Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani may have been in Boao to attend its three-day conclave, meant to provide an Asian equivalent of the annual World Economic Forum at Davos, this year titled ‘Asia in a changing world: towards healthy and sustainable development’, but his sideline meetings are perhaps of greater immediate importance for Pakistan. Mr Gilani met Chinese Executive Vice-Premier Lee Keqiang, who is expected to take over from current Prime Minister Wen Jiabao at the end of this year. Apart from the meeting being important as an introduction, it also allowed Mr Gilani to make an important invitation and give an important assurance. The invitation was for China to boost its support to hydropower and nuclear projects in Pakistan. The assurance was that the government was ‘committed to fighting terrorism in all its forms.’ China sees this as particularly relevant because of its concerns about Uighurs from the far Western Xinjiang province, also known as Chinese Turkestan, where their resistance is said to be on the rise, supposedly receiving help from Pakistan.

Mr Gilani had a meeting with Iranian Vice-President Jawad Mohammadizadeh. Him he assured about Pakistan’s intention to buy 1000MW of electricity from Iran. This is in addition to the gas it is buying after it remained a customer for the gas pipeline to which it was originally just meant as a place of transition for the main customer, India, it kept the project alive after India reneged on it because of American pressure, itself also resisting American pressure, and now it has extended an assurance about the power it intends to buy. Apart from the gas, Mr Gilani has also expressed an interest in buying Iranian oil. This readiness to increase dependence on a neighbouring Muslim country may not sit well with the USA, but it reflected Gilani’s concern at the perennial power shortage. While he has been abroad, power protests have left one dead. Mr Gilani’s interest in Iranian oil may well have been prompted by the protests that have followed the most recent price increases, but he should realize that fuel cannot be supplied undercutting the world market.

Another important appeal Mr Gilani made to Mr Li was trade. He expressed the hope that the bilateral trade would reach $15 billion in the next three or four years. Last year, trade had increased to reach $10.6 billion, and he also expressed satisfaction from Pakistani exports to China doubling from $1 billion in 2008 to $2.1 billion in 2011. This raises the question of why Pakistan and Iran are not doing more to promote trade. Indeed, Pakistan should take the lead in this.