Islamabad, Pakistan – China says it will work with Pakistan’s military to “further deepen and expand” the two nations’ mutual interests and jointly protect regional peace and stability.
A statement by the Chinese defence ministry on Wednesday said Zhang Youxia, the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, made the comments during his meeting with Pakistan’s army chief, General Syed Asim Munir, who is on his maiden visit to Beijing.
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“Noting that China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperative partners and close friends, Zhang said that no matter how the international situation changes, China always gives Pakistan priority in its neighbourhood diplomacy,” said the statement.
Another statement released by the Pakistan army’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said Munir was given a warm welcome and presented with a guard of honour upon his arrival at the People’s Liberation Army headquarters in Beijing on Wednesday.
“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,” the Pakistani statement said.
The ISPR said Munir will hold further meetings with military officials in China to enhance the “longstanding relations between the two militaries” during his four-day visit.
Muhammad Faisal, an Islamabad-based foreign policy analyst and close observer of Pakistan-China ties, told Al Jazeera Munir’s visit is crucial as it comes amid political, economic and security crises in Pakistan.
“Of late, Pakistan’s dependency on China for economic stability and regional security coordination has grown in the face of financial challenges, renewed threat of terrorism and India-centric challenges,” he said.
Pakistan and China have ongoing border disputes with India, threatening regional security.
Munir’s predecessor General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited China two months before his retirement in November last year. That month also saw Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif making a trip to Beijing and meeting President Xi Jinping.
China has invested $60bn in the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project and is Pakistan’s key economic and defence partner.
The South Asian country owes nearly $30bn – 23 percent of its total debt – to China.
As Islamabad struggles to resume a much-needed $1.1bn loan programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it has sought help from its allies, mainly China, to roll over some of its existing loans.
Analyst Faisal said while the Pakistani military remains engaged with China on regional security, economy has also taken over as a central agenda in the meetings between the military commanders of the two nations.
“This is a new development and indicates that Chinese military is closely following Pakistan’s economic challenges,” he told Al Jazeera.
As China continues to help Pakistan economically, the last few years saw multiple attacks on Chinese nationals and facilities carried out by the armed groups in Pakistan.
Earlier this month, a Chinese national working at a hydropower plant being constructed by a Chinese company in northern Pakistan was accused of blasphemy – a sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan.
The Chinese man is currently in a two-week judicial custody which ends on May 2.
Two years ago, 13 people, including nine Chinese nationals working at the same hydropower project, were killed in an attack claimed by the Pakistan Taliban, known by the acronym TTP.
In April last year, three Chinese teachers and their Pakistani driver were killed in a suicide attack at a university in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi. The attack was claimed by a Baloch rebel group fighting for a separate Balochistan in the southwest.
Chinese authorities have repeatedly demanded protection of their nationals amid escalating violence in the country.
“For Beijing, safety and security of its citizens remains the top concern amid resurgence of violence in Pakistan. On this, assurances of army chief will be taken with seriousness,” said Faisal.