Against the backdrop of US drone attacks in Pakistan, China has sought to reinforce its strategic ties with Islamabad, promising “enhanced” economic aid and backing its close ally's calls to respect its sovereignty. “We should support each other's efforts in resisting foreign interference, upholding independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and fostering a sound external environment,” Chinese foreign minister Mr Yang Jiechi said. Significantly, Mr Yang also referred to tensions being faced by China in the South China Sea over maritime disputes with a host of countries. The Philippines directly challenged China over the disputes and both the countries deployed their ships there. “The Asia-Pacific region where our two countries are located is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, yet it is also a place where tensions and conflicts of various types keep emerging. Countries in the region face both rare historical opportunities and multi-faceted challenges and risks. Under this new situation, China and Pakistan need to work closely together to seize opportunities and meet challenges,” he told Pakistani think-tanks during his recent visit to Islamabad, according to the foreign ministry here. Mr Yang said during his visit that he has reached broad consensus with Pakistani leaders to deepen friendship, expand cooperation and enhance mutual support between the two countries in this new era. “On the political front, China and Pakistan should maintain high-level exchanges and continue to support and help each other on issues that involve each other's major interests,” he said. His visit to Pakistan from 29 to 30 May took place at a time when US-Pakistan relations worsened further with no agreement on reopening the Nato supply routes as well as resumption of drone strikes by Washington to target the militant hideouts in the Pakistani tribal areas. With the USA openly expressing impatience with Pakistan over its failure to crack down on Taliban insurgents and its lawmakers demanding to cut aid to Islamabad for jailing a doctor who helped CIA track Osama bin Laden, Mr Yang's visit was seen as an expression of support to Beijing's closest ally as well as to discuss the future of Afghanistan after the scheduled departure of US-led Nato troops by 2014. Analysts here say that China looks to play a bigger role in Afghanistan after the departure of the US troops. Beijing also held a special conference on Afghanistan here this week. The foreign minister said “no matter how the international and regional situation may evolve, China and Pakistan should remain true” to the basic principles guiding China-Pak ties and they should be “firmly committed to maintaining and carrying forward our strategic partnership of cooperation.” China will continue to provide “sincere and selfless” help to Pakistan for its economic and social development, he said. “We will enhance cooperation with Pakistan in energy, infrastructure and agriculture on a priority basis, intensify exchanges and cooperation between the two sides in finance, science, technology and aerospace, and help Pakistan raise its capacity for self-development,” he said. He also referred to anti-terrorism cooperation, specially Beijing's demand to crackdown on 'jihadi' groups involved in backing agitation by Muslim Uygurs in Xinjiang province over increasing settlements of Hans and praised Islamabad's cooperation in the fight against terrorism. “On the security front, both China and Pakistan face the threat of terrorism, separatism and extremism. We must step up counter-terrorism and security cooperation and jointly fight the above three forces. China maintains that Pakistan has made important contribution to the international campaign against terrorism and made tremendous sacrifice in this regard,” he said.