Pak PM arrives in China for talks



Beijing: Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf arrived here on Monday to hold talks with the Chinese leadership amid reports that China may takeover operations of the strategic Gwadar Port in Baluchistan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing is happy to receive Ashraf who is on his first trip to China after succeeding Yusuf Raza Gilani.

Ashraf is one among a number of foreign dignitaries invited by China to take part in the sixth Annual Meeting of New Champions, also known as Summer Davos Forum, beginning tomorrow at the port city of Tianjin to be inaugurated by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Lei had said earlier that Wen will be holding talks with Ashraf to discuss steps to further enhance the China-Pakistan traditional friendship and "reciprocal cooperation".

Also ahead of Ashraf's visit, Lei has tacitly confirmed reports of China taking over operations of Gwadar deepwater port in Baluchistan with a USD 10 billion investment. Asked about Pakistan Shipping Minister Babar Khan Ghauri's statement that China may take over the port operations with USD 10 billion investment following the pullout of Singapore Port Authority (SPA), Lei had told PTI earlier that the two countries are engaged in cooperation to build infrastructure projects to "help Pakistan improve people's well-being and promote social and economic development".

Ashraf said before his departure that he would interact with Chinese leaders, especially Premier Wen Jiabao, and discuss all issues related to cooperation in trade and energy sector.

"China is a trustworthy friend and has always supported Pakistan against all odds and in difficult times," he said.

The issue of developing Gwadar port and greater cooperation in energy will be discussed during his meetings with Chinese leadership, he said.

Ashraf will hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Jiabao on the sidelines of the Forum at Tiajin during September 10-13.

"Pakistan is proud of its ties with China as Pakistan-China friendship is higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the oceans and sweeter than honey," Ashraf said.

Last year China denied reports that it was to build a naval base at Gwadar. It now appears that China will be stepping into the port located at the entrance of the Persian Gulf about 75 km east of Pakistan's border with Iran.

Pakistani officials have long been pushing for China's takeover of the port to make it an oil pipeline hub for China connecting with the Karakoram Highway.

It will reduce the distance for China in procuring oil supplies from Gulf countries by about 9,173 kilometres.

Also China's concerns over militants of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is active in Xinjiang, bordering Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), were expected to come up in the Wen-Ashraf meeting.

In Xinjiang, native Uyghur Muslims oppose the settlements of Han Chinese. Ahead of Ashraf's visit, Pakistan Ambassador to China, Masood Khan told state run Global Times here that Pakistan is conducting a crackdown on ETIM militants and "averted many potentially disastrous scenarios".

"Pakistan opposes the ETIM and its activities. Pakistan has interdicted, arrested and killed known Chinese terrorists who were trying to use Pakistan's soil against China. We have also handed over ETIM operatives back to China", he said.

PTI