ISLAMABAD, May 23 (UPI) -- Visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Thursday with Pakistan's military leaders as the countries seek to deepen already strong bilateral strategic ties.
Li, who arrived Wednesday in Pakistan, met with Pakistani army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, naval chief Adm. Mohammad Asif Sandila and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Khalid Shameem Wyne in Islamabad, Dawn reported.
Li's visit comes as Pakistanis prepare to install Nawaz Sharif as prime minster for the third time after Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party won an impressive victory in the May 11 general elections.
It will be first time in Pakistan's 66-year history when a civilian government will succeed another one instead of the military. The military, however, continues to be the most powerful force in the nuclear-armed country China regards as a close ally.
Li, who became premier during the recent once-in-a-decade change of leadership in China, visited Pakistan's archrival India before heading to Islamabad. His next two foreign stops as a senior representative of China's new and progressive leadership will be Switzerland and Germany.
Li pledged Wednesday to deepen strategic ties between China and Pakistan irrespective of the international situation, Dawn reported. During the day, he also met with various officials including Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who said the visit will "mark yet another important step forward in reinforcing the strategic partnership between the two countries."
China and Pakistan have maintained their's is an "all-weather" strategic partnership. Sharif's government, which isn't expected to make changes in that policy, is coming to power when Pakistan has been ravaged for years by militant, sectarian and political violence that have killed tens of thousands of people and crippled the economy.
Security has been extremely tight during Li's visit.
"China-Pakistan ties are time-tested. The two countries are all-weather friends and partners that can trust and rely on each other," Li said after meeting with Zardari, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported. He said despite volatile regional and global circumstances, the two countries have maintained sound strategic communication and coordination.
Li also said China has treated relations with Pakistan as a foreign policy priority. He urged the two sides strengthen strategic communication and coordination, maintain high-level contacts, open new cooperation areas such as connectivity and maritime sectors, formulate a long-term plan for a China-Pakistan economic corridor project, and further raise the level of bilateral trade as China encourages its enterprises to participate in Pakistan's infrastructure construction.
Li said China is willing to provide help for Pakistan's economic development, Xinhua reported.
The Voice of America reported China is Pakistan's biggest arms supplier. Additionally, more than 120 Chinese companies do business in Pakistan, while about 14,000 Chinese workers and engineers work on different projects in Pakistan. Beijing has also helped Islamabad set up three nuclear power plants with plans for a fourth.
A Xinhua commentary said: "Militarily, China eyes pragmatic and effective cooperation with Pakistan, which is in the front line of the fight against international terrorism. The military exchanges are not directed against any third party and contribute to peace and stability in both the region and the whole world."
The Li visit also produced 12 agreements and memoranda of understanding between the countries. The agreements mainly deal with the long-term economic corridor plan, maritime cooperation and satellite navigation.