Wen delivers on flood aid as Pakistan visit begins

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Premier Wen Jiabao shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during their official meeting in the capital, Islamabad, on Friday afternoon. [Xinhua]

Beijing fulfilled its promise to give massive assistance to Pakistan's post-disaster reconstruction and signed several other agreements on Friday as Premier Wen Jiabao kicked off a three-day visit to the country.

In Islamabad, China delivered on its previous commitment of an additional $200 million in unconditional aid to the flood-stricken country, bring China's total commitment to $250 million.

The premier also witnessed the launch ceremony of the first branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) in Pakistan.

"China's investment in Pakistan is growing, not only in the infrastructure industry but in all sectors, including IT and communications, and they all urgently need financial services from businesses like ours," Yang Kaisheng, head of ICBC, told China Daily in Pakistan's capital.

A total of eight agreements were signed on Friday evening relating to a wide range of issues, including city security, energy, cultural centers, transportation and electronics.

According to Reuters, deals to be signed during the visit will total $19 billion but that number has not been confirmed by Chinese officials.

Reuters said that, in addition to $200 million in grants for flood reconstruction China will hand over $30 million to help Pakistan develop its agriculture. The security sector will also get about $195 million.

The leaders of the two countries will sign 36 memoranda of understanding and agreements - 14 intergovernmental deals and 22 between private businesses, Reuters added.

"China and Pakistan are all-weather partners. It is the unchanging policy of China to deepen and strengthen the strategic partnership with Pakistan," said Wen upon his arrival at the airport.

He said the purpose of his visit is for friendship and cooperation as well as to support the reconstruction of the flood-hit South Asian neighbor.

Wen flew to Pakistan on Friday afternoon after concluding his trip to India.

Islamabad put on a grand welcome for the Chinese premier. Upon entering Pakistan's airspace, six planes - two of which, reports said, were JF-17 aircraft co-produced by China and Pakistan - welcomed Wen's plane and escorted it to the capital.

A 21-gun salute boomed out as Wen stepped off the plane.

And he was greeted by his counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, and several members of the cabinet as well as chiefs of the armed forces.

Huge posters of Wen and Pakistani leaders were prominent as well as national flags from the two countries.

And red and green banners bearing slogans in both languages proclaimed such things as "A good neighbor is our blessing" and "Pakistan and China are one family". Heavy security was evident throughout.

The high level of courtesy was an indication of the closeness of the Sino-Pakistani relationship and was "really heartfelt", said Sun Shihai, a senior scholar at the Center for South Asian Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Gilani will accompany Wen throughout his stay in the country.

Former Pakistani prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, who is chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), said on Monday that he has accepted an invitation from President Asif Ali Zardari to attend a grand banquet in honor of the Chinese premier.

The acceptance is significant because, due to political differences, opposition leaders in Pakistan usually turn down such invitations from the government.

Wen on Saturday will listen to a report about Pakistan's losses from the floods. More than 20 million people and 1.7 million homes were affected by the disaster.

The premier will then attend a bilateral business summit where more than 300 Chinese industry leaders will likely sign major contracts with Pakistani companies.

"China's participation in Pakistan's post-flood reconstruction is one of the main issues of Wen's visit and Beijing hopes, with a financial boost, Pakistan will be capable of rebuilding the country in the long run," said Sun.

In addition to governmental aid, many Chinese individuals and private enterprises have voluntarily made donations. Sun said that showed that Chinese people have affection for their neighbor.

Earlier, in India, Chinese entrepreneurs signed what Indian media described as "enviable" deals worth more than $16 billion on the first leg of Wen's South Asia visit.

According to the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), a high level 400-member delegation from the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), including leading business tycoons, will hold a series of meetings with visiting Chinese investors.

Sultan Ahmad Chawla, president of the FPCCI, said on Thursday that he expects China will provide assistance and further investment in the energy and natural resources sectors. He said top business leaders will hold separate meetings with representatives from China's corporate sector.

APP also said a project to set up special economic zones (SEZs) where Chinese investors would be able to establish export industries had been put on the backburner. The SEZs are in Pakistan's interest, because, among other things, they may reduce the trade deficit, according to the APP.

"Agricultural products and textiles are Pakistan's main export products, which China doesn't need to import on a large scale. But Pakistan can export natural energy sources like oil and gas to China to balance trade," said Sun.

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