Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani declared China his country’s “best and most trusted” friend as he arrived in Beijing on Tuesday in the wake of fraying relations with another key ally, the United States.
Gilani’s trip follows the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US special forces on Pakistani soil this month in a raid that has cast a pall over US-Pakistan ties and has seen a hardening of Washington’s tenor vis-à-vis Islamabad.
“We appreciate that in all difficult circumstances, China stood with Pakistan. Therefore, we call China a true friend and a time-tested and all-weather friend,” Gilani told China’s official Xinhua news agency in an interview.
“We are proud to have China as our best and most trusted friend, and China will always find Pakistan standing beside it,” Gilani added, ahead of his arrival in Shanghai late Tuesday confirmed by a Pakistani official.
His comments appeared to underscore tensions with Washington following the May 2 US raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad.
Gilani had no engagements in China until a speech scheduled on Wednesday at a cultural forum in the eastern city of Suzhou, officials said.
He is then to travel to Beijing to meet Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
The two sides are expected to sign a series of cooperation agreements and discuss how they can better combat extremism.
China is the main arms supplier to Pakistan, which sees Beijing as an important counter-balance to Pakistan’s traditional rival India. New Delhi has recently improved its ties with the US, causing worry in Islamabad.
China and Pakistan were expected to reaffirm their “all-weather” friendship during Gilani’s stay.
China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said that Beijing “unswervingly” supports Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.
“Pakistan has made very important contributions in international counter-terrorism cooperation as well as great sacrifices,” she told reporters.
By contrast, Kerry stressed that US lawmakers were demanding a review of billions of dollars in aid money to Pakistan.
Facing weak Western investment in its moribund economy and crippling power shortages, Pakistan is looking for closer trade and energy ties with China.
Pakistan last week opened a 330-megawatt nuclear power plant in central Punjab with Chinese help and said Beijing had been contracted to construct two more reactors.
The plans have triggered US concern over the safety
of nuclear materials in the militancy-hit country.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2011.