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China's Hu seen cementing close Pakistani ties

Written by: Staff

ISLAMABAD, Nov 23 (Reuters) Chinese President Hu Jintao is due in Pakistan today for a visit that is expected to cement the old friends' ''all-weather relationship.'' Hu is arriving from India where he agreed with leaders to double trade and work to resolve border disputes. He will be keen to demonstrate China's steadfast support for Pakistan despite the warming Indian ties, analysts said.

''There's a redefining of the relationship. The Chinese are demonstrating they're keen to have strong relations with both Pakistan and India,'' said former Pakistani foreign secretary Tanvir Ahmad Khan. ''This is partly because China does not want to leave the South Asian sub-continent to other external powers.'' ''They'll try to demonstrate that friendship with India is not at the expense of Pakistan,'' he said.

Hu's visit is the first by a Chinese president in a decade and marks the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations which Khan described as Pakistan's most stable.

The constancy of their friendship contrasts sharply with the on-off relationship Pakistan has had with the United States.

''China is the only country, when it comes to the national security of Pakistan, which Islamabad trusts. No one else,'' said Tarique Niazi, an analyst at the University of Wisconsin, who has written extensively on Sino-Pakistan relations.

For the past five years, Pakistan has been a US ally in a global war on terrorism, and has been supplied with long-coveted US weapons and generous aid, but many Pakistanis see the United States as a fickle friend.

They remember how the United States used Pakistan to help push the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and then walked away from the chaos that followed.

Pakistan's military also has bitter memories of the United States stopping arms sales because of Pakistan's nuclear programme, and sanctions imposed after nuclear tests in 1998.

TRUST The United States also recently declined to offer energy-hungry Pakistan a nuclear power deal, even as it struck a landmark nuclear cooperation agreement with India.

''Pakistan does not trust the United States as much as China, and the reason for that is India. Pakistan's defence policy is Indo-centric. Who is going to support Pakistan when it goes up against India? Of course it is going to be China,'' Niazi said.

Analysts believe China has supported Pakistan's missile and nuclear weapons programme for decades, and it is Pakistan's main supplier of conventional arms and provides hundreds of millions of dollars of development finance.

Two-way trade increased 39 per cent last year to 4.26 billion dollar, according to Chinese figures. The two countries are expected to announce a free trade agreement which they hope will push trade past 8 billion dollars by 2008.

They also want each other's help to secure energy supplies.

China is helping build Gwadar port on Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast, in the hope that one day it could provide a fast route for West Asia oil supplies.

Pakistan wants China to help it build civil nuclear plants -- something the United States refuses to do because of the role played by Pakistan's top scientist in nuclear proliferation scandal involving Libya, Iran and North Korea.

China has already helped Pakistan build a 300-megawatt nuclear plant and is building a second 300-megawatt nuclear plant worth 874 million dollars. But Pakistani officials have played down talk of a substantive nuclear agreement during Hu's visit.

''Many details still have to worked out,'' said Khan. ''There might be an indication by the Chinese that this is on and it can be discussed further, but I don't think any spectacular announcement will be made.'' REUTERS YA VA RAI0853

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