The Chinese government on Tuesday said it was unaware of any deal with Pakistan to take over operations at the Gwadar port, contradicting Pakistani officials’ claims that the project had been discussed during Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani's recent visit to Beijing.

“It is my understanding that during the visit last week this issue was not touched upon,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters here on Tuesday.

She was responding to a question about Pakistan Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar’s statement on Saturday that China had “acceded to Pakistan’s request to take over operations” at Gwadar, following the expiration of the current agreement with the Singapore Port Authority.

He had also suggested the two sides had discussed the building of a naval base during Mr. Gilani’s visit. While Pakistan had expressed its gratitude for Chinese help in building a port, the country would be “more grateful” if the Chinese agreed to build a base, he had said.

But Ms. Jiang said she “had not heard of” this project being discussed.

She did, however, add that China would continue assisting development projects in Pakistan. “Over the years, China has provided assistance to Pakistan within its capacity,” she said. “We hope this assistance will help Pakistan to improve its livelihood and realise sustainable economic and social development and we will continue to do so in the future.”

During Mr. Gilani’s visit, the two countries agreed a deal for China to expedite providing 50 JF-17 Thunder aircraft. His visit was seen as bringing the two allies closer, amid recent tensions between the United States and Pakistan in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2.

The Defence Minister’s statement on Gwadar was seen as a further indication of China stepping up military ties, even as U.S. lawmakers called for a scaling back of support.

But even as Pakistani officials have drawn attention to both countries’ close defence ties following the strains with the U.S., Chinese officials and analysts have, contrastingly, sought to play down any suggestions that a rift was bringing the “all-weather” allies even closer.

Officials have also voiced concern that any toning down of U.S. support would lead to instability, with China expressing reluctance to provide any military support even while seeking a greater economic footprint in the region.

“The international community should give Pakistan more understanding and support,” Ms. Jiang said. “The stability and development of Pakistan is closely linked to the stability and development of the South Asia.”

Rong Ying, vice-president of the China Institute for International Studies (CIIS) and an expert on Sino-Pakistan relations, added in an interview with The Hindu that defence ties “were not the focus” of Mr. Gilani's visit, which, he said, would have no significant bearing on either country's ties with the U.S.

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