As Pakistan Prime Minister begins four-day visit, Chinese State media downplay suggestions a Pakistan-U.S. rift was bringing the two allies even closer

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday began his four-day China visit voicing strong support for a greater role for Beijing on the international stage and underscoring the deepening ties between the “all-weather” strategic allies.

“We are happy to see China shape the 21st century world,” Mr. Gilani said, inaugurating a cultural form in Suzhou, an ancient Chinese city in southern Jiangsu province.

“We admire the accomplishments of the great Chinese nation,” he said. “The world is witnessing today a renaissance of ancient glorious Chinese civilisation. I have no doubt that Chinese sagacity and thought will have a profoundly beneficial impact on mankind as a

whole.”

Mr. Gilani said the two countries were “building new bridges” and “enhancing connectivity,” stressing the growing cultural contact between both countries. He pointed to the setting up of Confucius Institutes in Pakistan, as well as Pakistan study centres at some of China’s biggest universities, as bringing the two countries closer.

Mr. Gilani’s visit was scheduled to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries, on May 21. It has, however, been seen as assuming particular significance amid new uncertainties facing the region, following the May 2 killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden’s killing has led to increased international pressure on Islamabad to crack down on terrorist groups operating on its soil, with calls from some U.S. legislators to scale back financial assistance.

In recent days, Chinese officials have strongly supported Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts, as well as called on “relevant countries” to continue supporting Pakistan. Chinese officials and analysts have also hit out at criticism, voiced by U.S. officials, India and other Western countries, at Pakistan’s failure to effectively crack down on terror, stressing the country’s “sacrifices” at the “forefront” of the fight against terrorism.

“Pakistan's sincerity in the anti-terror crusade should not be questioned as the country has borne and continues to bear the brunt of international terrorism,” the official China Daily said in an

editorial. “In addition to the huge cost in human lives, direct and indirect Pakistani losses engendered from the fight against terrorism over the past 10 years have reached $100 billion.”

In Suzhou, Mr. Gilani particularly pointed to trust and closeness between the two countries, at a time when Islamabad’s ties with Washington have been strained by growing mistrust.

“The China-Pakistan friendship epitomises complete understanding, full trust and mutual cooperation and harmony,” he said.

On Wednesday, Chinese state media did, however, downplay suggestions that strains with the U.S. would see a tightening of China’s ties with Pakistan.

“Any over-interpretation of Gilani's ongoing visit to China will prove to be superficial and speculative,” the China Daily said.

The newspaper also said China was supportive of better ties between Pakistan and the U.S., saying the two countries’ “stable and growing bilateral relationship does not target any third party, but rather contributes to regional peace and stability.”

“China hopes to see U.S.-Pakistani relations improve as it is in the same boat with the two

countries in fighting terrorism,” it said.

Sun Shihai, vice-director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Communist Party-run Global Times that Mr. Gilani’s visit would not impact Pakistan’s ties with the U.S., even as other analysts suggests the Pakistan Prime Minister was seeking greater Chinese economic and diplomatic support during his visit to China.

“I don’t think Gilani’s visit to China has any special implications for Pakistan-U.S. relations because all parties have their own to play for the regional stability,” he said.

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