China and Pakistan on Wednesday agreed to deepen cooperation on fighting terrorism and economic issues, but were silent on their controversial plans to expand nuclear engagement which have stirred debate.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, here on a working visit, held talks with President Hu Jintao on Wednesday afternoon. Expanding trade and cooperation on security issues, particularly combating terror, were the focus of the talks, said officials.
The Pakistani media reported that expanding nuclear cooperation was also on the agenda, though Chinese officials declined to confirm it.
The China National Nuclear Corporation recently announced China would set up two power reactors in Pakistan, a move that some countries say goes against China's non-proliferation commitments as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). China has already set up two power reactors in Chashma, under an agreement which predated its joining of the NSG in 2004.
Pakistan's Ambassador to China Masood Khan said he did not expect any agreement on nuclear cooperation to be signed during Mr. Zardari's on-going visit. “China and Pakistan have several cooperation projects in the field of civil nuclear energy in the past, and the cooperation will continue in the future,” he told reporters. “But I'm not anticipating any agreement to be signed during the President's visit this time.” He, however, said he expected the deal for the two new reactors to go ahead. “The Chashma project has been there for decades and will continue,” he said.
Following Wednesday's talks, Pakistan and China signed six agreements on agriculture, healthcare, justice, media, economy and technology, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The Chinese leadership this week also reiterated its support to Pakistan on fighting terrorism. China has, in the past, called on Pakistan to do more to shut down training camps which Beijing has linked to terrorist groups in its western Xinjiang region, such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). But in a show of unity on an issue that some analysts say has exerted strains on the “all-weather” friendship, the two countries are holding a joint anti-terror drill to coincide with Mr. Zardari's visit.
Mr. Zardari arrived in Beijing on Tuesday evening, the same day National Security Adviser (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon left the Chinese capital after a four-day visit. While China's nuclear cooperation with Pakistan did figure during his talks with the Chinese leadership, the focus of the visit was on taking forward bilateral relations between China and India, officials said.
Indian officials, and their Chinese counterparts, this week pointedly sought to play down the ‘Pakistan factor' — historically a source of distrust — as an irritant in the relationship. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said China wanted “to develop good, neighbourly, friendly and cooperative relationships” with both countries.
China increasingly viewed its relationship with India as transcending regional issues and as one of global, strategic significance, said Rong Ying, a senior South Asia scholar and vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), a think-tank closely affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.
He said there was no “hyphen between India and Pakistan” in terms of China's foreign policy considerations.
“I don't think China is seeking a coordinated relationship or balanced relationship between India and Pakistan,” he said. “China-India relations have their own logic and priorities. I think the importance of China-India relations has now transcended bilateral relations, and is of global, strategic importance.”