Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao assured his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani of China’s “all-weather friendship” on Wednesday, during a visit that sharply contrasted with anger between Washington and Islamabad.
“I wish to stress here that no matter what changes might take place in the international landscape, China and Pakistan will remain forever good neighbours, good friends, good partners and good brothers,” Wen told Gilani at the start of a meeting in central Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Gilani’s four-day trip to China began on Tuesday, marking 60 years of diplomatic ties, and has given the neighbours a chance to display their steadfast friendship, which is at odds with U.S. criticism of Pakistan’s inability to catch Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan’s brittle relationship with the United States, its major donor, was intensely strained after U.S. forces on May 2 killed bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, in Pakistan. He appears to have hidden there for years, prompting anger and questions in Washington about why he was not found sooner.
Wen said that Pakistan had made “huge sacrifices” in the international struggle against terrorism, Chinese state television reported.
“Pakistan’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected,” it paraphrased Wen as saying.
“The international community must understand and support Pakistan’s efforts towards maintaining domestic stability and realising economic development.”
Wen and Gilani oversaw the signing of several agreements, including one extending China’s role in the Saindak gold and copper in Pakistan up to 2017, and one on cooperating in bank regulation, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Close ties between China and Pakistan reflect long-standing shared wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to hedge against U.S. influence across the region.
On Wednesday, official Chinese media kept up that theme.
“Currently, China and Pakistan both regard each other as diplomatic cornerstones and important backers,” said a commentary in the overseas edition of the People’s Daily, China’s main government newspaper.
Beijing’s support for Pakistan reflects its worries about instability spilling into its own western regions, especially heavily Muslim Xinjiang.
But the mutual vows of the Sino-Pakistani all-weather friendship only go so far, several analysts said. Pakistan’s government and military are too reliant on U.S. security and economic aid to risk that alliance, they said.
Nor does Beijing want to risk deep entanglement in volatile Pakistani politics, risking its own interests and alienating India, a big but wary trade partner.
“Pakistan has high hopes for China, because its relations with the United States are so tense,” said Hu Shisheng, an expert on South Asia at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think tank in Beijing.
“But nonetheless the U.S.-Pakistani anti-terror alliance isn’t going to rupture.” ( REUTERS)