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US-led summit to test Pak diplomacy as it tries not to 'irk' China

WASHINGTON (Web Desk) – As Islamabad looks to revitalise ties with Washington, a US-led virtual summit going to be held on Tuesday (tomorrow), will test Pakistan’s diplomacy as the country will try not to irk its longtime ally and all-weather friend China.

Both India and Pakistan have been invited to the summit. India attended the last meeting and may do so this year as well. Pakistan had opted out of the first summit, reportedly on back of the Biden administration’s refusal to reach out to the then prime minister Imran Khan.

For the cash-starved Pakistan, the summit could be a major opportunity to win over US support for raising funds from international lenders and bilateral donors.

But Pakistan’s long-standing ally and ‘all-weather friend’ China would be closely monitoring these overtures as the US has already annoyed Beijing by inviting Taiwan, China’s longstanding nemesis.

Beijing would want Pakistan to opt out of the ‘controversial’ moot but doing so will send negative signals to the US at a time when Islamabad wants Washington to be on its side to help secure a deal with the IMF. The decision to keep Turkiye out of the summit was another cause of concern for Pakistan.

“One would expect Pakistan to pass again, assuming Taiwan is there, in deference to China,” said Michael Kugelman, a scholar of South Asian affairs at the Wilson Center, Washington.

“While very unlikely, I wouldn’t completely rule out Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari making an appearance,” Mr Kugelman said. “He’s been a very frequent visitor to the US lately.”

Officials at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington said they had not heard anything from Islamabad yet. “Since it’s mostly a virtual meeting, Pakistan still has time to decide,” one of the embassy officials said. “The participation can be confirmed on Monday as well.”

The virtual summit has been co-sponsored by the US Department of State and USAID on the theme of ‘Global Declaration of Mayors for Democracy’.

The event will showcase the role of cities and subnational governments in the affirmation of democratic values and the renewal of democracy worldwide.

From March 29-30, the US will co-host the second ‘Summit for Democracy’ with the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea and the Republic of Zambia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will participate in most of the events. On March 28, Secretary Blinken will chair a virtual panel session on ‘A Just and Lasting Peace in Ukraine’ featuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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