Defense cooperation between China and Pakistan is a normal and necessary practice which should not be linked to the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), experts said.
The remarks to the Global Times came two days after the announcement that the construction of the most advanced frigate for Pakistan Navy has kicked off in Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding Co., China, according to the official WeChat account of China State Shipbuilding Corporation.
The official Twitter account of Pakistan Navy revealed that the frigate under construction is Type 054A/P.
Zhang Junshe, a senior research fellow at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute, told the Global Times that Type 054A is the third generation of China's frigates, which is the most advanced in the country.
He said that compared to the previous generations, the new type has better air defense capability as it is equipped with an improved radar and more missiles that have longer range. The Type 054A frigate also has world-class stealth capability.
Vice Admiral Kaleem Shaukat, Vice Chief of Pakistan Naval staff, addressed the steel-cutting ceremony of the frigate saying that the move ushers in a new chapter in Pakistan-China friendship that has matured through the test of time and remained steadfast in other domains.
"Once constructed, the warship will be one of the largest and technologically advanced platforms of Pakistan Navy which will strengthen Pakistan's capability to respond to future challenges, maintain peace and stability and balance of power in Indian Ocean Region. It will also support Pakistan Navy's initiative of securing seas for international shipping by patrolling distant waters through Regional Maritime Security Patrol," said the Pakistan Navy.
The building of the Type 054A is the latest example of strengthened China-Pakistan defense cooperation in recent years under an all-weather strategic cooperative partnership.
Ahmad Saffee, research fellow at Institute of Strategic Studies in Pakistan, told the Global Times that the replacement of British-made Type 21 frigates with Chinese made Type 054A frigate by Pakistan Navy shows Islamabad's commitment to modernization of its defense capabilities.
"Pakistan has also signed agreement with Turkey for the manufacture of corvettes and other defense equipment. This modernization drive can be contextualized in regional and global spheres, as Pakistan gears for a proactive role in both," he said.
According to Saffee, Pakistan's defense capabilities are to maintain strategic deterrence against its enemies, especially India, which poses a threat.
Saffee added the US used to provide Pakistan with sensitive military equipment. But now since it is blaming Pakistan for its failure in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has also chosen India as its blue-eyed boy in the South Asian region, Pakistan was left with no other option except to turn to Russia, China and Turkey for buying defense equipment in the wake of India building up its arsenal.
Responding to the recent New York Times article that claimed China is expanding military influence in Pakistan under the BRI, Saffee pointed out the depth of Pakistan-China relations goes beyond China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and BRI.
He stressed that Pakistan's military collaboration with China is part of a strategic partnership which shouldn't be simply limited to CPEC or BRI.
"With regards to defense cooperation and the military aspect there are no funds allocated or no designs expressed under CPEC long term plan. Whatever defense cooperation we witness today has a history and should be viewed separately," he stressed.
In Friday's routine press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying also responded to the New York Times report, calling it untrue.
Saffee thinks the recent attention being paid to modernization of Pakistan's defense has to do more with anti-China propaganda.