Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Tuesday said Islamabad would welcome a third-party mediating role for China to help bridge its differences with India.
But his overtures received a cautious response from China, with officials here indicating that they would only support moves towards peace that both India and Pakistan cooperated on.
Mr. Qureshi, on a five-day visit to Beijing, said Pakistan “appreciated the important role” China played in the past in promoting the relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad. China had contributed to stability in South Asia, and Pakistan would welcome a “third-party” role for it to help bridge differences with India.
“Pakistan would welcome any role given to China because of the trust and confidence we enjoy among each other,” Mr. Qureshi said in an interaction with scholars and journalists at the China Institute for International Studies (CIIS), a think-tank.
He added: “This is for Indians to decide. Would they be comfortable to have China talking as a third-party trying to bridge the gap? As far as Pakistan is concerned, China has a blank cheque.”
Chinese officials, however, responded cautiously to Mr. Qureshi’s statement. They only reiterated Beijing’s official policy-line that it would “support and welcome improvement of relations” between the two countries.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said India and Pakistan “were both important neighbours.” “Sound India-Pakistan relations are conducive to regional peace, stability and development, and in fundamental interests of both countries.”
Analysts said Beijing’s cautious response reflected its reluctance to put itself in an “uncomfortable” position with India, particularly after relations with New Delhi entered into a relatively calm period following co-operation between the two countries at the climate change summit in Copenhagen.
“China would like to see progress in talks between India and Pakistan, and will encourage both countries to promote trust and dialogue,” said Lan Jianxue, deputy director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at CIIS. “But China would also like to avoid a situation where it will have to take sides.”
Last year saw renewed strains in Sino-Indian ties over tensions on the long-running border dispute. China’s stance on Kashmir, where it has in the past supported Pakistan’s position, has irked New Delhi.
Last year, New Delhi criticised Beijing for issuing stapled visas to Indian passport-holders from Jammu and Kashmir, instead of stamping the visas in their passports as is the normal procedure for Indian citizens.
India also called on China to cease investing in infrastructure projects in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). During Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s visit to Beijing in October, President Hu Jintao committed Chinese support to upgrading the Karakoram Highway and building a hydroelectric project in PoK.
The move was seen by Indian officials as China affirming its support to Pakistan’s claims over land, which India views as being under illegal occupation.