China defends Pakistan after US slams key Chinese ally for harbouring terrorists
China’s top diplomat voiced support for ally Pakistan on Wednesday after the United States accused Islamabad of being a safe haven for terrorists.
In a phone call with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, State Councillor Yang Jiechi also urged Washington to carefully manage differences between the world’s top two economies.
Yang said the two countries should “properly settle differences” and prepare well for US President Donald Trump’s proposed visit to China later this year, according to Xinhua.
Ties between China and Washington have been strained by a range of issues, from trade rifts to different tacks on containing North Korea’s nuclear threats.
Now a new fissure has opened over Islamabad, with the Trump administration threatening to slash aid to Pakistan as punishment for giving sanctuary to the Taliban and other Islamist militant groups operating in Afghanistan.
“We need to give attention to the important role Pakistan plays in the Afghanistan issue and respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and security concerns,” Yang was quoted as saying to Tillerson.
It was the second time in a week that Beijing had defended Islamabad, which China considers an “all-weather friend” and figures prominently in Beijing’s belt and road trade and infrastructure initiative.
In a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua in Beijing on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised Islamabad for its efforts to combat extremism and to secure the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a development initiative central to President Xi Jinping’s global “Belt and Road Initiative”.
“Given the current complicated and changing international and regional situation, the strategic significance of China-Pakistan relations is even more prominent,” Wang said.
Diplomatic observers said Beijing was apparently concerned about Trump’s toughened position on Pakistan in his new strategy unveiled on Monday for turning around the 16-year conflict in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is a key buyer of Chinese weaponry, accounting for more than 60 per cent of China’s arms exports. Data from Pakistan’s central bank also showed that China directly invested US$2.8 billion in the South Asian nation over the past four years.
Beijing has its own security concerns in the region, in particular any links between militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Islamist groups China blames for violence in its far western region of Xinjiang.
“Washington will definitely need greater cooperation from Pakistan for any peaceful solution to the prolonged Afghan conflict. But instead of admitting US failure, Trump appeared to have been trying to shift the blame on to Pakistan,” said Du Youkang, director of the Centre for South Asia Studies at Fudan University.
Du said cutting or even suspending military and economic aid to Pakistan would hardly help Washington win over Islamabad to help with Afghanistan.
Yin Gang, a Middle Eastern affairs specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also said ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan would do little to help end the conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban terror group.
He said Beijing seemed sceptical of Trump’s new strategy for Afghanistan, which involved sending more troops to do battle in the US’ longest war.
“It remains to be seen if Trump’s proposed deployment of more troops is aimed at stamping out terror groups or boosting the US military presence. Yang’s remarks have yet again shown Beijing’s commitment for a Afghan-owned, Afghan-led reconciliation process,” Yin said.
At the same time, Trump has called on India to step up reconstruction and development initiatives in Afghanistan.