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After bin Laden: Could mistrust between US and Pakistan be opportunity for China?

Some influential Chinese analysts are suggesting that the mood of mistrust between the US and Pakistan might offer Beijing a chance to wean its oldest regional ally off its dependence on US security assistance.

By Staff writer / May 5, 2011

A photo of Osama bin Laden is published on the front page of a local newspaper with a map of Pakistan and Afghanistan in Beijing, China, May 3, a day after bin Laden was reported dead in Pakistan. China called the death of bin Laden a landmark event and said it was a step in the right direction for antiterrorism efforts, then praised Islamabad for its counterterror efforts.

Alexander F. Yuan/ AP

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Beijing

If China shares the doubts currently being expressed in Washington about Pakistan’s commitment to the fight against international terrorism, it is not voicing them publicly.

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Indeed, some influential Chinese analysts are suggesting that the mood of mistrust between the US and Pakistan might offer Beijing a chance to wean its oldest regional ally off its dependence on US security assistance.

“So long as Pakistan relies on the US for counter-terrorism support it will suffer more attacks, not less,” argues Yan Xuetong, head of the Institute for International Affairs Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “Why are there so many terrorists in Pakistan? Because they’ve been relying on the wrong person [country].”

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Beijing initially welcomed Osama bin Laden’s death as “a positive development.” But the Chinese government has since gone out of its way to praise Islamabad for its antiterrorist stance, in sharp contrast with suggestions among observers in the US that the Al Qaeda leader’s presence in Pakistan had been known and concealed by Pakistani officials.

“Pakistan is at the important forefront in the international counterterrorism campaign,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said on Tuesday. “The Chinese government will firmly support Pakistan formulating and implementing counter-terrorism strategies in line with its domestic conditions.”

China's relationship with Pakistan

China has its own problem with Islamic militants. Violent separatists in the predominantly Muslim western province of Xinjiang have launched sporadic attacks there, mainly against Chinese soldiers. Their bases outside China, however, are thought to lie more in Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan rather than in Pakistan.

China and Pakistan are old and close friends; Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China, and stuck by the country during its years of international isolation in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The two countries are celebrating the 60 year anniversary of their diplomatic relations this year.

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Their strategic relationship is based on a common desire to hedge against the rising strength of India, against which both countries have fought wars. Washington, on the other hand, does not enjoy full trust among Pakistani political and military circles: The US cut off arms supplies to Pakistan during its wars with India, and has signed an agreement with New Delhi on peaceful nuclear cooperation.

That deal gave Beijing a chance to forge a similar relationship with Islamabad. In April last year, China agreed to build two nuclear reactors in Pakistan.

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