ISLAMABAD - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrives in Pakistan on Friday for a three-day visit aimed at boosting trade and investment by finalising 20 billion dollars (S$26.2 billion) worth of deals.
Accompanied by a huge business delegation, Wen will be the first Chinese premier in five years to visit the nuclear-armed country on the front line of the US war on Al-Qaeda and battling a Taliban insurgency in its northwest.
Coming from talks in India, where relations have been clouded by sensitive trade and territorial issues, his Pakistan leg may be less politically fraught in a country that regards China as its closest foreign ally.
Pakistan says China has already agreed to development projects worth 13.2 billion dollars in energy, agriculture, infrastructure and health, and wants trade to climb from seven billion to 18 billion dollars in five years.
"Up to 20 billion dollars worth of projects with Chinese help have been completed in Pakistan," a Pakistani government official told AFP.
"Work on projects worth 14 billion dollars is continuing at present, while projects of another 20 billion dollars will be signed between the two sides during the visit," he added.
Pakistan will roll out the red carpet for Wen, who is to meet Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari, address a joint session of the Pakistani parliament and attend a business cooperation summit.
China is a key source of military hardware for Pakistan.
Behind the scenes, there are also believed to be talks on China building a one-gigawatt nuclear power plant as part of Pakistani plans to produce 8,000 megawatts of electricity by 2025 and overcome acute energy shortages.
The West has expressed concern about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, but China has built a 300-megawatt nuclear power reactor at Chashma in central Punjab province and another of the same capacity is under way.
Without going into details, officials here admit Pakistan has a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with China, a counter-weight to India's agreement with the United States on nuclear energy cooperation.
Pakistan depends on China's financial and political clout to offset the perceived threat from chief rival India and rescue its economy from the doldrums of catastrophic flooding, a severe energy crisis and poor foreign investment.
"Pakistan would like to benefit from Chinese experience in agriculture and energy sectors but the major breakthrough is expected to take place in the banking sector," Pakistan's ambassador to China, Masood Khan, told state television.
Reports say Wen will open a branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the top private bank in China.
Pakistan is also keen to enhance student and scholarship exchanges that would allow it to tap into China's growth in science and technology.
State media has quoted Beijing's ambassador to Islamabad, Liu Jian, as saying that trade between China and Pakistan increased to seven billion dollars this year, a rise of 29 per cent over the last 12 months.
Pakistan's prime minister has expressed hope that bilateral trade will rise to between 15 and 18 billion dollars over the next five years.
But security issues will also likely weigh on the agenda. China has been concerned about the threat of Islamist militants infiltrating its territory from Pakistan, particularly in its western Xinjiang region.
Over two days in India, Wen agreed with his counterpart Manmohan Singh that the two sides would double bilateral trade to 100 billion dollars by 2015.
They also pledged to push Indian exports to China in an effort to bridge an annual trade surplus favouring China to the tune of around 20 billion dollars.
The travelling trade delegation also struck deals worth 16 billion dollars, but there appeared precious little progress on easing tensions between the world's two most populous countries.