China on Monday said it hoped India's defence ties with Japan, which were bolstered during the just-concluded visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to New Delhi, would be "conducive" to regional peace and stability.
In its first comments on Mr. Abe's visit, which also saw the Japanese leader accorded the honour of attending Sunday's Republic Day parade as chief guest, Beijing struck a cautious and measured response, reiterating its standard position on ties between other countries in the region.
"The visit you mentioned is an issue between India and Japan," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang told reporters at a regular press briefing.
"We hope that development of defence cooperation between both countries will be conducive to peace, stability and security of the whole region," he said, adding that regional stability and security "should be upheld and safeguarded by all relevant countries."
This was the same response Beijing put out in December, when the Japanese Emperor carried out a landmark visit to India.
China has, so far, responded cautiously to Mr. Abe's visit. Sources said this underlined Beijing's keenness to keep ties with India stable, even as China has stepped up pressure and hit out at Japan over disputes regarding East China Sea Islands and wartime history.
The Party-run Global Times, a tabloid known for its usually nationalistic views, said in an article on Monday that Mr. Abe had visited India with the aim of "pinning down China but hardly looks like succeeding."
"India's main purpose is to obtain practical interests from Japan and Abe's wooing of India to resist China is more of his own wishful thinking," Fu Xiaoqiang, a scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the newspaper.
He added that "the big picture of bilateral relations between India and China stressing peaceful development has been already established, especially after last year when the two countries' leaders for the first time exchanged mutual visits with each other inside one year."
He was referring to the May visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India, which was followed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travelling to Beijing in October, when both sides signed a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement. The last time leaders had exchanged visits in a calendar year was 1954.
Huang Dahui, director of the Center for East Asia Studies at Renmin University of China, added to the Global Times that Japan was pursuing ties as it saw India as "a huge market," and also "in terms of politics and security, cooperation with India can serve the purpose of restraining China".
He said Japan was looking to strengthen alliances with the U.S. and "contain China with neighboring countries". "Abe's standpoint has gained some audience among neighboring countries currently as they have not adapted to China's rapid development," he said. "But as time passes by, other countries will find that the China threat theory is ill-founded."
India, Japan and a number of other countries are embroiled in various territorial disputes with China, which has rapidly expanded its military strength. India agreed to strengthen defence and maritime cooperation during Mr. Abe's visit, also inviting Japan to participate in naval exercises along with the U.S.
At the same time, India has also attempted to walk a diplomatic tightrope by keeping ties with China stable, and even pushing economic engagement with Beijing.
For instance, India has chosen to remain silent on the question of China's tensions with Japan, and also on disputes between China and a number of countries over the South China Sea. Chinese officials, sources said, had noted that India did not comment on China's move to set up an Air Defence Identification Zone over parts of the East China Sea - a controversial step that brought expressions of concern from a number of countries from across the region.