Li Peng's Visit to Pakistan: An Analysis

22 Apr, 1999    ·   186

Bhartendu Kumar Singh notes that while the Chinese Premier's visit had an essential economic motive, it was also designed to reassure Pakistan that it will not be sacrificed to appease India in the post-Pokhran scenario

While the international and Indian media gave ample coverage to the Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji's high profile visit to U.S.A. last week, Li Peng's visit to as head of a trade and parliamentary delegation Pakistan did nor receive the same publicity.



From Pakistan 's point of view, the five-day visit of Li Peng, which began on April 8 with his arrival in Islamabad , was significant for at least two reasons: First, though Li Peng is a former Prime Minister, he is very important, as the Chairman of the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC). Besides, he enjoys considerable clout in Chinese domestic politics, being the second highest ranking  leader after Jiang Zemin and therefore, enjoys superiority over the Prime Minister Zhu Rongji. Second, his visit to Pakistan within one year of the Chagai tests indicated that  Sino-Pak relations were not affected by Pakistan going nuclear.



The purpose of the visit seems to have been primarily economic. Pakistan and China do not have significant trade relations despite being close allies. Trade between the two countries declined by 8% to $ 992 million last year as compared to the previous year. Promotion of economic ties and diversification of trade into new areas seems to have figured in Li Peng's talks with Pakistan ’s leaders. During his visit, Pakistan and China signed agreements to promote bilateral co-operation in various fields. Although their details were not provided, it is understood that China will install another nuclear power plant at Chasma, to generate 300 MW electricity. The first nuclear power plant set up at Chasma with a similar generation capacity of 300 MW is expected to be commissioned by the end of this year. China will also provide Pakistan with its ultra-modern F-7 MG fighter planes which are equipped with night combat capabilities and a laser-guided missile system. Besides, China has also agreed to support the development of a number of industries in Pakistan under its ‘Spark programme’ for rural development. Lastly, the two countries have decided to promote exchanges in the fields of culture and tourism.



If there was one message that Li Peng wanted to convey, it was that ‘ China will always remain Pakistan 's trustworthy and reliable friend, no matter how the international situation changes’. He assured its leaders that China will not sacrifice its time-tested friendship with Pakistan to appease India in the post-Pokhran scenario. On its part, Pakistan reiterated its support to China on issues like Taiwan , Tibet and human rights. It conferred the Nishan-e-Pakistan on Li Peng, the highest civil award of Pakistan and declared that Pakistan would celebrate the Golden-Jubilee of China 's Communist Revolution (1949).



Interestingly, both countries played down their differences over Kosovo and terrorism. Pakistan has espoused the cause of Muslims and has been busy mobilising the Organisation of Islamic countries (OIC) to condemn the human rights violations in Kosovo, but it has not rejected NATO actions in Yugoslavia ; China has been critical of the US - led action in Yugoslavia . China also suspects that Pakistan is encouraging Muslim terrorists in its Xinjiang province. In fact, China had protested to Pakistan against maintaining terrorist training-camps in its territory two months ago, an allegation denied by Pakistan . However, both countries treat this issue as a minor irritant and of little consequence to their otherwise ‘strong’ friendship.