China's Li offers to help end Pakistan energy crisis

ISLAMABAD Wed May 22, 2013 4:43am EDT

A soldier and police officer gesture as they secure the area and clear the roads before the motorcade of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang passes by in Islamabad May 22, 2013. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

A soldier and police officer gesture as they secure the area and clear the roads before the motorcade of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang passes by in Islamabad May 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - China and Pakistan should make cooperation on power generation a priority, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, as Islamabad seeks to end an energy crisis that triggers power cuts of up to 20 hours a day, bringing the economy to a near standstill.

Li arrived in the Pakistan capital under extra-tight security on Wednesday on the second leg of his first official trip since taking office in March after a visit to Pakistan's and China's arch rival, India.

Li's plane was escorted by six air force fighter jets as it entered Pakistan air space. Security measures also included shutting down mobile phone networks across the city.

Pakistan was one of the first countries to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, in 1950, and Li told a lunch attended by Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Zardari that China and Pakistan should remain "trustworthy partners" and good neighbors.

In an interview with Pakistan media, Li said there was still "great potential" for the relationship. Bilateral trade last year rose above $12 billion for the first time and both sides are aiming to reach $15 billion in the next two or three years.

"Our two sides should focus on carrying out priority projects in connectivity, energy development and power generation and promoting the building of a China-Pakistan economic corridor," Li said.

The power shortages have sparked violent protests and crippled key industries, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs in a country already beset by high unemployment, a failing economy, widespread poverty, sectarian bloodshed and a Taliban insurgency.

There are several joint energy and infrastructure projects under way in Pakistan and China has taken over operation of the strategically important Gwadar port.

When complete, the port, which is close to the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil shipping lane, is seen opening up an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf, across Pakistan to western China, and could be used by the Chinese Navy, upsetting India.

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

China and India disagree about large areas of their 4,000 km (2,500 mile) border and their troops faced off for three weeks last month on a windswept Himalayan plateau where they fought a brief but bloody war in 1962.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars, two of them over disputed Kashmir.

"PRAGMATIC" MILITARY COOPERATION

India has responded cautiously to Li's overtures, partly because of China's friendship with Pakistan. For its part, Beijing is concerned about India's growing relations with the United States.

"I wish to reiterate solemnly China's continued firm support to Pakistan in its efforts to uphold independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity," Li said in a possible reference to India and to the United States, which angers many with drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan.

Pakistan is going through a turbulent chapter in its ties with the United States, which plans to withdraw most of its troops from neighboring Afghanistan in 2014. Many U.S. officials have questioned Pakistan's commitment to fighting Islamic militancy since U.S. forces tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden in a garrison town near Islamabad two years ago.

China's Xinhua state news agency said Beijing was looking for "pragmatic" military cooperation with Pakistan, "which is in the front line of the fight against international terrorism".

"The military exchanges are not directed against any third party and contribute to peace and stability in both the region and the whole world," it said in a commentary.

Pakistan's Nation newspaper said Islamabad wished China well in its attempts to address its border and security concerns.

"It is also good that Premier Li is not oblivious to the kind of ill-will resulting from the core issue of Kashmir," it said.

In a brief security scare in southern Karachi on Tuesday, a roadside bomb exploded near the seafront which police said was likely aimed at a passing van full of Chinese port workers. No one was hurt.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Comments (2)
ChAliGhafoor wrote:
China is all weather friend of Pakistan so they will prefer to make JVs with Pakistani govt rather than indians.Moreover India is responsible on their own as they have created conflicts with both Pakiatan and China on Jammu-Kashmir and Tibbet respectively.

May 22, 2013 3:11am EDT  --  Report as abuse
MikeBarnett wrote:
China, India, and Pakistan have used their warships to fight Somali piracy, so all three countries have used their military forces to fight on the same side of the same campaign in the same theater of operations without fighting each other. China needs a base to refuel in the Indian Ocean, so China’s use of Gwader would help India’s naval forces in controlling piracy near India’s coast.

China sold Pakistan several squadrons of fighter-bomber aircraft that Pakistan used to attack Taliban and al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas along the Afghan border, so China helped Pakistan protect US and NATO troops in Afghanistan from attacks. This is part of China’s “pragmatic” approach to islamic insurgencies, such as the occasional attacks in China’s Xinjiang province. China, Russia, and four of the “stans” north of Pakistan have agreed to watch Afghanistan after the US and NATO leave in 2014. They have agreed to spend their renminbis and rubles to save dollars and euros because they live in the region unlike the US and NATO. Their tactics may not be as “polite” as those of the West, but they may be more effective because they MUST win. They cannot withdraw to North America and hide behind oceanic moats if they lose.

However, the most important policies will be economic. People who live in dire poverty with no hope of improvement may decide that the risks of war are better. Most people KNOW that war makes things worse, but poverty, starvation, and disease hinder rational thought, and radical religions give simple, if erroneous, answers for people to follow. For example, China has more electrical generating power than needed, so inexpensive sales or grants to Pakistan can improve that country, make it a better trade partner for China in the future, and reduce reasons for Pakistanis to support radicalism.

May 22, 2013 6:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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