China, Pakistan Announce Political, Economic Agreements

China has pledged new political and economic support for Pakistan, including significant trade deals, continued help with nuclear energy development and a "constructive role" in improving relations between Pakistan and India. VOA's Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad that Chinese President Hu Jintao is paying a four-day visit aimed at enhancing ties with China's long-time South-Asian ally.

This is the first visit by a Chinese president to Pakistan in more than 10 years, and the government is going all out to welcome him. The capital city is decked out with welcome signs, and there is blanket coverage of the visit in the local media.

Economic ties apparently dominated the first round of talks between President Hu Jintao and his Pakistani counterpart, General Pervez Musharraf.

During a joint press conference afterward, Mr. Hu said the two men agreed to a series of new initiatives, including a new free-trade deal.

"We signed many important documents of strategic importance to strengthening our economic and trade cooperation, not least the free-trade area ... between the two countries," he said.

Officials from both sides say the new five-year free-trade pact could boost bilateral trade by several billion dollars a year. According to Pakistani figures, trade between the two countries grew nearly 40-percent last year, topping $4 billion.

President Hu also confirmed China will continue to help Pakistan develop nuclear energy. Beijing has already helped the Pakistanis build one nuclear power plant, and a second is under construction.

The countries are also expanded their long-standing collaboration on military technology. Pakistan's air force signed a new memorandum of understanding with a Chinese aviation company to develop advanced radar technology.

The air force is already collaborating with a second Chinese company, developing and producing fighter aircraft.

President Hu told reporters China hoped to play a "constructive role" in helping end the decades-old rivalry between Pakistan and India.

During Friday's press conference, Mr. Musharraf called the visit a highpoint in his country's 55-year diplomatic relationship with Beijing.

"Our relations with China over half a century have remained excellent," he said. "Ours is a long-lasting, time-tested and all-weather friendship, and I call it 'all-weather' because it transcends the bounds of governments and leaders and goes down to the people's level."

The summit has added to China's growing diplomatic profile in South Asia.

President Hu spent several days earlier this week touring India, where he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and vowed to help improve bilateral relations there as well.