President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan was in Beijing from June 5 to 7, 2012, to attend the summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) of which Pakistan, like India, Iran and Afghanistan, is an observer. It has sought regular membership of the SCO on which no decision has so far been taken.
Zardari combined his visit for the SCO summit with a bilateral visit for talks with Chinese leaders and businessmen on bilateral relations. Among the Chinese leaders he met for bilateral discussions were President Hu Jintao and Vice-President Xi Jinping.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that during his meeting with Zardari on June 7, Hu said that China encouraged and supported its enterprises to participate in energy and electric power projects in Pakistan. He hoped that the two countries would deepen pragmatic cooperation, especially in the sectors of trade, energy, transportation infrastructure construction, agriculture, telecommunications, aerospace and technology. Xinhua quoted Hu as saying: “China will continue to provide assistance for Pakistan's economic and social development within our capacity."
According to the agency, Hu called on the two countries to improve law-enforcement and security cooperation, and jointly fight the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism.
Zardari thanked China for its support of Pakistan's maintenance of domestic stability and development as well as China's assistance to Pakistan when the country was affected by floods and earthquakes. He invited Chinese enterprises to expand their investments in Pakistan, especially in infrastructure construction and the energy sector.
As Pakistani leaders normally do during their interactions with their Chinese counterparts, Zardari was reported to have re-affirmed continued Pakistani support to China’s core interests without specifying what those interests are. The Associated Press of Pakistan reported that during his meeting with Hu, Zardari proposed the creation of an Energy Fund to finance energy-related projects in Pakistan to be undertaken by Chinese companies.
During Zardari’s stay in Beijing, officials of the two countries signed three memoranda of understanding (MoUs) covering supply of water from Tarbela to Islamabad, the establishment of a Special Economic Zone in the proposed new city Zulfikarabad in Sindh and the building there of 6,000 flats on private public partnership basis. They also signed an agreement for Chinese assistance in the de-silting of canals and barrages in the Sindh province.
The APP reported that during his meeting with Vice-President Xi, Zardari conveyed the gratitude of the people and the Government of Pakistan for China’s unflinching support to Pakistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
During the previous visits of Zardari to China, the focus of the discussions was on Chinese assistance to Pakistan for infrastructure development in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan and for the construction of oil-gas pipelines and a railway line connecting Xinjiang with the Chinese-constructed Gwadar port on the Mekran coast of Balochistan.
During the present visit, the focus was on possible Chinese assistance for infrastructure and development projects in Sindh. Due to the deteriorating security situation in Balochistan, the proposed projects to connect Gwadar with Xinjiang seem to be held up. The Chinese appear to be going ahead only with the upgradation of the Karakoram Highway across Gilgit-Baltistan and construction of roads to improve connectivity inside Gilgit-Baltistan.
Due to the continuing activities of the Uighur separatists in Xinjiang from sanctuaries in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the Chinese have restrained their enthusiasm for projects to improve connectivity between Xinjiang and the jihadi belt in Pakistan.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.