ISLAMABAD (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a two-day visit in which he is expected to announce $45 billion worth of investment projects in energy and infrastructure development.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country's top civilian and military leadership received Xi at an air force base near the capital, Islamabad, complete with a military honor guard and a fighter jet fly-by.
Pakistan's minister for planning and development, Ahsan Iqbal, said the Chinese leader's expected announcement on the projects is "proof of our great bond with China."
Around $37 billion of the $45 billion would be invested in energy, Iqbal said. Work on $28 billion worth of projects can begin immediately, he said, with work on the remainder starting in the next three to five years. Iqbal called the agreements a "milestone in our history."
Sharif said the visit will open a new chapter in bilateral relations. "We will work hand in hand with you to remove any obstacle in your way to ensure timely completion of the planned projects," he said in a meeting with the heads of three Chinese companies.
"I hope, through my visit, the two countries can consolidate the traditional friendship, deepen practical cooperation in all areas, push the strategic cooperative partnership to a new high," Xi said, according to the China's Xinhua news agency.
Xi also hailed Pakistan's contribution to the international counter-terrorism efforts and expressed support for Pakistan's own campaign against militants at home.
Sharif thanked Xi and said their countries' relations are "sweeter than honey and stronger than steel."
"I assured President Xi that Pakistan considers China's security as important as its own," Sharif said, adding that the two countries signed 51 agreements on Monday alone. "Today, we have planned for the future."
China and Pakistan have long maintained close political and military relations, based partly on mutual antipathy toward neighbor India. However, stronger China-India ties have challenged that perception and Xi's visit seems intended to reassure Pakistan that relations remain robust.
Xi postponed a visit to Islamabad last year due to anti-government protests and went ahead with a visit to India. China is also eager to boost trade and investment with New Delhi, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Beijing in the coming weeks.
China is a leading arms supplier to Pakistan and has sought its help in combating anti-Chinese Islamic separatists reportedly hiding in the country's lawless tribal areas. China is also eager to enlist Pakistan's help in stabilizing Afghanistan as U.S. and international troops wind down their presence there.
Xi is traveling with a large business delegation and is expected to oversee the signing of investment agreements in the energy and transportation industries, part of Beijing's plan for a China-Pakistan "economic corridor."
"This is very important for our economic stability and development," said political science professor Raul Bakhsh Rais.
Associated Press Writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.