Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani's visit to China next week will see both countries strengthen strategic and economic cooperation, as well as explore taking ties forward in an in flux regional security environment, officials said on Tuesday. Chinese and Pakistani officials said the two countries would also sign economic agreements, as well as discuss deepening cooperation on civilian nuclear energy during the four-day visit, which starts on May 17.
Mr. Gilani's trip, officials and analysts said, assumed particular significance amid new strains between Pakistan and the U.S. following the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and uncertainty facing the region as the U.S. prepares to begin withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, starting July.
While the visit was scheduled before bin Laden's killing, as part of year-long celebrations to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties on May 21, the aftermath of the al-Qaeda leader's death has dominated its build-up.
In recent days, Chinese officials have mounted a strong defence of Mr. Gilani's government, rejecting criticism from the West over the circumstances of bin Laden's death and Islamabad's failure to crack down on terrorist groups operating on its soil.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said on Tuesday Mr. Gilani's visit would deepen “practical cooperation across the board”. She also stressed that China would back Pakistan on counterterrorism, and support its “implementing counterterrorism strategies” according to its “local conditions.”
In an interview with a State broadcaster on Tuesday, Pakistan's Ambassador to China Masood Khan said economic cooperation was top of the agenda for next week.
“We are satisfied with the strategic partnership and its strengths, but we want to stimulate economic cooperation so that it is commensurate with the strategic solidarity we have between the two countries,” he said.
Mr. Khan also suggested the two countries would discuss expanding cooperation on nuclear energy, and go ahead with the construction of reactors China is building at Chashma. He rejected concerns that the deal violated China's non-proliferation commitments as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which bans the transfer of nuclear technology to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“The United States, or any other country, cannot object to the cooperation between China and Pakistan, because this cooperation is under IAEA safeguards,” he said.
“It is in accordance with international law, and it is transparent. And it is also geared towards producing nuclear energy for civilian purposes, and we are an energy deficit country.”
In March, a safeguards agreement for the two reactors was approved by the IAEA. “The U.S. is a member of the IAEA's Board of Governors, and they went along with these two projects,” Mr. Khan said. He also called for China to play a greater role in South Asia, describing it as a force for stability. He said Pakistan would “welcome” China acting as a “catalyst” to address “outstanding issues” between India and Pakistan, which, he said, “cannot be swept under the table”.