ISLAMABAD: China's premier began a two-day visit to Pakistan on Wednesday by praising the relationship between the two Asian powers in glowing terms.
Premier Li Keqiang said ''the tree of China-Pakistan friendship'' was planted decades ago, nurtured by successive leaders and ''is now exuberant with abundant fruits''.
Both sides are typically effusive in describing their alliance, underlying the mutual benefits to each side. Pakistani leaders have on previous visits described the relationship as ''higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey''.
Keqiang arrived in Islamabad on the heels of a visit to India, his first trip abroad since becoming premier in March. Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to downplay a recent border dispute and stressed the aim of forging deeper cooperation. They expressed hope they could increase trade from $61.5 billion last year to $100 billion by 2015.
Pakistan would also like to increase trade with China, although the numbers are much smaller. Trade between the two countries exceeded $12 billion for the first time in 2012, and they hope to reach $15 billion within three years, according to a statement by Pakistan's Foreign Ministry.
The two countries are expected to sign agreements related to energy, technology and space during Keqiang’s visit.
''Friendship with China is a cornerstone of our foreign policy,'' President Asif Ali Zardari said in a speech Wednesday before a lunch hosted in Keqiang’s honour.
The lunch was attended by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) won a resounding victory in national elections on May 11 and is set to form the next government.
Sharif's main focus is on turning around Pakistan's stuttering economy, and its relationship with China is an important factor in the country's growth.
China took over operational control of a strategic deep-water seaport on Pakistan's southwest coast earlier this year that could serve as a vital economic hub for Beijing and perhaps a key military outpost. Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea occupies a strategic location between South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. It lies near the Strait of Hormuz, gateway for about 20 per cent of the world's oil.