China has indicated it will deepen cooperation with Pakistan on counterterrorism issues and back its long-term strategic ally's efforts to maintain stability, in the wake of renewed international concern over the country's efforts to clamp down on terrorist groups on its soil following Osama bin Laden's killing.

While the Chinese government, as of Monday evening, had not issued any statement on Osama's death, strategic analysts at official think-tanks here told The Hindu they believed China's primary concern now was that any subsequent toning down of counterterrorism operations could destabilise the region.

China would, in coming months, look to step up its already substantial economic and development assistance to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the United States preparing for the withdrawal of troops from the region, they said.

Strategic dialogue

Only on Saturday, less than a day before the death of the al-Qaeda leader, China and Pakistan concluded a strategic dialogue which focused on expanding cooperation on counterterrorism and in Afghanistan.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun agreed to deepen coordination on “matters relating to counter-terrorism and the imperative need of promoting stability and peace in Afghanistan”, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

“The exchange of views between China and Pakistan on assessing how to maintain closer coordination and cooperation is to address the uncertainties in the region in the context of the United States aiming to scale down or withdraw forces from July 2011,” Rong Ying, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) and an expert on China's relations with Pakistan, told The Hindu.

“Now with the death of Osama bin Laden, this kind of coordination and consultation is even more significant,” he added.

One concern, he noted, was that bin Laden's killing “would give the U.S. and NATO an excuse, that now their mission is fully accomplished so they don't have to invest so much resources”. “The death of Osama is not the end of the war on terror,” he said. “He has been a kind of symbol, but operationally, there are more localised ways of functioning.”

Mr. Rong and other analysts downplayed reported strains in relations between Pakistani and U.S. intelligence agencies, amid debate over how involved the Pakistanis were in Sunday's operation.

Asked whether these reported strains would bring Pakistan even closer to China, one analyst said Pakistan's relations with the U.S. were “too complicated and close” for one or two disagreements to fundamentally alter their strategic partnership.

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