China on Friday evaded a direct response to its reported involvement in Pakistan’s decision to declare the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region, bordering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), as the country’s fifth province.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project in President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to achieve connectivity spanning continents, passes through Gilgit-Baltistan.
Asked to respond to reports that Beijing’s concerns played a hand in Islamabad’s decision to upgrade the status of the region because of the CPEC, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying didn’t give a direct response.
“The essence of the question is Kashmir (dispute),” she said, adding the dispute was leftover from history.
Repeating China’s official stand on the dispute, she said: “It should be resolved between the two sides through dialogue and consultation. The CPEC will not affect China’s position on the relevant issue.”
Estimates have put the CPEC’s value at more than $46 billion.
India has reacted strongly to the move on Gilgit-Baltistan, saying it will not be able to hide the illegality of Pakistan’s occupation of parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
Hua’s statement was a repeat of China’s official stand on the issue, without responding to new developments taking place in the region.
In 2016, the foreign ministry had responded to a question on Kashmir by saying: “The ownership of the Kashmir region is an issue between India and Pakistan left over from history and should resolved through dialogues and consultations between the two sides. Relevant cooperation between China and Pakistan in the region aims to promote local economic and social development. It does not target any third party nor affect the positions held by different parties on the relevant dispute.”
Earlier this week, external affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said the move on Gilgit-Baltistan would not be able to hide the illegality of Pakistan’s occupation of parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which it must vacate.
“The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part, has been an integral part and will be an integral part of India. No attempt or unilateral attempt or step to change that would have any legal basis, whatsoever, and it will be entirely unacceptable,” he said.
Referring to the move to make the region a province, Sajjadul Haq, spokesperson for Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman, told AFP in Islamabad: “A high level committee formed by the prime minister is working on the issue, you will hear good news soon.”