Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s another Sojourn to China
Debasish Chaudhuri

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s frequent visits to China in his short stint of less than two years in power, throw considerable light on the bilateral relations between the two countries. China usually feels more comfortable in dealing with Pakistan when it is ruled by a military general. But as far as socializing with China is concerned, Zardari, who is going to make his fifth trip to China next week, seems to have surpassed his predecessor General Musharraf. Being elected as the president of one of the most fragile countries in the world, Zardari picked China for his very first official visit in September 2008 and in 2009 he kept his promise (“履诺”) by visiting China once in every three months (“每三个月访华一次”). Among world leaders the former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has made the highest numbers of China trips, but in regard to the frequency of visits, Pakistani President Zardari is well ahead of others.

President Zardari appears to have an image problem within Pakistan and also among his own circle. This is mainly because of his strange journey from prison to the highest seat of power multiplied by the lingering corruption charges without having ever been convicted. He is widely regarded by the Pakistan military-ISI complex as a stooge of the Americans and is therefore not trusted. Possibly the repeated China visits might be an effort to change his image and it would be interesting to see what sort of impression he has made for himself in China. The Chinese media is intrigued over the reasons behind his frequent visits to their country. During his first visit to the PRC he gave a reason of choosing China as his first destination as the president. He emphasized upon his strong conviction that it is only by visiting China first that he could prove his worth to his father-in-law and recently assassinated wife. Zardari’s father-in-law Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, during his tenure, had visited China thrice between 1972 and 1976. His wife, the former prime minister late Benazir Bhutto visited China in February 1989 which was reciprocated by Premier Li Peng in November. In December 1993 Benazir again paid a state visit to China in reciprocation of Li Ruihuan’s visit in the same month. In September 1995 she was specially invited as an honorable guest to attend the 4th UN World Women Conference. President Zardari must have thought that three is a very auspicious number because his wife and father-in-law both visited China three times and during his first visit Zardari also expressed his wish to come to China in every three months. The Chinese were surprised to see that he actually kept his word; however, the Chinese media is still unable to figure out the connection between Zardari, Benazir and China. President Zardari repeatedly expressed that China’s relations with Pakistan are very unique (独一无二 i.e. benazir). In his view friendship between the two countries is higher than the mountains and deeper than seas (比山还高,比海还深). During his previous trips to China, Zardari made several comments which show his deep sense of obeisance for China. It is well known that during his last visit no Chinese leaders above the rank of deputy premier interacted with him.

Zardari’s forthcoming visit to China coincides with the third joint military exercise Friendship III (“友谊 – 2010”) between the two countries in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. Negotiations between the two countries on Sino-Pakistan Nuclear Energy Treaty are the most important agenda of the visit. The treaty is highly valued by the Pakistani military establishment as it would effectively counter similar agreement between India and America. Therefore, during his visit between July 6 and 11, President Zardari’s is expected to meet a number of high level Chinese officials and would receive proper media coverage. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang said on June 29 that as per the present schedule President Hu Jintao will have a talk with the visiting Pakistani president in Beijing. Premier Wen Jiabao and CPPCC Chairman Jia Qinglin have also planned meetings with President Zardari.

Qin Gang talked of the Indian sensitivity towards the Sino-Pakistani Civil Nuclear Energy Co-operation Treaty and stressed that this treaty is not directed against any third country. The Foreign Ministry spokesman however refused to comment on the recently held meeting of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in New Zealand. Fan Jishe, a scholar of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), has pointed out that there exists fundamental difference between Sino-Pakistani Nuclear Energy Co-operation Treaty and Indo-US Nuclear Energy Co-operation. According to his analysis, this treaty was concluded much before China and Pakistan became part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), therefore, they do not require the group’s approval.

Timing of Zardari’s visit is also significant because a severe riot took place in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the month of July last year. Zardari’s visit to China during the anniversary of Urumqi Riots and the ongoing anti-terror joint military training in the Muslim dominated region of Ningxia bear certain symbolic value. However, according to Chinese media report, Qingtongxia, the venue of this anti-terror combat operation, was selected because its topography is similar to the mountainous areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The purpose of this joint military exercise is to equip the Pakistani military to help China fight against the Eastern Turkestan ‘terrorists’ active in the Af-Pak border regions.


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