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June 10, 2018

Pakistan, China agree to boost strategic ties: Mamnoon meets Xi as SCO summit begins in Qingdao city


June 10, 2018

QINGDAO: President Mamnoon Hussain held a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Saturday in Qingdao, where he is participating in the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council Heads of State Meeting.

The two leaders held in-depth discussions related to Pakistan-China relations and regional and global issues of mutual interest. They also agreed that as all-weather strategic cooperative partners and close friends, had always stood by each other and would continue to further strengthen this time-tested relationship, said a press release.

Agreeing that Pakistan-China relations are a pillar of stability, the two presidents reiterated their resolve to maintain close engagement on all issues of regional and global importance.

Xi said China attached importance to its relations with Pakistan which would continue to remain a priority for China.

Mamnoon congratulated his counterpart on his re-election as president and general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

He said Pakistan supported the Chinese chairmanship of SCO and appreciated the various initiatives proposed by China in the organisation during the last year.

Xi appreciated Pakistan for its proactive participation in SCO since becoming a member, the press release added.

Mamnoon emphasised that as a flagship project, CPEC was a successful model of this initiative.

The two leaders said early completion of projects would further contribute towards economic development of Pakistan and also agreed to explore ways to improve the balance of bilateral trade.

Xi appreciated Pakistan’s efforts in fighting terrorism and its role in peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. The two leaders also agreed to continue close coordination and cooperation on all issues of mutual interest.

The two-day SCO summit kicked off on Saturday and comes after US President Donald Trump controversially pulled Washington out of the 2015 international pact with Iran that placed limits on its nuclear programme in return for easing economic sanctions.

Armoured vans lined the streets of the coastal city of Qingdao as world leaders arrived Friday for the 18th annual summit. The member states also include four ex-Soviet Central Asian republics. Iran is an observer member.

Authorities emptied an entire ocean-side swathe of the city — clearing out shopkeepers, residents and day-trippers to make way for Chinese President Xi Jinping, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani.

Though not officially on the agenda, analysts say that one key topic of discussion this year may focus on whether Iran will be allowed to ascend from its position as an SCO observer to become a full member state – a development it has sought since 2008 but has been unable to achieve while subject to UN sanctions.

Now in the wake of the US withdrawal from the pact, "SCO members may use granting full membership to Iran as a way to demonstrate support for (Tehran) and the nuclear agreement," said Dawn Murphy, professor of international security studies at the US Air War College.

The tensions over Iran come as another nuclear issue dominates headlines, with Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un preparing for an unprecedented summit in Singapore.

Trade, investment and development cooperation issues will also feature prominently at the SCO, Murphy said, given the climate of "rising anti-globalisation and strains on global multilateral economic institutions", stoked by Trump's nationalist "America First" policy. The SCO nations may discuss the potential of a joint free trade area, she said, as China also pushes for participation in its Belt and Road global infrastructure project.

"Member states of the SCO are a key to the success of the Belt and Road initiative and China's growing influence as a Eurasian power," said Murphy.

China may, however, be hindered from gaining robust support for its project at this summit due to India, the only SCO member that does not endorse it, she noted.

Regional security issues will also feature, because terrorism is the most severe security challenge facing the SCO, according to Liao Jinrong, head of the Chinese ministry of public security's international cooperation department.

"No matter what country has terrorists, we must strengthen our regional cooperation and not allow them to affect regional security," he told a press conference Friday, adding that the SCO bloc had stopped "hundreds" of terrorist acts.

The summit will boost cooperation on combating terrorism, drug trafficking, organised cross-border crimes and cyber security, he said. 

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