Pakistani minister’s visit to Beijing comes at tricky time after China’s ‘terrorist’ declaration

Islamabad was upset by statement released at BRICS summit, but Sino-Pakistani ties unlikely to suffer in long run, expert says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 10:31pm

Pakistan’s foreign minister is expected to begin his visit to Beijing on Friday, at what could be an awkward time for China, after Xi Jinping signed a leaders’ declaration at a recent summit of emerging economies that named Pakistan-based groups as terrorists.

Islamabad reacted strongly to the declaration, released at the conclusion of the summit between China, Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa, with its defence minister rejecting allegations that Pakistan was a safe haven for terrorists.

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Despite the heated words, observers said the long-term relationship between China and Pakistan was unlikely to be damaged.

The contention surrounded the status of certain Pakistani militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Islamabad has long rejected categorising them as terrorists, but the BRICS nations expressed concern at the “threat posed by terror groups, including those based in Pakistan”.

Before departing for Beijing, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif said the nation would continue to face “embarrassment” if terror groups were not reined in.

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That pitted him against the hardline Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir, who said Pakistanis “reject” the BRICS declaration. Pakistan was not a “safe haven” for terrorists, he said, adding that the government had taken action against all such groups based on its soil.

Pang Zhongying, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said Pakistan’s ties with China would remain stable due to their mutual concerns regarding India’s influence in the region. He cautioned against a misinterpretation of the BRICS declaration.

“Statements of this sort are a combination of views from all parties concerned, so it should not be seen as China’s view per se,” he said.

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Last month, US President Donald Trump, in a televised address to announce his Afghanistan and South Asia policy, hit out at Pakistan for providing safe havens for “agents of chaos” that kill Americans in Afghanistan. He also warned that Islamabad had “much to lose” by harbouring terrorists.

Veerle Nouwens, a researcher on Asia Studies at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, said Asif was mainly looking for Beijing’s help on security matters.

“Trump’s singling out of Pakistan for harbouring terrorist organisations has led to a downturn in US-Pakistan relations. Pakistan will be looking to China to discuss not just their economic relationship, but how to proceed with matters of regional security, like Afghanistan,” Nouwens said.

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China’s ambassador to Pakistan has urged Islamabad on several occasions to improve security, especially in Baluchistan province, where China, under its “Belt and Road Initiative”, is building a port and funding roads to connect its western regions with the Arabian Sea.

In June, Islamic State militants active in Pakistan killed two Chinese teachers kidnapped in Baluchistan.

Additional reporting by Kristin Huang