ISLAMABAD, April 21 (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping praised Pakistan on Tuesday for its contribution to security in China’s restive far west where a Muslim minority chaffs against Beijing’s rule, while Pakistan promised to step up cooperation in tackling terrorism.
Xi, in an address to Pakistan’s parliament, also called for closer economic cooperation between the traditional allies a day after they launched energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan worth $46 billion.
Xi has linked economic cooperation with security and said on Tuesday the two countries “share a common stake in security.”
“Over the years Pakistan has overcome all kinds of difficulties and contributed greatly to the security and stability of China’s western border areas and this is something that we shall never forget,” Xi told parliament.
China is worried about Muslim separatists from Xinjiang, whom it blames for a string of deadly attacks across China over the past year or so, and believes that they have teamed up with Pakistan-based militants.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan considered Chinese security as important as its own.
“We will fight together to eliminate the menace of terrorism. Our joint efforts against terrorism have succeeded so far, but we have to intensify the efforts to achieve our goals,” Sharif told parliament.
Ties between nuclear-armed Pakistan and China are underpinned by common wariness of India and a desire to hedge against U.S. influence in South Asia.
They are finalising a long-discussed plan to sell Pakistan eight Chinese submarines.
Although the deal, worth between $4 billion and $5 billion according to media reports, was not mentioned in public during Xi’s two-day visit, Sharif said Pakistan was looking forward to more defence cooperation with China.
“Our defence ties are strong and they are poised to become stronger in years to come,” Sharif said.
The economic projects launched on Monday are aimed at establishing a Pakistan-China Economic Corridor between Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea and China’s western Xinjiang region.
The plan, which would eclipse U.S. spending in Pakistan over the last decade or so, is part of China’s aim to forge “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe.
The corridor, a network of roads, railways and pipelines, will pass through Pakistan’s poor Baluchistan province where a long-running separatist insurgency will raise questions about the plan’s feasibility.
Highlighting those worries, suspected militants attacked a remote air-traffic control radar post in Gwadar district with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons early on Tuesday, an aviation official said. There were no casualties. (Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Mike Collett-White)