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May 17, 2011

China, Pakistan Vow All-Weather Friendship

by Stephanie Ho

China and Pakistan are highlighting their 60 years of close friendship, as Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in China.  

Chinese state television showed Premier Wen Jiabao welcoming Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to the Great Hall of the People.

Mr. Wen said that no matter what international changes may take place, China and Pakistan will forever remain good neighbors, good friends, good partners and good brothers.

The Pakistani leader called China his country’s best friend, and said the two nations have decided to take defense, economic and cultural ties to new heights.

The two countries are celebrating China-Pakistan Friendship Year, to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties.

Both leaders also witnessed the signing of several agreements on finance and economic cooperation.

Chinese officials have said repeatedly that the visit was planned weeks ago.

But Andrew Small, a China expert at the U.S.-based German Marshall Fund, says the recent tensions between the United States and Pakistan following the death of Osama bin Laden give the Pakistani leader’s trip to China added significance.

“It is a chance for the Pakistanis to demonstrate to the world, to the United States and to some extent, for the government to demonstrate to its own public that if relations with the United States deteriorate too much, then they have some other diplomatic and economic options,” said Small.

This interpretation is rejected by Peking University International Studies Associate Professor Dong Wang, who says he thinks that for China, at least, the timing of the visit is purely coincidental.

“I think that is just American interpretation or reading might be that Pakistan wants to use this, to try to take this trip, as a way to show to the American side that Pakistan has some other options," said Wang. "But I just do not think that the Chinese will do the same thing because it is not in the calculation of the Chinese side, because it is more Pakistan’s calculation. But, the Chinese cannot say, “No, you [Pakistani PM] should not go because I do not want Americans to have that impression.”

Wang says despite the appearance that China and the United States are competing for Pakistan’s attention, the two large countries have similar concerns there.

“I would like to say that the bottom line is that the United States and China share an interest, share a very important interest, in Pakistan," said Wang. "We both want to have good relations with Pakistan, and also would like to see a stable Pakistan, and a Pakistan which is doing very effectively, in terms of countering terrorist threat.”

Two-way trade between China and Pakistan has grown sharply in recent years and is now more than $8.5-billion. Wang says he expects this number to continue growing, but he cites two serious problems, attacks against Chinese workers in Pakistan and the South Asian nation’s lack of economic development.

The Pakistani leader is due to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao before leaving Beijing on Friday.