(AA) – China and Pakistan are set to expand their historical security and economic ties as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Islamabad for a highly anticipated two-day visit on Monday.
Agreements worth $50 billion are expected to be inked, according to Pakistan’s Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal, as they look to advance their Pakistan-China Economic Corridor project and seal a deal on the acquisition of Chinese submarines.
The economic corridor mega project aims to connect China’s strategically important northwestern Xinxiang province to Pakistan’s southwestern Gawadar port through a network of roads, railways and pipelines to transport cargo, oil and gas.
Pakistan’s state minister for privatization Muhammad Zubair told state-owned Radio Pakistan that Beijing will invest around $40 billion in projects related to the economic corridor alone, which is scheduled to be completed by 2030.
China is also committing to thee large energy-related projects to help Pakistan overcome a decades-long energy crisis.
Accompanied by a high-powered delegation, the Chinese President will address a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament while President Mamnoon Hussein will confer the country’s top civil award “Nishan-e-Pakistan” on his Chinese counterpart.
Xi had been scheduled to visit Pakistan last August but the trip was postponed after hostile protests against alleged electoral fraud broke out, bringing Islamabad to a standstill.
China is Pakistan’s largest defense partner and the two share a trade volume of $13 billion. It is expected to touch $15 billion by the end of 2015.
Analysts believe that the visit will also mark the beginning of enhanced security cooperation between Islamabad and Beijing. This comes after Pakistan’s major security partner, the United States, and bitter rival, neighboring India, increased their defense and nuclear cooperation.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January concerned both Pakistan and China, who compete with India for regional influence.
Pakistan earlier in April announced it would buy 8 Yuan-class type 041 diesel submarines from China to “address force imbalance” with its arch-rival India.
Pakistan’s national assembly was told by defense ministry officials that France had refused to sell the submarines to Islamabad as India was buying the same submarines.
“China is towing a proactive policy vis-a-vis its maritime interests in the Indian Ocean, which are threatened by a growing U.S.-India security cooperation,” Kamal Hyder, a Islamabad-based security analyst and journalist, told The Anadolu Agency.
To counter that, Hyder believes Beijing needs a reliable partner to counter growing Indian influence in the Indian Ocean.
“China seems to go all out to safeguard its present and future maritime interests in the Indian Ocean, and the last year’s visit of a Chinese submarine flanked by a warship to Sri Lanka is a clear indication to its plans,” he said.
Though the two countries deny it, Beijing is also often accused of assisting Pakistan in developing its nuclear and missile programmes.
Indian foreign affairs analyst C Raja Mohan wrote in the daily Indian Express that there are weaknesses in the relationship between Pakistan and China which could offer opportunity for Delhi.
“The potential for a sustainable economic partnership between India and China is much greater than that between Islamabad and Beijing. The problem so far has been Delhi’s reluctance,” wrote Mohan, while also implying that India’s shared rivalry with China and Pakistan has been a reason for the two countries’ long alliance.
“If India is the glue that binds the Sino-Pak alliance, as many argue, Delhi should have the capacity to weaken that bond through its own policies,” wrote Mohan.
Gurmeet Kanwal, a Delhi-based analyst and retired Indian army brigadier, wrote on the Indian website Daily O that “China is quite obviously engaged in the strategic encirclement of India,” with its policies in Pakistan.
“India should concentrate its energies on developing its economy and building its military capabilities in order to face up to the Chinese challenge,” he wrote.
Pakistani analysts see the growing economic and security cooperation between Islamabad and Beijing as equally beneficial to both sides.
The economic corridor will not only provide China cheaper access to Africa and the Middle East but will also earn Pakistan billions of dollars for providing transit facilities to the world’s second largest economy.
“The completion of the PCEP project will provide the shortest route to Chinese cargo destined for the East and West coasts of Africa and the Middle East,” Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based defense and political analyst told AA.
In return, he said, Pakistan could overcome its persistent energy crisis and reduce its economic reliance on the United States.