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China's top diplomat arrives in Pakistan amid strained U.S. ties

Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo

Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo   | Photo Credit: Xie Huanchi

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Deal signed for upgrading Karakoram Highway while State Councillor Dai Bingguo "assured Pakistan of continued support and cooperation in economic, strategic, defence and other spheres"

China’s top diplomat travelled to Pakistan on Friday on a visit officials said was aimed at taking the “all-weather” allies’ relationship to “a new high”, coming against the backdrop of renewed strains in Islamabad’s ties with Washington.

State Councillor Dai Bingguo, who is China’s most important official when it comes to foreign policy, arrived in the Pakistani capital on Friday, the State-run Xinhua news agency said.

His visit, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, was part of both countries’ celebration of 60 years of diplomatic ties. Beyond the anniversary celebrations, Mr. Dai’s visit has assumed particular significance in the wake of last month’s attack by NATO forces on two Pakistani border posts, which left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead and 13 others injured.

On Friday evening, Mr. Dai attended a banquet in his honour hosted by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, and also met with Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

Ms. Khar “conveyed her appreciation for China’s support for Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” following the NATO strikes, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Mr. Dai “assured Pakistan of the continued support and cooperation in economic, strategic, defence and other spheres,” the statement said.

At the banquet, Mr. Gilani said “friendship with China is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy,” and that there was “complete convergence of views of our two countries on the global and regional issues.”

Mr. Dai called on the two countries to boost “practical cooperation". He cited the upgrading of the Karakoram Highway and a 10 billion RMB (US$ 1.58 billion) currency swap agreement, deals for which were signed on Friday, as evidence of continuing cooperation.

“Going forward, China will reduce tariffs on Pakistani goods and increase imports from Pakistan within the framework of the China-Pakistan Free Trade area,” he said.

“We will continue to give sincere and selfless assistance to Pakistan’s economic and social development, and provide financing support for major cooperative projects such as upgrading and realignment of the Karakoram Highway and the Guddu power plant.”

A loan agreement for providing US$ 259 million credit for upgrading and realigning the Karakoram Highway was signed, as well as a $464 million credit deal for the Guddu power plant, Pakistani media reported.

During his visit, Mr. Dai will also meet Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, spokesperson Liu Weimin said at a briefing on Friday afternoon.

China has clearly conveyed to Pakistan it will fully back its position on the NATO incident, and would stand together with Islamabad against any countries that “violate its sovereignty”, diplomatic sources told The Hindu.

The Pakistani Army has indicated it will reject the findings of an investigation by the U.S. and NATO into the attack. Following the NATO-led attack, Pakistan has also asked the U.S. to vacate the Shamsi airbase within 15 days and said it would close all NATO supply lines.

The NATO strike, as well as the earlier May 2 raid by the U.S. to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, have strained ties between Islamabad and Washington.

China emerged as the lone voice in the international community to strongly back an embattled Pakistani government which faced widespread criticism after the death of the former Al Qaeda leader.

China expressed “shock” at last month’s NATO raid, and said it expressed “strong concerns” at the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Despite China’s voicing of strong support, Beijing has yet to significantly boost either financial or military support to Islamabad.Chinese officials have also recently denied claims by Pakistani officials that China was considering setting up a naval base in the port of Gwadar, which China has helped build.

Asked if there was a mismatch between China’s rhetoric and its actual willingness to boost support to Pakistan, one Chinese analyst who advises the government on its Pakistani policy told The Hindu in a recent interview it would be wrong to measure Chinese support in terms of military aid or “dollars.”

The analyst pointed to other areas where China had provided "invaluable" support to Pakistan, such as civilian nuclear cooperation. According to recent media reports, the State-run China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is in talks with the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission over setting up two 1,000 MW plants at the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant, Kanupp-2 and Kanupp-3.

Mr. Liu of the Foreign Ministry did not say on Friday whether any agreements would be signed during Mr. Dai’s visit, although both Chinese and Pakistani officials have recently indicated the two countries will go ahead with nuclear cooperation despite international concerns, pointing out that all agreements were under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

“Both sides will use the visit to discuss the future development of practical cooperation and exchange views on other issues of common concern,” said Mr. Liu. “China is satisfied with the present course of bilateral ties and has full confidence in prospects for future cooperation the future.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 10:14:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/chinas-top-diplomat-arrives-in-pakistan-amid-strained-us-ties/article2741903.ece

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