China and Pakistan: more than just military collaboration

The visit of Hu Jintao to Pakistan has wound up with the signing of deals in the military but also economic and energy spheres. More trade is predicted. China has pledged to promote a resolution of the Indo-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More cooperation in military, economic, trade and energy spheres as well as the now familiar "anti-terrorism coordination to enhance stability in the region": these were the main deals clinched by the Chinese president Hu Jintao during his official visit to Pakistan, which started on 23 November and ended yesterday.

Hu visited the ancient city of Lahore and the capital Islamabad, where he met the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf. The Chinese leader signed 18 agreements, not only for traditional cooperation in the military sphere but also in the cultural and tourism sectors.

The two countries hope that trade – worth from 4.26 billion dollars in 2005 – could reach 15 billion dollars within five years. Industries struck deals in various sectors and joint ventures were set up for projects worth 3 billion dollars in the chemical, energy, construction and tourism sectors.

The main deals were reached in the military sector. China is held to be Pakistan's main conventional arms supplier. Aviation industries from the two countries agreed on stable collaboration in aircraft manufacturing and a system of electronic defence. Many believe there were also deals to collaborate in missile and nuclear sectors, but there were no official announcements about this.

Pakistan has long been asking the United States to collaborate in the nuclear sector, but the latter does not seem willing to concede to this request, preferring to offer such cooperation to India, Islamabad's traditional rival. Last week, while the United States' Parliament confirmed accords with India in the nuclear field, China and Pakistan announced collaboration projects for the pacific use of atomic energy.

China would like to promote itself as an important point of reference in southern Asia and Hu has promised to help India and Pakistan resolve their dispute over Kashmir region, which has caused two wars between the two States since 1947.

Observers have underlined the importance given to Islamabad with this visit, the first of a Chinese president in a decade. Zhang Li, professor of the Institute of South Asian Studies at Sichuan University, said that in the past, Chinese leaders, visiting the two countries, "always went first to Pakistan and then to India", but going first to India showed that "China wants to promote the same ties with India and Pakistan". 

Perhaps this partly explains why the visit unfolded in a climate of great ceremony, and why Hu could address the nation's 150 million people live on television, a privilege granted only to then-US president Bill Clinton in 2000. In the message, Hu underlined the good relations between the two countries, "higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean".