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Pakistan remains China's priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy, top Chinese General tells Pak Army chief

Pakistan remains Chinas priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy, top Chinese General tells Pak Army chief

China always puts Pakistan as a priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy, a top Chinese General told Pakistan Army chief General Asim Munir, assuring him that their all-weather friendship will continue notwithstanding the perilous economic and political crisis faced by Islamabad and Beijing's increasing concern over the security of its personnel working there.

General Zhang Youxia, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission (CMC) - the high command of the Chinese military headed by President Xi Jinping - held talks with Gen Munir here on Wednesday and discussed matters of mutual security interests and military cooperation. Gen Munir is on a four-day visit to China.

Gen Zhang said that China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperative partners and iron-clad friends, China military online, the official media of the Chinese defence ministry, reported.

The long-lasting mutual trust and friendship between the two countries, as solid as rocks, are important factors for regional and even world peace, stability and prosperity, Gen Zhang said.

He stressed that no matter how the international situation changes, China always puts Pakistan as a priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy and firmly supports Pakistan in safeguarding its sovereignty, territorial integrity, development interests and national dignity, the report said.

The Chinese military is willing to work with the Pakistani military to further deepen and expand practical cooperation, continuously push the mil-to-mil relationship to a higher level, and jointly safeguard the common interests of the two countries, as well as the regional peace and stability, General Zhang added.

He said China is willing to build a closer China-Pakistan community with a shared future in the new era, a reference to the period headed by President Xi since he came to power in 2012.

Gen Munir, on his maiden visit to China amid the serious economic and political crisis back home, discussed the "regional security situation" with his PLA counterpart General Li Qiaoming.

"Matters of mutual security interests and military cooperation were discussed. Both military commanders reiterated the need for maintaining peace and stability in the region and enhancing military-to-military cooperation," said a press release issued by the Pakistan Army's media wing - the Inter-Services Public Relations - in Islamabad.

Gen Munir will hold further meetings with military leaders in China to enhance the long-standing relations between the two militaries, the release said.

Significantly, Gen Munir's visit comes ahead of Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu's two-day visit to India starting Thursday to take part in the SCO Defence Ministers meeting during which he is widely expected to hold talks with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh on the festering military standoff at Eastern Ladakh.

Pakistan's Defence Minister Khawaja Asif too was expected to take part in the eight-member SCO grouping consisting of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Gen Li's visit to India is taking place after the 18th round of top Indian, and Chinese commanders-level talks on April 23. The Chinese Defence Ministry spoke positively about the meeting, saying that both sides have agreed to "speed up" the settlement of "relevant issues".

For his part, Gen Munir told Gen Zhang that the friendship between Pakistan and China is higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, and sweeter than honey.

No matter how the international and regional situation changes, Pakistan will firmly support China's core interests concerning Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and the South China Sea, he was quoted as saying in the report.

Gen Munir said that the Pakistani side is willing to further strengthen strategic communication, practical exchanges and counter-terrorism cooperation with the Chinese military, jointly enhance the abilities to respond to various security challenges, and contribute to international and regional peace and stability.

Platitudes apart, Gen Munir's visit is also taking place amid murmurs of China's growing concerns over Pakistan's never-ending economic crisis often putting pressure on Beijing to bail out Islamabad from bankruptcy by providing US dollar loans to help it to maintain foreign exchange reserves.

Also, Pakistan is in the throes of a political crisis with an increasing confrontation between the government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

Equally, Beijing has been openly expressing its concerns over the recurring attacks by the militant groups on hundreds of Chinese personnel working on various projects under the USD 60 Billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) despite the repeated assurances by the Pakistan Army about their safety.

The latest case of concern for Beijing was the detention of a Chinese supervisor working at the Dasu Hydropower project who was booked on blasphemy charges. On April 17 he was sent to prison on a 14-day judicial remand by an Abbottabad anti-terrorism court.

According to Pakistan's law, the blasphemy charges range from fines to the death penalty.

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