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Wen in Pakistan on rare visit

world Updated: Dec 18, 2010 02:29 IST

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Pakistan on Friday for a rare visit expected to focus heavily on expanding trade between the Asian neighbours and longtime allies. Islamabad has been grappling with an Islamist insurgency as well as political and economic turmoil in recent years, and Wen's trip - the first by a Chinese premier in five years - is an opportunity to showcase its ties with an ally it sees as offering consistent, no-strings-attached support.

Wen's plane landed under heavy security at a Pakistan air base, where a red carpet was rolled out and a full honor guard was on display. Pakistan's top civilian and military leaders, and nearly its full Cabinet, were on hand to greet Wen and his hundreds-strong delegation.

Wen is expected to meet with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and sign business deals with billions of dollars.

As much as Wen's visit will be about investment and bilateral trade, it will also be used to reaffirm the countries' so-called "all-weather" friendship that has endured and even flourished despite Pakistan's troubles and Beijing's improved ties with New Delhi.

China is Pakistan's closest friend in the region, giving Islamabad military aid and technical assistance, including nuclear technology. Crucially, Beijing is perceived by many here as not distinguishing between Pakistan and India, and - unlike Washington -doesn't demand anything in return for assistance. While China doesn't make the conditional demands the U.S. does in its relationship with Islamabad, Beijing is not left empty-handed from its ties with Pakistan. The country serves as China's gateway to the Muslim world, and is a close and cheap source of natural resources to fuel its growing economy.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said a push for greater business links will be a big part of Wen's visit.

"Lately we have been trying to expand the scope of this relationship because our economic and trade relations do not really depict or portray the strength of our political relationship," he said.