China has said it will accord "priority" to strategic ties with Pakistan, while backing its efforts for reconciliation with India even as the two sides vowed to speed up the planned 2000-km economic corridor linking them through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
"Chinese side will treat China-Pakistan ties, as always, from a strategic and long-term perspective, and the ties will be a priority in China's relations with its neighbours," President Xi Jinping told his Pakistani counterpart Mamnoon Hussain during their talks in Beijing on Wednesday night.
Xi also said China supports and appreciates Pakistan's efforts to realise reconciliation with India. Hussain said Pakistan will continue the dialogue process with India to improve ties, state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday.
In an effort to address China's concerns over Islamic militant groups, Hussain conveyed Pakistan's renewed commitment to crackdown on the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) fighting for independence of Xinjiang. Fu Xiaoqiang, director of Chinese Centre for Counter-terrorism Studies, told state-run China Daily on Thursday that ETIM has been funded by al-Qaeda and its members are active in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The two sides signed MOUs for the construction of new Gwadar international airport, upgrading part of the Karakorum highway linking them besides establishing a joint research centre for hydropower technology. China, which provided financial assistance to build Gwadar port, has already taken over its operations.
Strategically located in the Arabian Sea facing India's west coast, including the Mumbai Port, Gwadar will be linked with an economic corridor consisting road, railway, gas pipelines besides an optic fibre cable with China's Xinjiang province through PoK. It will provide an opening for China to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf region. While there was no official announcement, the China Daily said the project could cost over US $20 billion.
"The leaders of China and Pakistan urged relevant offices on both sides to speed up work on the economic corridor," a joint statement said.
Pakistan's Minister for Planning, development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal told state-run CCTV that "there can also be trade between China and India through economic corridor".
India has conveyed its concerns to China, which in turn went ahead arguing it could bring about stability to Pakistan as it provides enormous economic benefits for the country and the region.
During the Hussain-Xi talks, the two countries also vowed to beef up cooperation on defence technology and to accelerate negotiations on a free trade area, the statement said.
Chinese and Pakistani leaders often describe the ties between the two countries as "all-weather". Bilateral trade exceeded US $12 billion in 2012.