Asif Ali Zardari visit China as nuclear deal advances

Islamabad looked to Beijing to counter to Indian influence.

China said on Tuesday that it will host Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari for top-level talks in early July, but would not say whether a controversial nuclear energy deal between the two nations will be discussed.

Zardari is a regular visitor to China, and his next trip from July 6 to 11 will include meetings with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news conference.

The announcement of the visit follows signs that China is moving forward with long-discussed plans to build two nuclear reactors at Pakistan’s Chashma atomic complex, expanding a project that has worried Washington and India. [ID:nTOE65N02E]

Two Chinese nuclear companies this month signed a contract to cooperate in construct the third and fourth plants at Chashma, building on China’s rule at the complex in Punjab province. Pakistan faces severe power shortages.

Qin did not directly answer reporters’ questions about whether the deal will be discussed during Zardari’s visit.

“Both sides will exchange views on how to advance friendly cooperation in all areas, and also on international and regional issues of shared concern,” said Qin.

Mounting indications that China will proceed with the reactor expansion in Pakistan, troubled by militant groups, have stirred international misgivings, especially in neighbouring India and the United States, who have their own nuclear energy deal.

The United States said this month it wanted clarification from China on the proposed plants.

Pakistan and India are rivals, and both possess nuclear weapons and stay outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Islamabad has looked to Beijing to counter to Indian influence. In past decades, Chinese expertise was crucial to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, experts widely believe.

The proposed China-Pakistan nuclear energy deal was discussed last week by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a body of 46 governments that seek to control access to their nuclear fuel and reactor technology to prevent the spread of atomic weapons.

The Chinese spokesman Qin said that any nuclear cooperation with Pakistan should not worry any other countries.

“Cooperation between China and Pakistan for the use of nuclear energy fully conforms with the international non-proliferation undertakings assumed by both countries and is entirely for peaceful purposes,” he said.

(Reuters)

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