BEIJING: Pakistan’s prime minister declared China his country’s best friend in an apparent slap at Washington as he was to begin a visit to China on Tuesday with US ties tested over Osama bin Laden’s killing.
Yousaf Raza Gilani’s trip follows the killing of the al Qaeda leader by US special forces on Pakistani soil, in a raid that has cast a pall over US Pakistan ties and was widely expected to push Islamabad closer to Beijing.
“We appreciate that in all difficult circumstances, China stood with Pakistan.
Therefore we call China a true friend and a time-tested and all-weather friend,” Gilani told China’s official Xinhua news agency.
“We are proud to have China as our best and most trusted friend, and China will always find Pakistan standing beside it at all times,” he said in an interview released Tuesday.
Gilani’s comments appeared to underscore tensions with Washington following the May 2 US raid on a compound in northern Pakistan, which left the country’s civilian and military leaders angry and embarrassed.
On Monday, US Senator John Kerry demanded Pakistan make progress against terrorism through “actions, not by words” in a visit to the country.
The fact that the terrorist mastermind had been hiding out in Pakistan, possibly for years, has raised accusations the country’s powerful security establishment was either incompetent or complicit in bid Laden finding a haven.
Gilani was to arrive in Shanghai on Tuesday and speak on Wednesday at a cultural forum in the eastern city of Suzhou, Pakistani officials said.
He will then travel to Beijing, where he will meet with Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
The two sides are expected to sign a series of cooperation agreements and discuss how they can better combat extremism.
China is the main arms supplier to Pakistan, which sees Beijing as an important counter-balance to Pakistan’s traditional rival India. India has recently improved its ties with the United States, causing worry in Islamabad.
China has voiced firm support for Pakistan since the bin Laden episode and the two were expected to reaffirm their “all-weather” friendship during Gilani’s stay.
By contrast, Kerry stressed that US lawmakers were demanding a review of billions of dollars in aid money to Pakistan.
“Ultimately, the Pakistani people will decide what kind of country Pakistan becomes, whether it is a haven for extremists or the tolerant democracy that (Pakistani founder) Muhammad Ali Jinnah envisioned 64 years ago,” said Kerry, chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In a televised address, Kerry said he had President Barack Obama’s backing “to find a way to rebuild the trust” after previously warning of “profound” consequences if the allies cannot fix their fractured ties.
Facing weak Western investment in its moribund economy and crippling power shortages, Pakistan is looking for closer trade and energy ties with China.
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.
The plans have triggered US concern over the safety of nuclear materials in the unstable, violence-plagued country where Muslim militancy is strong.