Two countries agree deal for 50 JF-17 fighter jets during Pakistan Prime Minister's visit to Beijing, signalling growing Chinese support to Islamabad

Chinese officials told visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani they had taken up the country’s concerns over the May 2 raid that killed Osama bin Laden in talks with United States officials this month, calling on them to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty.

"China supported Pakistan’s cause on its own” during this month’s strategic and economic dialogue in Washington, Mr. Gilani told reporters here, according to the official Associated Press of Pakistan.

Chinese officials also told their American counterparts “there should be no harm to the Pakistani sovereignty and the US should understand and appreciate concerns of Pakistan,” he said.

On Thursday, Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. emerged as the focus of Mr. Gilani’s on-going four-day visit, with both Chinese and Pakistan officials stressing mutual support to ensure each other’s sovereignty amid Pakistani criticism of the U.S. killing of bin Laden.

In a strong indication of China's continuing support to its long-term strategic ally, the two countries agreed a deal for 50 JF-17 Chinese fighter jets to be provided to Pakistan, officials told Pakistani media.

The deal, analysts said, underscored the importance of Chinese assistance to Islamabad, at a time when its relations with Washington have come under strains, with some U.S. lawmakers even calling for a scaling back of assistance.

Chinese officials on Thursday refused to comment on the deal. Officials also sought to downplay differences with the U.S., stressing the common interest both countries had in a stable Pakistan.

While the Pakistani media reported that China had strongly taken up Pakistan's concerns with U.S. officials following the May 2 raid in Abbottabad, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu only said countries needed to respect the “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan.”

"We believe that Pakistan has made great contribution to international counterterrorism efforts, as well as huge sacrifices,” she said. “The international community should understand and support Pakistan’s efforts to restore national stability and develop its economy.”

In a speech at Beijing’s Peking University on Thursday, Mr. Gilani said the country was "grateful to China for extending its full support to Pakistan in our own national efforts to safeguard our sovereignty and our core national interests."

He said China was the first country to support Pakistan following bin Laden’s killing, against the backdrop of increasing international criticism over the country’s efforts to crack down on terror. At a banquet later in the day, Mr. Gilani described China as "the only voice of reason in international affairs."

On Thursday, China’s Exim Bank announced its support for the building of a highway from Karachi to the port at Gwadar, which China is helping Pakistan build. The bank has also assisted the building and widening of the Karakoram highway, as well as the setting up of nuclear power plants at Chashma.

Mr. Gilani will hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday, before heading back to Islamabad.

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