China's Li effusive in praise of Pakistan, but not everyone buys it

ISLAMABAD Thu May 23, 2013 2:10pm IST

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) talks with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari during an agreement ceremony at President House in Islamabad May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) talks with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari during an agreement ceremony at President House in Islamabad May 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mian Khursheed

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang praised the Sino-Pakistan relationship to the hilt on Thursday, urging the "all-weather friends" to boost cooperation in business, trade, energy and infrastructure and build a long-vaunted economic corridor.

But not everyone is convinced China has Pakistan interests totally at heart.

Li arrived in the Pakistani capital on Wednesday on the second leg of his first official trip since taking office in March and after a visit to Pakistan and China's arch rival, India. He leaves for Switzerland and Germany later on Thursday.

"We want to achieve dynamic balance in our trade," Li said in an address to the Senate.

"We are ready to work with Pakistan to speed up the project of upgrading the Karakoram Highway, actively explore and develop the long-term plans of building a China-Pakistan economic corridor, expanding our shared interests."

The Karakoram Highway, built through towering mountains with China's help, links northern Pakistan with western China.

Li expressed hope for financial, maritime, agricultural, defence and energy cooperation, and praised Pakistan for its "tenacity and fortitude" and "creating one miracle after another".

"The China-Pakistan friendship has stood the test of hardship and is more precious than gold," he said.

But some observers have expressed doubts at the prospects of such an economic miracle.

"Pakistan's leaders love using laughably outrageous metaphors in describing the country's relationship with China, yet the truth is that this so-called alliance means almost nothing positive for the Pakistani economy," the Express Tribune newspaper said.

"The fact of the matter is that China will give Pakistan almost nothing, and this two-day trip is really only being made by the Chinese premier to avoid slapping Islamabad in the face completely, after having made his first trip abroad a three-day visit to India, in a key signal about the real shifts in Chinese foreign policy."

Li this week offered India a "handshake across the Himalayas" and said the two old rivals, the world's two most populous nations, could become a new engine for the global economy - if they could avoid friction.

Chinese trade with India is expected to reach $100 billion a year within two years. China's trade with Pakistan rose above a measly $12 billion for the first time last year.

"The sooner Pakistan wakes up from the 'China is our friend' delusion, the sooner we will stop giving control of the country's economic resources for almost nothing in return," the newspaper said. (Editing by Robert Birsel)

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