China on Sunday reaffirmed its support to Asif Ali Zardari's under-fire Pakistani government in the clearest terms yet, even as Pakistan has come under increasing pressure from both India and the United States for not doing enough to clamp down on terror outfits operating on its soil.
“I believe the government of Pakistan has effective control over the situation [there],” Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told journalists along the sidelines of the annual convening of the National People's Congress, China's legislature.
Mr. Yang was asked if China was in any way re-evaluating its relationship with its historically-close strategic ally in light of the instability in the country. Following last July's riots in China's restive Xinjiang region, Chinese officials have expressed increasing concern over the spread of extremist groups from northwest Pakistan to its far-western Muslim-majority “autonomous region”.
In the aftermath of the riots, which killed at least 200 people, a delegation of Chinese officials visited Islamabad with the specific mission of urging the government to clamp down on terror outfits.
China has blamed foreign-based separatist groups for organising the riots in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital.
Convincing Chinese officials that Pakistan had closed down groups with links to Xinjiang was the focus of Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's visit to Beijing last month, when he held talks with Mr. Yang. Mr. Qureshi's case was helped by the February 15 killing of Abdul Haq Al-Turkistani in the country's North Waziristan region by a U.S. drone attack. He is the leader of the Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP), which called for attacks on China and Chinese citizens overseas as “revenge” for the July riots in Xinjiang. The TIP, like other Xinjiang-based separatist groups, seeks the establishment of an independent East Turkestan state in Xinjiang.
Following Mr. Qureshi's visit, China appears to have somewhat softened its tone. On Sunday, Mr. Yang said China backed Mr. Zardari's government's efforts in clamping down on terror and would continue to support it. Pakistan receives substantial financial and military assistance from China. Mr. Yang said: “China and Pakistan will continue to expand practical co-operation on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, and China will continue to support stability and development and prosperity in Pakistan.”