ISLAMABAD, Dec 19: Describing the two nations as “brothers for ever”, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao assured Pakistan on Sunday his country would “stand firm with you” to tide over tough times.

In the first ever address by a Chinese leader to a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament, Mr Wen also called for cementing what he called “all-weather strategic partnership” that he said served the “fundamental interests of both countries”.

In what turned out as a demonstration of passionate feelings for what Pakistan regards as its best friend in the world, the hall packed with members of the National Assembly and the Senate repeatedly burst into cheers to greet Mr Wen’s 23-minute speech, to which Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani responded, in a brief vote of thanks speech, by pointing to what he called an “inextricably linked” destiny of the two nations while leader of the opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan saw the visitor’s address setting out a “new benchmark of future Sino-Pakistan friendship”.

The Chinese premier called for international recognition of what he called “a heavy price” paid by Pakistan in its anti-terrorism campaign and for international community’s support for the country’s effort, but avoided any mention of its longstanding problems with neighbouring India that he visited before coming to Islamabad, although National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, in welcoming speech earlier, had cited the unresolved Kashmir issue as one of “major flashpoints affecting us” besides Afghanistan and the Middle East.

When then Chinese president Jiang Zemin addressed a special session of the Pakistani Senate in the same hall on Dec 2, 1996 — when the National Assembly stood dissolved — he clearly referred to the longstanding Kashmir dispute, without naming it, by saying: “If certain issues cannot be resolved for the time being, they may be shelved temporarily so that they will not affect the normal state-to-state relations.”

Mr Wen did not come out with an advice to his hosts in such clear terms at the end of a three-day visit marked by pledges of big investment and economic cooperation, but he had one on how neighbours should value each other while talking of the need for regional peace.

“You say in Pakistan ‘a good neighbour is a blessing’ (and) we say (in China) ‘a close neighbour means more than a distant relative’,” he said while expressing his “sincere hope” that the people of “our region” would enjoy a lasting peace and a prosperous future.

“China and Pakistan are brothers for ever,” Mr Wen said after he started his speech in the Chinese language with a salutation in Urdu: “Assalam-o-Alikum bhai,” calling Pakistan-China friendship “full of vigour and vitality” and “strong and solid like a rock” in accord with the vision of the old generation of leaders of the two countries.

He recalled Pakistan’s “valuable help” to China when the world’s most populous country experienced what he called a “siege”, which was meant to contain China and which even kept it out of the United Nations for a long time, as well as Chinese assistance over the past half a century to help Pakistan safeguard its independence and sovereignty as he talked of “touching stories” of a friendship that he said was deeply rooted in the hearts of the two peoples – “it is in our blood” – and must be translated into “real action”.

Praising Pakistan’s efforts to tide over its difficulties, he said: “The Chinese government and people will stand firm with you in getting through tough times.”

“To cement and advance the all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation between China and Pakistan is our common strategic choice,” he said and added: “It serves the fundamental interests of both countries and peoples and contributes to peace, stability and development of the region and beyond.”

While talking of the fight against terrorism, Mr Wen said it “should not be linked with any particular religion or country” and that “there should be no double standards”, and called for rooting out causes of terrorism.

Prime Minister Gilani, in his prepared remarks afterwards, used the usual descriptions in describing Pakistan-China friendship as “higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans” but added a couple of his own to call it “stronger than steel and sweeter than honey”.

“The destiny of our nations is inextricably linked,” he observed in describing what he called “the most precious friendship and partnership” that he said had flourished “through the nurture and care of successive generations of leadership” and cherished by the people of the two countries. “No wonder, then, that this special friendship has stood the test of time and grown from strength to strength.”