Times of India | 19 Feb 2009
Zardari to sign FTA with China, seek support from hydro projects
Saibal Dasgupta, TNN
BEIJING: China and Pakistan plan to sign a free trade agreement on trade and services during the four-day visit of Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari to Hubei and Shanghai beginning tomorrow. Zardari is also seeking Beijing’s assistance on a range of issues including hydropower projects.
"This is going to be a thematic and focussed visit to fulfil specific objectives," Masood Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to China, told TNN.
"Our objectives include enhancing cooperation in the field of agriculture, strengthening financial and industrial partnerships and exploring new grounds for cooperation in hydropower projects," he said.
Observers of the Sino-Pakistani relationship said that Zardari’s mission is largely focussed on economy and investment issues and there is little political content to it. This may be partly because the Pakistani president would not get to meet the top echelons of Chinese leadership on this visit.
Senior leaders of China would be busy hosting the first official visit of Hilary Clinton, the US secretary of state, in Beijing during the time Zardari spends in east China. He is expected to be received by a minister from China’s commerce ministry, who will also sign the FTA.
The Zardari entourage does not include the governor of Pakistan’s central bank. This is significant because the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson suggested on Tuesday that China was open to the idea of extending further assistance to cash-strapped Pakistan.
The Pakistani leadership obviously does not want to cause embarrassment to Beijing by raising the issue of a second loan so soon after it got an assistance of $500 million from China a few months back.
"The Pakistani president is trying to get a first hand impression of the development of China in various fields," Khan said. Zardari is expected to visit the Three Gorges project on Yangtze River, regarded to be the world’s biggest river project, and also visit the stock exchange in Shanghai.
The Pakistani president is also slated to visit some state-run cultural intuitions in both Hubei and Shanghai.
China is extensively involved in hydropower projects across Pakistan, Islamabad is now planning to put forward some more hydropower projects for Chinese assistance in both financial and engineering terms, sources said.