"Pakistan wants to give a show that it is an independent actor and has options, and China offers a model of a functioning non—democratic state," said Indiana University China scholar Elliot Sperling.
Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani began a four-day visit to China here on Tuesday evening, with both countries set to sign a number of deals to expand cooperation in defence, technology, banking and trade and deepen counterterrorism ties.
On the day of Mr. Gilani's arrival in Shanghai, Chinese officials reiterated backing of their long-term strategic ally in the strongest terms yet, amid criticism from the West in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden in a safe-house in Abbottabad on May 2.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing that China would “unswervingly” support Pakistan's efforts to fight terrorism.
In a veiled reference to criticism from U.S. lawmakers and calls for Washington to cut financial assistance to Pakistan following bin Laden's killing, Ms. Jiang urged “relevant countries” to continue offering support and “provide further help” to the country.
“Pakistan has made important contributions in fighting terrorism and made great sacrifices,” she said.
Speaking to China's official Xinhua news agency ahead of his arrival in Shanghai, Mr. Gilani said China was “the first country to show its support and solidarity” with Pakistan after bin Laden's killing.
“To test a friend whether true or not, it needs time and means under crisis, we appreciate that in all difficult circumstances China stood with Pakistan, therefore we call China a true friend and a time-tested and all-weather friend,” he said.
Mr. Gilani's official visit starts on Wednesday morning with the inauguration of a cultural forum in Suzhou, a city near here.
In Beijing, he will meet President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and representatives from banks and companies in the infrastructure sector, where Pakistan is seeking Chinese support.
The two countries are expected to sign an agreement in banking, which will see the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), one of China's biggest banks, open branches in Pakistan. The People's Bank of China (PBOC), the regulatory authority, will also sign a deal with the State Bank of Pakistan, said Pakistan's Ambassador to China Masood Khan.
The official Associated Press of Pakistan reported the two governments will sign an agreement to extend a gold and copper mining project at Saindak to 2017 and “work out a pact in defence-related” areas.
Accompanying Mr. Gilani is Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar, who is scheduled to hold talks with officials of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and discuss the situation in Afghanistan, where both sides are looking to deepen cooperation amid uncertainty leading up to the expected withdrawal of U.S. Troops, starting July.
Also on Mr. Gilani's agenda are counter-terrorism and cooperation on nuclear energy.
Mr. Gilani's visit was planned to coincide with the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties on May 21. The visit has, however, been seen as assuming new significance in the wake of strained relations between Pakistan and the U.S. following the killing of bin Laden — a rift, analysts say, that could signal a further tightening of ties between the two “all-weather” strategic partners.