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Agni effect: China to scale up defence cooperation with Pak

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A Pak missile system being test fired. A file photo

BEIJING (PTI): China plans to scale up its defence cooperation with its "all-weather" ally Pakistan to co-produce ballistic missiles, in an apparent retaliation to India developing the nuclear-capable Agni V missile that has a range of over 5,000 km covering whole of China.

Declining to react to Chinese official media reports that Beijing plans to co-produce ballistic and cruise missiles with Pakistan, besides mass production of military aircraft, Chinese Foreign Ministry however said Beijing stands for "strategic balance" in South Asia.

"On Pakistan army chief's visit to China, the Pakistan military has released information about the meetings between him and his Chinese counterpart," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told media briefing in Beijing.

"From the news release, we did not see anything about the agreement about ballistic missiles," she said while answering a question about a report in the state-run Global Times that China plans to step up its defence cooperation with Pakistan, including ballistic and cruise missiles besides joint mass production of a multi-role combat aircraft.

On his first visit to China, Pakistan's army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa held talks with Fang Fenghui, chief of the Joint Staff Department under the Central Military Commission of China on March 16.

Bajwa also called on Chinese Executive Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Gen Fan Changlong and Commander of the People's Liberation Army Gen Li Zhuocheng and discussed regional security, economy, defence cooperation and other issues of mutual interest.

This is the first time the official media mentioned about the likely cooperation between the two all-weather allies on the co-production of ballistic and cruise missiles.

Pakistan is heavily reliant on its defence needs from China.

"What I can tell you is that China and Pakistan maintain normal defence exchanges and relevant cooperation," Hua said.

Asked whether China is open to the idea of working closely with Pakistan on developing missiles specially in the light of the 1998 UN Security Council resolution 1172 which called on India and Pakistan to stop testing ballistic missiles, Hua said all the UN members have the obligations and responsibility to observe the UN resolutions.

The non-binding UNSC resolution passed in the backdrop of nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in 1998 called on both the countries to cease testing of ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

"Our position on the strategic balance on the South Asia is consistent," she said without elaborating.

Last December reacting to India's successful test firing of Agni-V missile, Hua referred to the particular UNSC resolution.

"On whether India can develop this ballistic missile that can carry nuclear weapons, I think relevant resolutions of the UNSC have clear rules," she had said.

"We have always believed that safeguarding strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive for the peace and prosperity of countries in the region," she said.

The reference to the strategic balance in South Asia apparently meant the military balance between India and Pakistan.

Agni-V, the 5000 km range intercontinental ballistic missile was widely regarded as a strategic missile meant for China as it can reach almost all parts of Chinese mainland.

It is not clear whether the Global Times report about China's plans to co-produce missiles with Pakistan was a retaliatory move by Beijing in response to Agni-V test.

Bajwa's talks with his counterpart will consolidate and deepen military exchanges between China and Pakistan, while new cooperation on military techniques might also be discussed, said Song Zhongping, a military expert who served in the Second Artillery Corps (now known as the PLA Rocket Force).

Weapon exchanges, including the mass production of FC-1 Xiaolong which in Pakistan called JF-17 Thunder, is a lightweight and multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the two countries, will be furthered after the meeting, Song said.

China's authorisation to Pakistan to produce ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-ship missiles and main battle tanks in Pakistan is also on the agenda, he said.

The talks will consolidate and deepen military exchanges between China and Pakistan, while new cooperation on military techniques might also be discussed, Song said.

The military cooperation between China and Pakistan will be further enhanced especially in weaponry and anti-terrorism sectors, the report said.

The two sides also vowed to ensure the safety of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), an important part of China's Belt and Road initiative.

Pakistani Ambassador to China Masood Khalid said that Pakistan has deployed over 15,000 troops to protect the CPEC, and the country's navy has raised a special contingent for the protection of the Gwadar Port.

Recent report in Beijing said China itself is increasing the strength of its Marine corps from 20,000 to one lakh, some of whom would be deployed in Gwadar and Djibouti, where China is building a logistics military base.

As Pakistan faces frequent threats from terrorist forces such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda, military support is necessary to ensure a safe environment for the regions where there is a huge investment from China, Song said.

The two countries agreed to enhance anti-terrorism cooperation at the meeting, vowing to resolutely strike against terrorist forces, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement active in Xinjiang which is the connecting point of the CPEC.

China blames East Turkistan Islamic Movement for the violent attacks during the past few years.

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