China's visa policy towards Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir remained “unchanged,” the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, ahead of the expected meeting this week between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Wen Jiabao in Hanoi.
China's issuing of stapled visas to Indian citizens from the State is expected to figure in the talks, following the recent suspension of defence exchanges after Lieutenant General B.S. Jaswal's visit was cancelled over Beijing issuing him a stapled visa.
While Indian officials have said the two leaders are expected to meet on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit later this week, Chinese officials said the timing of the meeting — and its agenda — has not yet been confirmed.
“China and India are staying in touch on this matter,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu said, when asked about the visit. He said the government would release information “in due course.”
On the visa issue, he said China's policy was “consistent” and “stays unchanged.”
Officials have, however, refused to confirm whether or not issuing stapled visas for Indian citizens was indeed official policy. Officials did not reply to questions from The Hindu last month on whether or not China had a different policy for Indian and Pakistani citizens in the disputed region.
Sources said China was issuing visas to Pakistani citizens from the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in their passports.
While China officially maintains the Kashmir dispute is for India and Pakistan to solve, Indian officials said they would enquire in this week's talks whether the visa row suggested a recalibration of China's position in favour of Pakistan.
Mr. Ma also said he had “no information” on whether or not Mr. Wen will visit India later this year. Indian officials said Mr. Wen is likely to visit India in December, but this has not yet been confirmed by the Chinese side. Officials said talks regarding the visit were on-going.
Asked about Monday's meeting between Dr. Singh and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, during which both sides discussed “the need for open and transparent dialogue with China,” Mr. Ma said China “did not usually comment on meetings between leaders of other countries.”
Recent months have seen rising tensions between China and Japan over their claims on islands in the East China Sea, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and Senkaku Islands in Japan. China has reportedly blocked exports of rare earth elements, crucial in many high-technology industries, to Japan.
Mr. Ma drew a distinction between China's “friendly relations” with India and its relationship with Japan. “Our friendly position to India will stay unchanged,” he said. “And we will also value our strategic relations with Japan.”