(Reuters) – Pakistan will help China with its fight against extremists Beijing says are active in its unruly far western region of Xinjiang, the country’s prime minister said on Saturday during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping as reported.
China blames the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for carrying out attacks in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people, though many foreign experts doubt the group’s existence in a cohesive group.
China, Pakistan’s only major ally in the region, has long urged Islamabad to weed out what it says are militants from Xinjiang, who are holed up in a lawless tribal belt, home to a lethal mix of militant groups, including the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Hundreds have died in unrest in Xinjiang in the last two years or so. Exiles and activists say Chinese controls on the religion and culture of the Uighur people is more a cause of the violence than well-organized militant groups.
Pakistan Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif told Xi that his country would “continue to resolutely fight the East Turkestan Islamic Movement terrorist forces”, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement following the meeting in Beijing.
Pakistan will increase its coordination with China on Afghanistan too, so as to “jointly maintain regional peace and stability”, Sharif said.
Pakistan will also do all it can to guarantee the safety of Chinese companies and workers in the country, he added, who have in the past been attacked by militants.
China and Pakistan call each other “all-weather friends” and their close ties have been underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbor, India, and a desire to hedge against U.S. influence across the region.
China’s foreign ministry said the two countries had signed more than 20 agreements on Sharif’s trip, including on nuclear power and on the deepwater port of Gwadar, which China is developing. It provided no details.