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China, Pakistan End Joint Anti-Terror Military Exercises - 2004-08-06

China and Pakistan have held joint anti-terror military exercises in China's predominantly Muslim northwestern region.

Chinese state media said more than 200 Chinese and Pakistani soldiers participated in the exercises in China's Xinjiang region, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was the first land-based military exercise the two allies have held, and followed joint naval exercises last October.

Chinese state media say the exercises were aimed at improving both armies' anti-terror capability and "to contain and crack down" on separatism, extremism and terrorism.

However, Li Nan, an expert on China's security at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, says Beijing is less concerned about terrorism than about the growing U.S influence around its borders.

Mr. Li says the United States' war on terrorism has allowed Washington to expand its influence in South and Central Asia. The U.S. military has thousands of troops in Afghanistan to hunt al-Qaida and Taleban militants. At the same time, Washington has a strong relationship with Islamabad.

Mr. Li says the exercises were aimed at keeping China's long-time ally, Islamabad, within its own circle of influence. "For China, the central concern is to mitigate the U.S. influence in the region. You need to improve relations with a traditional ally," he says. "If the U.S. could exploit counterterrorism to promote its strategic interest, why can't China?"

China has backed the U.S. war on terror, but human rights groups have accused China of suppressing the restive Uighur population of Xinjiang, a Muslim minority group, under the guise of the international campaign.

Mr. Li says China has been successful in containing Uighur separatism, by financing economic development in the northwest and through agreements with its Central Asian neighbors. "It's difficult for these groups to become highly proactive in their activities. They can't find safe haven across the border, or within the border."

China's military exercises with Pakistan came as Beijing is trying to improve relations with Pakistan's rival, India.

A border dispute between China and India led to a brief war in the early 1960s, and the two are currently in talks aimed at settling the dispute.