Beijing: China on Wednesday welcomed the extension of Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s term for another three years, saying he is an “old friend” of the Chinese government who has made “robust” contributions to the bilateral relations.
General Bajwa, 58, who was appointed as the Chief of Army Staff by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in November 2016, was to retire in November, but Prime Minister Imran Khan extended his term for another three years in view of the “regional security environment”.
The decision was taken amid fresh tension in India-Pakistan relations and the ongoing Afghan peace talks between the US and the Taliban militants, facilitated by Islamabad.
Asked about the extension of Gen Bajwa’s term, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a media briefing here that the Pakistan Army chief has made “robust” contribution to China and Pakistan relations.
“We noticed the decision by the Pakistan government. Gen Bajwa is an extraordinary leader of the Pakistani army. He is also an old friend of Chinese government and the army,” he said.
“He has also made robust contributions to China Pakistan relations. We believe under his leadership, the Pakistan Army will continue to make contributions to upholding Pakistan’s sovereignty, security interests and regional peace and stability,” Geng said in response to a question from Chinese official media.
Gen Bajwa has promised Beijing to safeguard China’s interests in Pakistan under the US$ 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will connect China’s largest province Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Balochistan.
The Pakistan Army has already raised a battalion and has announced plans to form another battalion to protect Chinese citizens and installations under the CPEC.
Geng’s comments backing Khan’s decision to extend Gen Bajwa’s term came as a surprise as it is rare for Beijing to publicly comment on the appointments of officials by foreign governments, though China and Pakistan are all-weather friends.
Bajwa’s extension was sharply criticised by Pakistan’s opposition parties which said that it would send a wrong message that the Army is dependent on “one or two individuals”.
Observers say that Geng’s comments hailing Gen Bajwa’s extension was also aimed at reinforcing China’s special relationship with Pakistan military establishment.
Gen Bajwa like his predecessors is a frequent visitor to China. But he was the rare Pakistan Army chief who during his visit to Beijing in September last year met Chinese President Xi Jinping.