Group photo from the last Chinese-Pakistani joint air force exercise in 2011. (photo: Pakistan air force)
China and Pakistan are going to hold joint air force exercises in the province of Xinjiang, the home of China's restive Uyghur population that also borders Pakistan. The exercise will take place against the backdrop of improved relations between Beijing and Islamabad, which have been frayed over China's complaints that Pakistan doesn't do enough to combat Uyghur separatism on its territory.
The Chinese defense ministry said the exercise, called Shaheen-2 would take place Sept 2-22. It is the follow-on drill to Shaheen-1, held in Pakistan in 2011.
China has repeatedly accused Pakistan of allowing the presence of Uyghur militants on its soil, usually doing so in private but occasionally, including after attacks in the far western Chinese city of Kashgar in 2011, in public. But during a visit this year by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Islamabad the Chinese side publicly praised Pakistan's anti-terror efforts:
China “reiterates that it respects the anti-terrorism strategy developed and implemented by the Pakistani side in light of its own conditions. …China expresses its appreciation and continued willingness to help Pakistan build up counter-terrorism capacity”, the joint statement read.
And Pakistan also promised “continuous, active collaboration with and assistance to China in combating terrorist forces including the ETIM," referring to the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement, the group China accuses of carrying out an Islamist, separatist agenda in Xinjiang.
Somewhat poignantly, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn continues: "It was particularly important for Islamabad that Beijing expressed confidence in its counter-terrorism strategy." And it adds that China's counterterror cooperation helps take the heat off of U.S. pressure on the same issue: "With Beijing’s endorsement for its counter-terror strategy in hand, some in Islamabad think that they would be able to better counter the 'Western propaganda'."
No information seems to be available as to the scenario of either this upcoming exercise or the previous version, and how much it may or may not be tied to the counter-ETIM fight.