Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was to meet the leader of close ally China in Beijing on Wednesday, as he reaches out for increased investment to aid his country's ailing economy.
A possible deal between the countries on civil nuclear power is also highly anticipated. Such an agreement would serve as a counterpoint to a recent deal between India and the United States that cleared the way for American businesses to sell nuclear fuel and technology to India for use in its civilian programs. Zardari's four-day trip to China, his first official bilateral visit since taking office last month, demonstrates Pakistan's commitment to raising the "time-tested relationship to new heights," Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement. Chinese President Hu Jintao was to receive Zardari at a welcoming ceremony on Wednesday afternoon at the Great Hall of the People. The men were later expected to attend a signing ceremony for agreements including one encouraging Chinese investment in Pakistan, the Pakistani statement said.
Pakistan is desperately seeking assistance to alleviate an economic crisis brought on by higher oil and food prices. Increased expenses have pushed inflation to 25 per cent, wrecking the government's finances and exacerbating a trade gap that is fast eating up the country's foreign currency reserves. Pakistan and China have been close allies for decades, and China is a leading source of investment and arms supplies for Pakistan. Bilateral trade between the two topped US$7 billion last year, with a goal of reaching US$15 billion by 2011.
Both nations have also fought border wars with rival India. On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang gave no specifics about a nuclear agreement with Pakistan, but said the sides shared "sound cooperation in nuclear energy." "I'd like to stress our cooperation is totally consistent with the two countries' respective international obligations and is totally for peaceful purpose and subject to IAEA supervision," Qin said during a regularly scheduled news conference. Zardari also was scheduled to hold talks with other top Chinese leaders, including Premier Wen Jiabao and top legislator Wu Bangguo during his visit.
Zardari, the widower of slain ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, easily won the presidency last month after longtime U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf quit under threat of impeachment.