Pakistani president hails China as he looks for financial help

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari hailed China as "the future of the world" ahead of his arrival in Beijing on Tuesday for a trip that is expected to see him seek urgent financial help.

File photo shows a woman standing under Pakistani and Chinese flags in Tiananmen Square. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari hailed China as "the future of the world" ahead of his arrival in Beijing on Tuesday for a trip that is expected to see him seek urgent financial help.(AFP/File/Peter Parks)

Zardari made it clear in an interview with China's official Xinhua news agency that building economic ties would be his top priority during his four-day trip, his first state visit anywhere since taking office in September.

"China is the future of the world. A strong China means a strong Pakistan," Xinhua quoted Zardari as saying in an interview in Islamabad on Monday ahead of his departure.

His comments come as Islamabad's alliance with Washington in the "war on terror" falls on rocky ground due to Pakistan's inability to shut down Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters based in its tribal belt.

Zardari, due to arrive in Beijing at 6:00 pm (1000 GMT), inherited a country on the brink of bankruptcy and plagued by huge security problems from Islamic extremists.

The global financial crisis has pushed Pakistan closer to the financial edge, with reports -- denied by Islamabad -- that it faces bankruptcy as early as February.

And while Pakistan has looked to the United States for financial help, it is also one of China's closest allies in Asia, with Beijing seeing the country as a counter-balance to rival India.

China has boosted its economic interests in Pakistan in recent years, funding major infrastructure, engineering and mining projects, including a deep sea port, as well as helping develop its nuclear power industry.

Bilateral trade between China and Pakistan is worth more than seven billion dollars a year and officials from both sides have said they are looking to increase that to 15 billion dollars by 2011.

Zardari indicated he wanted to go further.

"We have a lot of cultural ties, friendly ties, but that is not properly depicted by our economic relationship," he told Xinhua.

The Financial Times newspaper reported Tuesday, without citing sources, that Zardari would seek a soft loan of between 500 million and 1.5 billion dollars from China to help Pakistan out of its financial crisis.

It also quoted Western defence officials as saying that he would request new reactors from China to boost Pakistan's civilian nuclear power sector.

Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves are widely considered to be at the root of its financial problems.

Until recently buoyed with US aid to former president Pervez Musharraf, they fell to 8.135 billion dollars this month from 9.129 billion in September, putting Pakistan at risk of defaulting on foreign loans.

Zardari, who will meet President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing, also said in his interview with Xinhua that he would seek to step up co-operation with China in the fight against terrorism.

"We need commonality to fight terrorism," he said.

Source: AFP

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