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President visits China

General Musharraf's five-day China visit occurred at time crucial for a number of reasons


Dec 31, 2001 - Jan 06, 2002

The fact that China is Pakistan's tested and tried friend needs no reiteration as it has been proved time and again in the past. China has not only supported Pakistan in world politics, it has lent commendable support in building and updating our defence system and sustained economic development.

General Musharraf's five-day China visit occurred at time crucial for a number of reasons. He arrived in Beijing when tension with India has reached the highest point after Kargil and despite US and China calling upon New Delhi to exercise restraint, hawks like L.K. Advani continue to talk about hot pursuit across the LoC. Pakistan's security problem has been further complicated by the US anti-Al-Qaeda operation in Afghanistan which has forced Islamabad to transfer a large part of its regular forces to the long and porous border with Afghanistan weakening its defences on the LoC and the international border with India.

The visit was also crucial as it came at a time when Pakistan has allowed the US forces to use its Jacobabad, Pasni and Dalbandin airfields. While China supports the ongoing fight against terrorism, it is also wary of the US intentions in the region. It has therefore expressed its preference for conducting the operation under the UN umbrella. Keeping in view a widespread perception that the war against terrorism might be used as an excuse by the US to seek permanent bases in the area, China may not be pleased with Pakistan being instrumental in helping the US realize its avowed aim.

China has, however, always shown understanding to the limitation and compulsions of Pakistan and has never made any demand from its weaker friend which appeared beyond its capacity. It has shown this understanding time and again. This has been evident in the way China has always come to Pakistan's rescue in times of economic distress. In the last about five years, China's generous balance of payments support to Pakistan had gone a long way in keeping Islamabad economically afloat. True to the pattern, on the very first day of President General Pervez Musharraf's current five-day visit to China, Beijing once again lived up to its reputation of being generous when it came to offering economic support to Pakistan by extending the maturities of past balance of payments support to a medium term. Until this year, the balance of payments support loans used to be renewed annually. In addition, China has offered Pakistan a grant of 100 million dollars and concessional financing for a number of projects amounting to a total of 260 million dollars.

Seven agreements were signed on the first day of President Musharraf's five-day state visit, which will further promote economic development and science and technology in Pakistan. Both the Presidents along with their respective delegations were present on the occasion and witnessed the signing ceremony.

The first agreement regarding Chinese grant assistance to Pakistan was signed by the Minister for Finance Shaukat Aziz while the Chinese Minister for Foreign and Economic Cooperation signed from the Chinese side.

The second agreement on concessional loan for implementation of Saindak project was signed by Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Usman Aminuddin while the Natural Resources Minister of China signed on behalf of China.

The third agreement regarding joint revolving fund for research and development in the field of science and technology was signed by the Pakistan Ambassador in China, Riaz Khokhar, while the Chinese side was led by the Chief of China Bank.

The other agreements regarding extension of 500 kv Muzaffargarh and Ghatti transmission lines and Jinnah hydropower project were signed by the Pakistan Ambassador in China while the concerned officials of Chinese government signed on behalf of their respective side.

Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz told newsmen that the Chinese government has extended a $ 100 million grant to Pakistan for various projects. Then there is $ 200 million of concessional financing. In addition there are several projects totalling $ 260 million which they are financing. These include hydel power stations, sub-stations for Wapda and transmission lines, he added.

In addition, Aziz said, China has given Pakistan over the years very crucial balance of payments support which is renewed every year. Now the Chinese government has said that they will renew it for the medium term. This is a really welcome gesture for Pakistan, he said adding China has appreciated the economic reforms Pakistan has undertaken and they want to support our efforts by extending the maturities of the balance of payments support to medium term. All the previous renewals were short term. So this is a major change and we appreciate what China has done. This testifies to the strong relationship between the two countries.

China has been a steadfast donor to this country and Pakistan owes so many large projects to Chinese help and investment Pakistan's potential for defence production bears witness to China's selfless help, Chasnup (the Chasma nuclear power plant) is an outstanding example of how China has helped Pakistan in the peaceful uses of the atom for generating electricity. Another major project already completed, and is now scheduled to start production shortly, is the Saindak copper project under Chinese management. Currently China has won contracts for building a deep sea port at Gawadar and to construct a coastal highway along much of Makran coast. It has also promised assistance for other projects.

All in all China has done much for Pakistan over the years. There is no reason to think that economic cooperation and trade between the two countries will not grow further in days to come. There have been some angled press comments that with it entry into WTO and its playing the trade game according to new rules, China will pose a threat to Pakistani exports in their traditional markets. Doubtless the relevant Pakistani and Chinese Ministers will go over the whole field and are sure to come up with mutually beneficial plans and policies that will make the trade of both expand even as their economies grow. But the value of their understanding and cooperation has to be seen in the wider context, thought profits and earnings need not be ignored. China's position has been affected by the changes as much as Pakistan's. The two obviously have to understand the evolving new order, the irrespective places in it and seen what can they do, and how, to protect their vital interests and concerns. They are sure to do it as old, trustworthy friends ant allies.