visit yet has had an economic element,” said Hu Shisheng, director of the South Asian studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing.

“This is necessary if we want to make our relationship sustainable. The irony is that while Sino-Pakistani political relations are stronger than Sino-Indian political relations, Sino-Indian trade relations have become stronger than Sino-Pak trade relations.”

So far, Musharraf, who has been accompanied by scores of businessmen, has signed 32 agreements and MoUs worth about $500 million with the Chinese government and private sector. The bulk of this money will go towards real estate development, the creation of a mass transit system in Karachi, and widening the Karakorum Highway that connects Pakistan with China’s west.

The two sides also agreed to expedite the creation of a mutual free-trade agreement and investigate building an energy pipeline that would connect China to Iran through Pakistan.

China also said it would continue transferring civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan, something that has irked India and many western countries, including the US.

But officials here were markedly cool towards the idea of Pakistan’s cherished goal of becoming a full-member of the strategically important Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The six-member grouping, which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, is increasingly becoming the major forum for trade and security in Central Asia, an area Pakistan sees as its backyard.

Chinese leaders also refused to be drawn into a discussion on the Kashmir issue, which Musharraf repeatedly referred to as one of the root causes of terrorism in the world.

In fact, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao rapped Musharraf on the knuckles for the killing of three Chinese civilians by Islamic militants in Baluchistan on February 15.

“I hope Pakistan will adopt measures to guarantee the personnel safety and property of Chinese in Pakistan,” Wen said.

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