China has gone all the way with Pakistan in the difficult situation being faced by Pakistan in the aftermath of the Abbottabad raid by some US naval commandos on May 2, which led to the death of Osama bin Laden.
2. This became apparent during the just concluded (May 20,2011) four-day visit of Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani to China during which he met, among others, President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The visit had been fixed weeks before the Abbottabad raid to mark the high-profile observance of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, but as it took place a few days after the raid, Pakistan’s much-doubted sincerity in fighting terrorism became the defining and dominating theme of the visit.
3. Even before Gilani’s departure for China, the Chinese authorities had made it clear in no uncertain terms on many occasions that they did not share the skepticism being expressed in the US regarding the sincerity of Pakistan in the so-called war against terrorism. The Chinese also refrained from subscribing to the view that to have been able to live undetected for over five years at Abbottabad, OBL must have had some local support from official circles in Pakistan. They had no hesitation in endorsing the claims made by Pakistan that its security forces had made huge sacrifices in the war against terrorism.
4. These points were reiterated with even greater force by the Chinese during their interactions with Gilani after his arrival in China. It was apparent that the Chinese leaders have had no difficulty in accepting the claims of Pakistan that it was taken by surprise by OBL being found in Abbottabad. While refraining from any comments that could have been misinterpreted as criticism of the unilateral US raid to kill OBL, the Chinese underlined their own preference for joint operations with Pakistan in dealing with the Uighur dissidents operating on both sides of Pakistan’s border with the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang. The Chinese also refrained from any remarks that could be interpreted as an attempt to capitalize on the post-Abbottabad anti-US sentiments in Pakistan to drive a wedge between Pakistan and the US. Chinese analysts stressed the importance of continuing Pakistani counter-terrorism co-operation with the US on the one side and with China on the other.
5. During his meeting with Gilani, Hu promised to increase cooperation with Pakistan on fighting terrorism and cross-border crimes in a bid to create a sound security environment for the economic and social development of both countries. Hu expressed his appreciation of Pakistan’s contribution in the fight against terrorism, and said China would promote security dialogue and coordination with Pakistan. He said China would join Pakistan in the fight against drug trafficking, cross-border crimes and the "three evil forces"--terrorism, extremism and splittism.
6. Pakistani journalists who had accompanied Gilani have claimed that during his meeting with Gilani, Wen said that Pakistan had made great sacrifices in the global war against terrorism and urged the international community to understand and support Pakistan' s efforts to maintain domestic stability and advance the economic and social development. They also quoted Wen as telling Gilani that "Pakistan' s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected," and as disclosing that China had asked the US to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty, understand its problems, address its concerns and acknowledge the sacrifices rendered by it in the war against terror. China was reported to have made this point to the US during a recent strategic dialogue between the two countries in Washington DC
7. The strong Chinese support for Pakistan on the counter-terrorism issue was also underlined in the joint statement ussued by the two countries at the end of the visit on May 20. The statement inter alia said: “China believes that Pakistan’s efforts for promoting peace and stability in South Asia need to be recognised and supported. The Chinese side recognised the tremendous efforts and great sacrifice that Pakistan has made in fighting terrorism and reiterated its respect and support for Pakistan’s efforts to advance its counter-terrorism strategy and safeguard its security.”
8. In a commentary on the visit carried on May 18, the Party-controlled “People’s Daily” said: “Due to special causes in various aspects, such as historical and tribal influences, the "three forces" headed by the "East Turkistan Islamic Movement" have existed for a long time in the tribal areas at the Pakistani-Afghan border. However, China has always respected Pakistan's sovereignty when combating the "three forces" jointly with Pakistan and understands Pakistan's enormous sacrifices and significant contributions in the forefront of the international fight against terrorism. Pakistan has also always supported China's sovereignty and territorial integrity in major issues related to the Taiwan region, Tibet Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.”
9. In a commentary published on May 20 in the Government-controlled “China Daily”, Han Hua, associate professor at Peking University's School of International Studies, said : “Instead of creating a gulf in relations, the death of bin Laden has offered a chance to Pakistan, the US and China to work together to combat terrorism. After all, the three countries' anti-terrorism mission is still very much on.”
10. Thus, the following points relating to the Chinese position have come out loud and clear from the visit:
• China welcomes the death of OBL as a result of the US raid.
• Despite the success of the raid which was organized unilaterally by the US, it stresses the importance of respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty.
• Pakistan’s failure to detect the presence of OBL at Abbottabad does not detract from the sacrifices made by it in the war against terrorism. These sacrifices have to be recognized.
• China has no intention to capitalize on the US misgivings about Pakistan to wean Pakistan away from the US.
• Continuing counter-terrorism co-operation between Pakistan and the US would benefit the war against global terrorism which continues despite OBL’s death
11.Though India has not figured in any of the statements and reports emanating from China on Gilani’s visit, reading between the lines one could infer that Pakistan’s concerns over its ability to prevent any Indian air intrusions into Pakistan must have figured in the discussions. The reported Chinese agreement to expedite the supply of 50 JF-17 Thunder aircraft to the Pakistan Air Force during the next six months strengthens this inference.
12.The “Daily Times” of Lahore has commented on this as follows in its report: “According to official sources, these aircraft will be equipped with sophisticated avionics. Not only will the aircraft be handed over within weeks, China will also foot the bill initially. Although Pakistan and China have been jointly developing this multirole combat aircraft in the past, in the aftermath of the US operation in Abbottabad, serious questions have been raised about Pakistan’s defence capabilities. According to a strategic expert, the speedy delivery of 50 pieces of this aircraft, originally to be done over two years, is expected to allay apprehensions of not only the Pakistani public but will also send a message to the world that Pakistan’s defence is not weak. It might be remembered that not only has the Indian military chief speculated on the possibility of a US-style strike from the Indian side to take out jihadi outfits in Pakistan, there has been escalation on the Pakistan-India border near Sialkot recently. Also, observers believe that in a situation when the speculations are rife that Pakistan may not be able to resist another US attack inside its territory if it so decides, this agreement will send a clear message to the world on which side China stands.” ( 22-5-11)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )