Rejecting New Delhi's assertions that Beijing should respect India's sensitivities on Kashmir, China on Tuesday said that its policy of issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris would remain unchanged, in crucial comments ahead of a meeting between prime ministers of the two countries.
Weeks after External Affairs Minister S M Krishna hoped that Beijing would maintain 'neutrality' on the affairs related to Jammu and Kashmir and respect India's sensitivities on the issue, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said, "Though China had friendly relations with India, its policy towards the stapled visas for residents of the state remained unchanged."
The comments come ahead of this week's meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of East Asia Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. The issue of stapled visa is likely to figure prominently at the talks.
Ma Zhaoxu, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said at his bi-weekly briefing, "As for the Indian Kashmir visa our policy is consistent and has stayed unchanged."
He was replying to questions whether the issue would come up for discussions at the meeting between Singh and Wen. He said officials of both the countries were in "touch" with each other to arrange the meeting.
Indian officials expect the meeting to take place on October 30. Ma declined to comment on the just concluded visit of Singh to Japan and the Indian Prime Minister's talks with his Japanese counterpart, Naoto Kan in which China figured prominently.
"We usually do not comment on leaders meeting from other countries. Our friendly position with India remains unchanged. Meanwhile, we value strategic relations with Japan," Ma said.
China has been issuing stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir since 2008. The policy had its biggest fall out when China recently declined to grant visa to Lt Gen B S Jaswal, the chief of Indian army's northern command for official talks in Beijing on the ground that he headed troops of a disputed area.
The move prompted India to put on hold all defence exchanges with China, even though Beijing played down the move saying that defence ties are intact.
Earlier China stapled visa policy coupled with references of Gilgit and Baltistan which are part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, as Northern Areas Pakistan by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson created an impression that China changed its neutral stand on the status of Kashmir.
However, an official online map released by China to rival Google displayed the Line of Control, in Kashmir region acknowledging the both sides of the areas respectively under the control of India and Pakistan.
It also recognises the Northern Areas of Gligit and Baltistan as part of the "Pakistan controlled" Jammu and Kashmir. The stapled visa issue has emerged as an irritant in Sino-Indian ties at a time when bilateral trade is set to cross $ 60 billion target set for this year.