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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 12:51 GMT
China tempers support for Pakistan
Troops at the Pakistani-Indian border
China is deeply concerned about the troop build up
By the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes

The heightened tension between Pakistan and India has tested the strength of friendship between Pakistan and its most important strategic and military ally, China.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf received a much cooler reception this week than on his previous trip just weeks ago.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji
President Musharraf met Chinese Prime Minister Zhu, but not the president
He met Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, but Beijing said that was only at Pakistan's request, and there was no meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

China's sudden wariness does not mean its alliance with Pakistan is about to end, but its relations with its South Asian neighbours are changing.

In the past everything was clear: Pakistan was China's ally, India their common foe.

But in the last two years relations with India have rapidly begun to thaw, and at the same time China has begun to have serious misgivings about Pakistan's policy in Kashmir.

Chinese fears

The 1999 Kargil crisis was a major turning point.

Pakistan leader Pervez Musharraf
President Pervez Musharraf had hoped for a clear sign of support

During the winter that year, Pakistan inserted large number of troops into Indian-controlled territory around Kargil in Indian-administered Kashmir, sparking fierce fighting that brought the two countries to the brink of war.

Publicly China said little, privately it was deeply perturbed by Pakistan's provocation.

Concern has also been growing in China that Muslim militant groups based in Pakistan are helping to train separatist fighters from China's own restive region of Xinjiang.

Now China is faced with a new crisis brewing on its southern frontier and Beijing is making clear the last thing it wants is a crisis to turn into conflict.

As one western diplomat in Beijing put it: "They've suddenly realised they've got this unstable government, Islamic radicals and nuclear bombs sitting around, and this tends to be a Chinese leader's nightmare. They don't want things blowing up in their face."

The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Islamabad
"If the diplomacy fails, the (Pakistan) government says it is ready"
Former Pakistani Foreign Minister Tanvir Ahmed Khan
"China has a special relationship with Pakistan"
See also:

03 Jan 02 | South Asia
'War unnecessary,' says Indian PM
26 Dec 01 | South Asia
China urges border restraint
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Thousands flee rivals' war moves
01 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK calls for Kashmir peace talks
03 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair to start 'peace trip'
27 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: India's political calculation
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