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China, Pakistan step up military ties to boost CPEC

China appears set to strengthen Pakistani military forces to protect the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and to combat cross-border infiltration by militants in China’s western Xinjiang province.

The Global Times, the tabloid affiliated with the People’s Daily group, reported that talks between visiting Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department under the Central Military Commission of China, covered weapon exchanges — including the mass production of FC-1 Xiaolong, a lightweight and multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the two countries.

The two sides also discussed the security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) during talks held on Thursday.

On Tuesday, Masood Khalid, Pakistani Ambassador to China, said at a news conference that Pakistan has deployed more than 15,000 troops to protect the CPEC, apart from raising a naval contingent for the protection of Gwadar Port.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post had earlier reported that China was planning a five-fold increase in its marine force — from 20,000 to 1,00,000 personnel. Some of the Chinese marines would be stationed at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, and the Pakistani port of Gwadar, the starting point of the CPEC.

Song Zhongping, a military expert who served in the Second Artillery Corps now known as the PLA Rocket Force, explained the rationale governing China-Pakistan military cooperation. Without specifically referring to the CPEC, he told Global Times that Pakistan faced frequent threats from terrorist forces such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This required military support to ensure a safe environment for the regions where China has made huge investments.

He said that China’s authorisation to Pakistan to produce ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles and main battle tanks in Pakistan was also on the agenda of Gen. Bajwa’s talks.

Xinhua quoted Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, on whom Gen. Bajwa had called as saying that the two countries should enhance defence and security cooperation and push forward the building of the CPEC in an orderly manner.

The Pakistani daily Dawn reported, quoting a statement from Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) that China’s leadership appreciated Pakistan’s fight against terrorism with a special mention of eliminating Al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

The daily said that China blames ETIM for carrying out attacks in its far western region of Xinjiang, and has long urged Islamabad to weed out what it says are militants from the region.

China, during the meetings held, also expressed concern over the growing threat of the militant Islamic State and ETIM in Afghanistan, the daily said.