China praises Pakistan, downplaying risk of rift

BEIJING Wed Aug 3, 2011 5:36pm IST

A Pakistan national flag flies alongside a Chinese national flag in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong on Beijing's Tiananmen Square during Pakistan' Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's visit May 18, 2011.         REUTERS/David Gray/Files

A Pakistan national flag flies alongside a Chinese national flag in front of the portrait of Chairman Mao Zedong on Beijing's Tiananmen Square during Pakistan' Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's visit May 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/David Gray/Files

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry on Wednesday praised Pakistan as a firm partner against terror and religious extremism, playing down the risk that ties could be strained by an attack that Chinese officials blamed on militants trained in Pakistan.

The ministry's statement was its first response to the attack in Kashgar city in China's far western Xinjiang region on Sunday, when a group of Uighur men killed a restaurant owner and waiter, and then hacked to death four people.

The Kashgar government said the attack was organised by members of the separatist "East Turkestan Islamic Movement" who received arms and explosives training in Pakistan.

But the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, said his government stood by Pakistan, in comments apparently intended to quash any notion of a rift over the attack in Xinjiang, where members of the Uighur minority have protested against Beijing's control and the Han Chinese presence.

"Pakistan is an important front in the international fight against terrorism, and has made an outstanding contribution to battling terrorism," Ma said in a statement on the ministry's website (click www.mfa.gov.cn).

Ma did not mention the Xinjiang attack in his comments.

"China and Pakistan are friendly neighbours, and we have developed healthy cooperation in the anti-terror area," he said. "China will continue strengthening cooperation with Pakistan" in fighting what both sides deem to be dangerous extremism, added Ma.

China has long treated Pakistan as a counterweight to the influence of India and its ally, the United States, and Pakistan has in turn increasingly turned to China as a counterweight to U.S. power.

On Monday, the Pakistani foreign ministry issued a statement offering "full support" to China after the attack. Pakistan shares a border with China, and Uighurs, including opponents of Chinese rule, have fled there in the past.

Analysts have said that the role of any militant members of the "East Turkestan Islamic Movement" in the attack is unclear, especially because the group appears so weak.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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