By Ananth Krishnan
A Chinese statement on Tuesday describing the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as “Pakistan’s” has raised eyebrows, even as China goes ahead with an ambitious economic corridor through the contested territory despite Indian concerns.
The announcement issued by China’s State-run and official Xinhua news agency described the pass as “a strategic point on the Karakoram highway which links China’s Xinjiang with Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region”.
In the past, China’s official position has been that it does not take sides on the Kashmir dispute, which is “for India and Pakistan to resolve”. India views the region as an integral part of India that is under illegal Pakistani occupation.
Despite the official stance of neutrality, India has expressed growing concerns over increasing Chinese investments in projects in PoK and stapled visas issued to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir, with the suggestion that the moves reflected a shift from China’s earlier position on the dispute.
China subsequently withdrew the stapled visa policy for Indian citizens, but has continued with an ambitious economic corridor linking Xinjiang to the Pakistani port of Gwadar. The corridor, which includes a plan to expand the Karakoram Highway and build a railway link through PoK, has been backed by Chinese President Xi Jinping as part of his new “Silk Road economic belt” pet project.
This is not the first Chinese reference to Gilgit-Baltistan as part of Pakistan. In 2010, the Chinese Foreign Ministry in a statement denying the presence of its troops in PoK described the Gilgit Baltistan region as “part of Pakistan”.
After India protested the reference, the ministry, as well as the official Xinhua news agency, later withdrew the statements from their websites.