BEIJING - Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari backed China's policies in its tense Xinjiang region ahead of his latest visit to the giant neighbor he has wooed as a strategic and economic counterweight to the West, Chinese state media said.
Zardari arrived in China on Friday for his fourth visit since taking office last year, underscoring his government's hopes that Beijing can help shore up Pakistan's economic and diplomatic standing.
In comments to China's official Xinhua news agency, Zardari endorsed China's policies in its far western Xinjiang region, where Muslim Uighurs rioted against Han Chinese residents in the regional capital Urumqi last month, killing at least 197 people, mostly Han.
Xinjiang borders on Pakistan, and some Uighurs opposed to Beijing's rule have sought refuge there. But Zardari emphatically endorsed China's policies, according to Xinhua.
We are glad that the situation in Urumuqi has been brought under control. We believe that China's policy of social harmony and development is producing great results for all Chinese people, it quoted Zardari as telling Chinese journalists before his departure from Islamabad.
China is Pakistan's all-weather and time-tested friend. We greatly value our cherished friendship, said Zardari.
Pakistan has looked to China as a counterweight to rival India's influence in the region.
Pakistan also has historically close ties with the United States. But those ties have at times been strained by Washington's growing pressure on Islamabad to do more to tackle Islamist militants in Pakistan who attack into neighboring Afghanistan.
Zardari's praise may be welcomed by Beijing, which has sought endorsement from Islamic countries for its policies in Xinjiang, where critics say it has suppressed Uighur religious life.
But his five-day trip is unlikely to produce major political or economic deals. He will visit Zhejiang province in eastern China and Guangdong in the south, both export-driven economic powerhouses. No trip to the capital Beijing is scheduled.
After taking office, Zardari said he would visit China every three months. This time, he will again be courting China as a potential investor and economic backer.
Annual two-way trade is worth $7 billion, according to Pakistan, and the two countries have set a target of $15 billion by 2011.
But in the first six months of this year their bilateral trade shrank to $3 billion, a fall of 13 percent compared with the same period last year, according to Chinese customs data.
China also helped build Gwadar port on Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast. But Beijing has been alarmed by attacks on Chinese nationals working in Pakistan.
(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Alex Richardson)