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China will remain 'forever friends' with Pakistan

world Updated: May 18, 2011 17:38 IST

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao assured his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani of China's "all-weather friendship" on Wednesday, at the start of a visit that sharply contrasts with the intense strain at present between Washington and Islamabad.

"I wish to stress here that no matter what changes might take place in the international landscape, China and Pakistan will remain forever good neighbours, good friends, good partners and good brothers," Wen told Gilani, according to a pool report.

"I do believe that this visit will give a strong boost to the friendship and cooperation between our two countries and take that friendship and cooperation to a new high," he added, during a meeting in central Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

Gilani's four-day trip to China began on Tuesday to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties, but has also given the neighbours a chance to display their steadfast friendship, which stands at odds with US anger at Pakistan's inability to catch Osama bin Laden.

"I would like to thank your Excellency for the warm welcome and hospitality accorded to me and my delegation since our arrival in China," Gilani told Wen.

Pakistan's brittle relationship with the United States, its major donor, was intensely strained after US forces on May 2 killed bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, in Pakistan. He appears to have hidden there for years, prompting anger and questions in Washington about why he was not found sooner.

"All-weather Friends"
China and Pakistan praise each other as "all-weather friends" and their close ties reflect long-standing shared wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to hedge against U.S. influence across the region.

On Wednesday, official Chinese media kept up that theme.

"Currently, China and Pakistan both regard each other as diplomatic cornerstones and important backers," said a commentary in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, China's main government newspaper.

Beijing's support for Pakistan reflects its worries about instability spilling into its own western regions, especially heavily Muslim Xinjiang.

But the mutual vows of Sino-Pakistani friendship only go so far in balancing U.S. influence, several analysts told Reuters.

Pakistan's government and military are too reliant on U.S. security and economic aid to risk that alliance.

Nor does Beijing want to risk deep entanglement in volatile Pakistani politics, risking its own interests and alienating India, a big but wary trade partner.

"Pakistan has high hopes for China, because its relations with the United States are so tense," said Hu Shisheng, an expert on South Asia at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a think tank in Beijing.

"But nonetheless the US-Pakistani anti-terror alliance isn't going to rupture."