Pakistan and China on Wednesday agreed to jointly work on furthering an economic corridor for enhanced connectivity between both the allies aimed at benefiting their people in specific and the South-East Asia region in general.
President Asif Ali Zardari called for improved connectivity to turn the region into a vibrant trade, energy and economic corridor, as he played host to Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, who arrived on a two-day visit to Pakistan on Wednesday.
Premier Li was accorded a warm welcome upon his arrival by the state of Pakistan. In a rare gesture, President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso welcomed the distinguished guests at the airport. Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) Chairman Gen Khalid Shamim Wynne, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Ashfaq Kayani and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Asif Sandila were also present.
A contingent of Pakistan armed forces presented him a guard of honour amidst a 21-gun salute. National anthems of the two countries were played and the Chinese premier was presented a salute. A red carpet was rolled out and children waving flags of Pakistan and China greeted the dignitary.
The talks between the two close allies were held at the Presidency. President Asif Ali Zardari, who also hosted a banquet in honor of the Chinese premier, also addressed a joint press stakeout along with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. He said that the top priority of Pakistan and China was to further strengthen economic linkages.
President Zardari described his talks with Premier Li as “excellent” and “‘our discussions focused on economic corridor and improving connectivity between Pakistan and Western regions of China”.
The trade between the two countries has for the first time risen over $12 billion. Premier Li Keqiang said both sides had decided on a long term programme – a strategic idea for the peace and stability of the world.
“We hope by pushing forward connectivity, economic corridor will become a reality for the benefit of the two people,” Li said. “No matter how the regional and international situation may evolve, China will remain committed to consolidating and developing its strategic partnership of cooperation with Pakistan,” he said.
He said China would continue to firmly support Pakistan in its efforts to uphold independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and achieve national stability and development.
Zardari said both countries were determined to achieve the bilateral trade target of $15 billion and had agreed to speed up work on projects identified under the Five-Year Development Programme.
President Zardari said, “We have also decided to press ahead with the second phase of negotiations on China-Pakistan Free Trade Agreement and start work on the China-Pakistan Agriculture Demonstration Zone.”
He said the two countries discussed various connectivity proposals, including fibre optics, road and rail links and energy projects.
“We also discussed long-term plans about Pakistan-China economic corridor,” he said and pointed that Pakistan greatly valued its brotherly relations with China.
Zardari warmly welcomed Premier Li to Pakistan, his second home and recalled his meeting with him in August 2011.
“We are delighted that Li has chosen Pakistan among the first countries to visit after taking over as premier of the State Council,” President Zardari said.
He said friendship with China had always been the cornerstone of Pakistani foreign policy.
“Our friendship with China is rooted in national consensus. This friendship is not only between the governments but also between the two people. It is also time tested,” the president said.
Zardari said Pakistan believed that China was an important factor of peace and stability in the region and added that China’s economic progress was an example for many countries.
He said Pakistan greatly valued China’s economic support and assistance.
“We are extremely grateful to the Chinese government for their continued support to the affected people of AttabadLake and upper Hunza. We need continued assistance in this regard,” he added.
President Zardari said the two countries had signed MoUs and agreements in the fields of economy, science and technology, space and upper atmosphere communication and energy.
He said all these and other agreements were aimed at further strengthening bilateral relations and improving the well-being of the two people.
President Zardari said the “two countries believe that terrorism, separatism and extremism pose serious threats to regional peace, stability and security”.
“We have reiterated our resolve to continue cooperation in combating these evil forces,” Zardari said.
He also pointed that the two sides had agreed to further expand people-to-people exchanges and said cultural centres would be established in each other’s countries. In this regard he mentioned that the year 2015 would be celebrated as the Year of Friendly Exchanges.
He said both Pakistan and China had also agreed to maintain the tradition of frequent exchanges of visits and meetings at the leadership level.
Premier Li Keqiang said his visit after the holding of general election and before the formation of a new government showed that the Pakistan-China friendship was everlasting. He termed Pakistan-China friendship a valuable asset and said it was something not affected by change of a government and politics.
Premier Li said the conferment of Pakistan’s civil award on him was not only a personal honour, but also reflective of deep affiliation between the two countries.
He said the purpose his visit to Pakistan was to cement friendship between the two countries that has been nurtured by successive leaders and the people of the two countries.
Premier Li said regular meetings between the leaders would help deepen and further consolidate their ties.
He, however, stressed that consolidating the strategic cooperation needed to be backed by concrete actions and mentioned the witnessing of agreements on economic and cultural cooperation between the two countries.
President Asif Ali Zardari also conferred the country’s highest civil award, Nishan-e-Pakistan, on Premier Li for his outstanding contribution in strengthening Pakistan-China relations. The investiture ceremony held here at the Aiwan-e-Sadr was attended by caretaker prime minister, political leaders, services chiefs, ministers and diplomats.
Those who attended included Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Shujaat Hussain and Shahi Syed.
At the ceremony, Zardari stressed on “joining hands and combining strengths” to realise the shared aspiration for the common good of people of Pakistan and China. He said Pakistan was aware of the rapidly changing environment and wished to be a full partner in cooperative efforts for regional economic development.
Zardari welcomed the Chinese Premier and said the people of Pakistan held him in high esteem and were happy to see him in their midst. He termed the visit of Premier Li another landmark in the growing bilateral relations.
Chinese Premier Li said China was committed to consolidating friendship with Pakistan and deepening strategic partnership. He said the Sino-Pak friendship had been a valuable asset and was an example for other countries.
Zardari said China’s growing economic power had unleashed positive momentum to take economic cooperation to new heights. He mentioned that Pakistan’s geo-strategic location and its trade and economic potential offered great opportunities.
He said Chinese business community could take advantage of these opportunities to develop mutually beneficial partnerships.
The President said the Gwadar project was part of the endeavour to improve connectivity and held great promise to create a regional economic and trade corridor.
Similarly, Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline were also important to improve economic and social conditions of this region, he said.
Li said after 27 years, he had seen tremendous changes in Pakistan, adding that people of China rejoiced over the excellent progress.
He said China would continue cooperation with Pakistan for stability and economic development and thanked President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Khoso and people of Pakistan for the admirable welcome to him and his delegation.