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Balancing act with ‘dear brother’

world Updated: Dec 04, 2008 22:43 IST
Reshma Patil

The hotlines between Beijing and Islamabad were busy as the Taj hotel smouldered and accusations flew against Pakistan.

Beijing, which hosted President Asif Ali Zardari in October and sent him home with a dozen deals and a joint statement saying China considers Pakistan its ‘dear brother,’ was quick to condemn the attacks and sympathise with India. But soon after, according to the Pakistan media, China also made it clear that it would stand by its all-weather ally.

“China has assured full moral, financial and material support to Pakistan in the wake of the situation after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai,” reported the Associated Press of Pakistan this week. “China, in a message to Pakistan's top slot, said that the country would assist Pakistan in any situation to overcome the problems and challenges faced by it.”

On Beijing campuses, the attacks are a talking point among India watchers.

“We still cannot judge if Pakistan is involved,” Han Hua, an associate professor at the School of International Studies in Peking University, told the Hindustan Times.

“China has no position to put a finger on Pakistan,” she said. “But China would like to maintain peace and persuade Pakistan to talk with India.”

While Pakistan was fending off the world’s questions about its alleged role in the terror strike, foreign ministers of China and Pakistan spoke on the telephone and condemned the attacks.

“China can persuade Pakistan to keep calm if relations (with India) become tense,” Ma Jiali, a South Asia specialist at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told HT. Ma has fond memories of Mumbai visits and spent hours following the news.

Beijing will now demand more anti-terrorism cooperation from the nation it supplies arms, nuclear power technology and aid in building strategic infrastructure. China is fighting its own battle against terrorism in its northwest Xinjiang, from groups said to be training on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The first reaction among the Chinese was whether China would face such an attack in future,” said Han. Chinese counter-terrorism experts are talking about learning lessons from the Mumbai attacks.

And as China struggles to keep its growth rate above an almost two-decade low projected for next year, it cannot afford to anger India — Pakistan's rival and China's fast-growing trade partner. “As demand from the West slows,” Han pointed out, “China will rely more and more on trade with developing economies like India”.