Presidential hopeful Zardari's to visit China first

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Islamabad, Sep 5: PPP Co-chairman and presidential hopeful Asif Ali Zardari, who is expected to win Saturday, Sep 6th's presidential poll, will embark on his first ever visit as the head of the state to China on September 9. If he wins, Zardari would be Pakistan's 12th President.

Zardari's planned trip may be an attempt to blunt the growing criticism that there was a shift in the PPP government's policy towards China and that it was distancing itself from Pakistan's most-trusted ally, ie the US. According to The News, Pakistan's permanent representative to the UN Masood Khan who has been nominated as Pakistan's new ambassador to China, also arrived here on Sunday. Khan is here for consultations on the planned visit and there are indications that he may leave for Beijing ahead of Zardari's arrival there, the paper quoted the sources as saying.

Zardari was invited by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games last month and was to lead the delegation, but he changed his plan due to a move by the ruling alliance to impeach President Musharraf.

Instead, his son and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who was also invited by the CCP, represented the party at the opening ceremony.

Amid speculations that all is not so well on the Pakistan-China front, the planned Zardari visit would send a strong signal to Beijing and the world community of the high priority Pakistan accords to its relations with China. It also gains importance as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had visited the US before China.

In substantive terms it is to be seen what comes out of the trip. As Pakistan is on the verge of an economic default, there are hints that Pakistan may be turning again to China for help. A top bureaucrat who has been dealing with China sounded confident that China could help Pakistan get over its economic difficulties. There are signals that as a goodwill gesture, China may bail out Pakistan financially as it has done twice in the last one year or so, added the paper.


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