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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 15:00 GMT
Musharraf seeks China's backing
File photo of Chinese President Jiang Zemin (left) and Pervez Musharraf
Musharraf may not receive the support he wants
By the BBC's Rupert Wingfield Hayes in Beijing

With tensions between Pakistan and India running high, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is turning to his old ally China for support.

The president is to hold talks with Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, before he meets the Indian prime minister in Nepal, but if General Musharraf is hoping for an open expression of support, he is likely to be disappointed.

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

Western diplomat
It is President Musharraf's second visit to Beijing in less than a month.

Last time he was in the Chinese capital, President Musharraf was welcomed as an old and dear friend, but this time things are a little cooler.

He will not be meeting Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and China has made it clear the meeting with Prime Minister Zhu is at Pakistan's request.

Changing relations

Western diplomats in Beijing say President Musharraf is clearly hoping to give the impression that he has China's support, before his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Kathmandu.

But since the latest flare-up in tensions between Pakistan and India, China has gone out of its way to remain neutral.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji
Musharraf will meet the Chinese prime minister, but not the president

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.

The 1999 Kargil crisis was a major turning point.

During the winter of that year Pakistan inserted large numbers 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.

Chinese fears

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.

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."

In telephone conversations with his counterparts in India and Pakistan this week, the Chinese foreign minister expressed China's growing alarm at the military build-up along their joint border, and urged both countries to show restraint.

The last thing China needs now is to be dragged into a renewed conflict in South Asia.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Islamabad
"If the diplomacy fails, the (Pakistan) government says it is ready"
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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