Changes in leadership will not affect ‘set policy’ between ‘all-weather’ allies, says China

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will hold his first meeting with Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif during his visit to Pakistan next week, officials here said on Thursday.

That Mr. Li will be visiting Pakistan so soon after the elections reflected “the high degree of mutual trust” between the two countries, Chinese officials said, stressing that changes in leadership — in either country — would have no bearing on “a set policy” to deepen the “all-weather” relationship between the close allies.

Mr. Li will travel to Pakistan following his three-day visit to India, which will begin on Sunday. The Chinese Premier’s nine-day trip — his first after taking office in March — will also see the second-ranked leader visit Switzerland and Germany.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Song Tao told reporters here on Thursday that Mr. Li would meet Mr. Sharif, President Asif Ali Zardari and military officials in Pakistan.

“Developing friendly ties with Pakistan is a set policy of successive governments of China,” he said. “Likewise, to develop friendly ties with China is a cornerstone of Pakistan’s policy. No matter how regional landscapes and situations within the two countries evolve, the relationship will be further consolidated.”

Consequently, Mr. Song said, the recently concluded elections, which boosted Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, did not have “a direct impact” on the visit.

“The PML-N achieved very good results. We respect the choice and decision of the Pakistani people,” he said.

Both countries are expected to sign deals for construction and energy projects. Mr. Song said Chinese companies were already executing $ 25 billion worth of projects in Pakistan.

Asked if China would take forward its nuclear cooperation with Pakistan — both sides, according to reports, are in talks over a fifth nuclear power reactor — officials said China “attaches great importance” to nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, suggesting that the relationship would continue to go forward.

Many countries, including India, have expressed concern over China’s ongoing supply of nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which goes against the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The 46-member body prohibits the sale of nuclear technology to countries which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India had to secure a waiver before its civilian nuclear deal with the United States could go ahead by taking on many commitments.

India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said last week he had raised the issue during his talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing. He said he had “flagged” the aspects of China-Pakistan relationship that had concerned India, specifically mentioning the nuclear programme.

Fifth reactor

Reports say China and Pakistan are set to agree a deal for a fifth reactor. While China’s agreements for the first two reactors at the Chashma power complex were sealed before it joined the NSG, the deals for the third and fourth reactors triggered controversy as they were seen as violating the NSG’s guidelines. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) granted its approval for a safeguards agreement for the Chashma-3 and Chashma-4 reactors in March 2011.

Chinese officials in March this year suggested that the civilian nuclear cooperation will go ahead despite international concerns, stressing that the deals were for peaceful purposes and had not violated NSG norms. While China argued that the third and fourth reactors at Chashma were “grandfathered” under the earlier deals for the first two reactors, it remains unclear how China will explain a fifth project, over which consultations are ongoing.

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