x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

China eyes formal ties with Pakistan

The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, has said he wants "structured" dialogue after assisting recent expansion in Pakistan's nuclear power generation capacity.

ISLAMABAD // The Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, is to visit Pakistan next month for talks aimed at "deepening strategic cooperation", Beijing announced on Friday.

During talks in Guangzhou with Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, Mr Wen said he would press for the restructuring of ties to enable "formal and structured dialogue" at the ministerial level, the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported.

The proposed change in the way the China-Pakistan joint economic council works, in effect, replicates the structure of the United States' "strategic dialogue" with Pakistan, which is handled in working groups on a sector-by-sector basis.

Analysts said the visit of the Pakistani president, who was honoured as a chief guest at the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in Guangzhou, was not previously scheduled, and was meant as a diplomatic riposte to the visit last week of Barack Obama, the US president, to India.

Mr Zardari's visit to Guangzhou was his sixth to China since assuming office in August 2008.

"There is a consistent pattern. Every time the US asserts its diplomatic presence in South Asia, whether in talks with Pakistan or India, Mr Zardari goes to China," said Aamir Ghauri, editor of The Asian Journal, a London-based electronic newspaper.

The analysts said Pakistan considered China a more reliable superpower to ally itself with than the US, which is expected to play a lesser role in South Asia after it withdraws from Afghanistan.

Pakistan is already largely dependent on transfers of technology and money from China for military equipment and nuclear power generation.

China has recently expanded its cooperation with Pakistan in nuclear power generation, announcing plans over the last 12 months to build three plants in Pakistan.

Pakistan has pressed for a similar arrangement with the US which, in 2008, agreed to supply India with nuclear power technology.

A security official, speaking privately, said Pakistan would continue to expand its defence cooperation with China.

However, analysts and security officials said the relationship should be construed as part of an emerging "cold war" in Asia.

"China and Pakistan have a relationship that isn't based on any tactical consideration, or targeted against anybody," said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US.

Officials in India and the US have frequently spoken of the need to strengthen their strategic co-operation as a counter to growing Chinese influence.