Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has made some strikingly effusive pronouncements about his country’s enduring relationship with Pakistan. The official Chinese news agency Xinhua has quoted Li as saying, "China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic partners.”
"It is the consistent policy of the Chinese government to develop a friendly relationship with Pakistan. The Chinese side would firmly consolidate and develop China-Pakistan relations no matter how the international and regional situation changes," the premier has been quoted as saying.
He went to Pakistan after completing his first three-day state visit to India. Although the Indian visit was appropriately polite and carefully optimistic, Li seemed to feel much at home in Pakistan, a sort of place where he can loosen his tie, take off his shoes and rest his feet on the coffee table.
The assertion that the bilateral relations would be strengthened even further “no matter how the international and regional situation changes” sounds a bit excessive but sums up their old friendship. As the U.S. winds down its military presence in Afghanistan no one should be surprised if China and Pakistan make a joint play for influence over that country. Not that China needs Pakistan in order to make its presence felt in Afghanistan but it always helps if the latter is part of the equation.
The rich Afghan minerals resource is a major draw for China which is already involved in developing the world’s second largest copper mine in Aynak, some 20 miles from Kabul. China is also involved in exploring the oil and gas-rich Amu Darya basin.
One of the issues that Beijing is concerned about while expanding its base in Afghanistan is security for its various projects. It is from this angle that Beijing needs Pakistan to be firmly on its side. As if to assure Islamabad a good return on its strategic alliance, Li also added that China would always support Pakistan as it preserves its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Considering that any perceived threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity could possibly emanate only from India, this was a less than subtle message to Delhi.
Perhaps the most amusing observation made by the Chinese premier came in a written statement where he said that Pakistan has made important contributions to peace, stability and development in the region and around the world. I am not sure even the Pakistanis themselves would fully believe that claim.
In keeping with the very special nature of the bilateral friendship, Li's plane was escorted by six Pakistani Air Force fighter jets when it entered the country's airspace.