Wen says China friends ‘forever’ with Pakistan


China’s Premier Wen Jiabao on Wednesday told his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani their nations would stay friends “forever”, as Islamabad faces US pressure after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Gilani met Wen on the second day of a visit to China that follows the May 2 killing of the Al-Qaeda leader by US special forces on Pakistani soil — a raid that has rattled US-Pakistan ties and prompted Islamabad to court ally Beijing.
“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 said.
The assault on bin Laden’s compound has prompted questions as to whether Pakistan’s security establishment helped him find safe haven, and has also angered Islamabad, which was not told about the raid until after it took place.
Pakistan’s defence minister Ahmad Mukhtar said Wen and Gilani discussed the issue during their talks.
“We told them (Chinese delegation) that our sovereignty had to be accepted by everybody. We will not let anybody come into our territory without announcing who they are,” he said.
China has consistently defended its ally since the raid, and Wen continued to do so Wednesday.
“Pakistan has made great sacrifices and important contributions in the global fight against terror,” he said.
Gilani, meanwhile, also hailed the strong relationship with China, describing it as an “all-weather friendship” earlier in the day.
“Pakistan and China are close friends and good neighbours. Our all-weather friendship is deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of our two peoples,” he said in a speech at a cultural forum in the eastern city of Suzhou.
“Pakistan-China friendship epitomises complete understanding, full trust, mutual cooperation and harmony. It is an abiding friendship based on shared values and ideals.”
Similar comments a day earlier by Gilani fuelled calls from US lawmakers to slash aid to Islamabad, after US Senator John Kerry tried to set relations back on the right foot on a visit to Pakistan earlier this week.
Kerry said lawmakers, angry over what they see as Islamabad’s lack of cooperation, are demanding a review of the billions of dollars in aid sent to Pakistan — and one key senator said Gilani’s praise of China was unhelpful.
Republican Senator James Risch said continued aid to Pakistan was “a hard sell to the American people” when cash-strapped Washington sends help, only to see “the head of Pakistan go to China and… say ‘you’re our best friend’.”
China is the main arms supplier to Pakistan, which sees Beijing as an important counter-balance to its traditional rival India. New Delhi has recently improved its ties with the United States, causing worry in Islamabad.
During their talks, Wen and Gilani discussed Islamabad’s desire to increase production of the JF-17 — a fighter jet developed by China and Pakistan — and its plans to buy China’s J-10 combat aircraft, Mukhtar said.
The two sides also signed several economic and energy agreements.
Gilani is expected to seek closer energy links with Beijing during the trip, as his country faces crippling power shortages and weak Western investment in Pakistan’s struggling economy.
Pakistan last week opened a 330-megawatt nuclear power plant in central Punjab province with Chinese help and said Beijing had been contracted to construct two more reactors.
China needs Islamabad’s cooperation in stemming potential terrorist threats in its mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan.
But political analysts have said a wary Beijing was unlikely to buttress its verbal backing of Islamabad with significant aid money or other new support out of fear of getting too entangled in the troubled nation’s fortunes.
Gilani is due to meet President Hu Jintao on Friday to wrap up the visit.