Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari appealed on Wednesday to Chinese business leaders for help in developing his country's ailing energy sector, pointing to nuclear power as one area of growth but making no public mention of a deal with China that has alarmed the US and others.
The weeklong visit to China is Zardari's fifth since he came to office in September 2008, underscoring the robust diplomatic, military and commercial ties between the neighbours. Zardari met with business leaders in industries ranging from banking to defense in a bid to attract investment to Pakistan, according to a statement from his spokesman, Farhatullah Babar. He singled out energy as a growth industry in Pakistan, where some areas experience electricity outages of up to 18 hours a day. Authorities planned to feed the grid though "hydro, coal, gas, nuclear and renewable energy sources," he said, without elaborating on the growth of nuclear energy.
Zardari was expected to meet on Wednesday evening with Chinese President Hu Jintao and sign agreements in trade, public health and other areas. But the spokesman didn't answer a question on whether they would sign any deals on nuclear power.
China agreed in 2008 to build two nuclear power plants for its neighbour, a deal that critics said violated international nonproliferation agreements.
Pakistan, which has leaked sensitive nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the main international agreement meant to stem the spread of nuclear weapons technology. China signed the treaty in the 1990s. The deal came about after a wide-ranging agreement that allowed the US to sell nuclear fuel, technology and reactors to India, which like Pakistan is not a signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty.
China, a major arms supplier for Pakistan, shares Islamabad's fierce regional rivalry with India.
So far the plan to build two new reactors at the Chashma site in Pakistan's Punjab province has apparently gone forward. But the US and other countries have said it does not have the necessary approval from the 46-country Nuclear Suppliers Group, which seeks to limit the spread of nuclear-related equipment.
"The United States and other NSG states may object to the pending transaction but they cannot prevent China from exporting the reactors," Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said in an April report.
Other countries are not only concerned about leaking nuclear information to rogue states but also the risk of attack from insurgents battling the Pakistani military in the country's northwest tribal areas adjacent to Afghanistan, said Adnan Bukhari, an associate research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.
"The more you expand your nuclear programmes or installations, there is more threat of attacks on them or maybe stealing of your equipment or your weapons," he said.
China has said the deal would be carried out in line with "international obligations" and subject to international safeguards and supervision.
Military cooperation is also a focal point in ties between the countries, which held a third round of joint counterterrorism drills this week in western China's Ningxia region.
Zardari, during his meeting with business leaders, thanked the CEO of China Northern Industries Corp "for its cooperation with the defense forces of Pakistan," his statement said. The company has supplied tanks, artillery guns, air defense systems and vehicles to Pakistani military.
Zardari also is to meet with Premier Wen Jiabao and top political adviser Jia Qinglin and tour the Shanghai World Expo.