Pak plays China card with PM Gilani`s visit

Pakistani PM Yusuf Raza Gilani`s visit to China from Tuesday allows Islamabad to show it has another major power to turn to just as relations with the US have turned increasingly strained after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Last Updated: May 17, 2011, 12:40 PM IST

Beijing: Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani`s visit to China from Tuesday allows Islamabad to show it has another major power to turn to just as relations with the United States have turned increasingly strained after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The visit is part of long-planned celebrations for 60 years of diplomatic ties but the vows of support from Beijing will be especially timely for Islamabad.

"This visit will be a show for the U.S., the Pakistani public and the wider world that Pakistan has other options," said Andrew Small, a researcher at the German Marshall Fund think tank in Brussels who has studied China`s role in Pakistan.

"There`s no impression that China could step into the United States` shoes, but it`s a useful bargaining chip."

An already tense relationship with the United States, Pakistan`s major donor, was badly bruised after U.S. forces on May 2 killed bin Laden in Pakistan where he appears to have been in hiding for several years.

Senior U.S. Senator John Kerry, speaking in Islamabad on Monday, warned that members of U.S. Congress were asking "tough questions" about aid to Islamabad over bin Laden, though he said ties were too important to be unraveled by the incident.

Handshakes and Smiles

In Beijing, Gilani has no worry of any public upbraiding.

"At least, this way Pakistan can tell the United States that it still has China to turn to, and China does indeed have to show support for Pakistan to help it get past its current hardships," said Hu Shisheng, an expert on China`s relations with South Asian countries at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, a government think tank in Beijing.

In an address to the nation about bin Laden`s death, Gilani described China as an "all-weather friend" for Pakistan where the United States is widely distrusted despite the billions of dollars it spends there in aid, in large part to sustain the Pakistani military in the war against Islamist militants.

But Pakistan`s government and military are too reliant on U.S. security and economic aid -- about $20 billion in the past 10 years -- to risk that alliance.

Nor does Beijing want to wade into volatile Pakistani politics, risking its own interests and alienating India, a big but wary trade partner, said several observers.

PTI