Pakistan PM hails `all-weather` friend China

Gilani`s four-day visit to China follows the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Beijing: Visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday hailed his country`s "all-weather friendship" with China, as he faced renewed US pressure following the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Gilani`s four-day visit to China follows the May 2 killing of the Al-Qaeda leader by US special forces on Pakistani soil, in a raid that has rattled US-Pakistan ties -- and prompted Islamabad to court its long-time ally Beijing.

As US Senator John Kerry visited Pakistan this week to try to set relations back on the right foot, Gilani has repeatedly hailed Beijing as a tried and true friend -- fuelling calls from US lawmakers to slash aid to Islamabad.

"Pakistan and China are close friends and good neighbours. Our all-weather friendship is deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of our two peoples," Gilani said Wednesday in a speech at a cultural forum in the eastern city of Suzhou.

"Pakistan-China friendship epitomises complete understanding, full trust, mutual cooperation and harmony. It is an abiding friendship based on shared values and ideals."

Those comments echoed one he gave in an interview with 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."

Gilani, who arrived in Shanghai late Tuesday, was to head to Beijing later Wednesday to begin the official part of his visit with a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

During their talks, due to start at 4:30 pm (0830 GMT), they were expected to discuss the global fight against terrorism and growing commercial ties -- two-way trade totalled $8.7 billion in 2010, up 27.7 percent on-year.
Since the assault on bin Laden`s compound, which has prompted questions as to whether Pakistan`s powerful security establishment helped him find safe haven, Beijing has repeatedly praised Islamabad`s counter-terrorism efforts.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Tuesday spoke of Pakistan`s "great sacrifices" in the fight on terror and has encouraged the world to assist Islamabad.
But Kerry said US lawmakers, angry over what they see as Islamabad`s lack of cooperation, were demanding a review of the billions of dollars in aid sent to Pakistan -- and one key senator said Gilani`s praise of China was unhelpful.

Republican Senator James Risch said continued aid to Pakistan was "a hard sell to the American people" when cash-strapped Washington sends help, only to see "the head of Pakistan go to China and... say `you`re our best friend`."

China is the main arms supplier to Pakistan, which sees Beijing as an important counter-balance to Pakistan`s traditional rival India. New Delhi has recently improved its ties with the United States, causing worry in Islamabad.

Gilani will also seek closer energy links with Beijing, as his country faces crippling power shortages and weak Western investment in Pakistan`s struggling economy.

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.

China also needs Islamabad`s cooperation in stemming potential terrorist threats in its mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan.