China argued on Friday that it played a “constructive role” in de-escalating simmering tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan that last week triggered concerns of another war between the two neighbors over the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, home to competing territorial claims by Beijing, Islamabad, and New Delhi.
On Wednesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quereshi attributed the easing of tensions to private diplomacy from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and countries like China and Russia, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.
Beijing has been urging restraint by New Delhi and Islamabad in response to reciprocal air operations carried by both countries in Kashmir last week after the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the February 14 suicide bombing that killed more than 40 Indian security forces in the India-administered Kashmir.
Speaking on the sidelines of the annual National People’s Congress legislative meetings, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi declared on Friday that India and Pakistan should “meet each other halfway” to defuse the crisis, portraying Beijing’s role as a balancing act between its nuclear-armed neighbors, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports.
“China has stressed from the beginning the need to exercise calm and restraint, prevent an escalation, find out what has happened, and resolve the matter through dialogue,” Wang told reporters, cheerily referring to Pakistan as “China’s iron brother”.
“China hopes that Pakistan and India will transform the crisis into an opportunity and meet each other halfway,” he added. “We advise both parties to quickly turn this page and seek fundamental, long-term improvement in their relations.”
He welcomed New Delhi and Islamabad defusing the situation and returning to talks, adding, “We can create a better future through cooperation when confrontation gives way to dialogue and disagreements are settled by goodwill.”
While China’s vice-minister Kong Xuanyou traveled to Islamabad to discuss the India-Pakistan conflict with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, he did not make a similar trip to New Delhi.
Wang’s comments came in anticipation United Nations vote to condemn Masood Azhar, the head of the Pakistan-based JEM terrorist group. China has long been blocking U.S.-backed efforts in the U.N. to blacklist the leader of the already banned JEM outfit.
China’s history of blocking the listing on technical grounds has been seen as a reflection of its allegiance to Pakistan, known as its “all-weather” ally, but its decision will be put to the test this month as the UN Security Council considers a fresh proposal to list Azhar on the UN terror list.
The sticking point may be exacerbated as India ramps up to key general elections this year, with nationalistic sentiment against China’s actions seen as coming at Islamabad’s behest.
For the most part, Beijing tends to stay in the shadows of Kashmir-linked disputes between India and Pakistan, using its military and financial support for Islamabad to keep mutual rival New Delhi in check.
Although a border known as the Line of Control (LOC) separates the Kashmir territories controlled respectively by India and Pakistan, both countries claim ownership of the entire Muslim-majority region. Pakistan has ceded control of some of its Kashmir territories to China while India disputes Beijing’s claims to land within its side of the LOC.
The Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor component, a testament to the strong ties between the two allies, is expected to run through the territory in Kashmir claimed by India. New Delhi has repeatedly repudiated Beijing’s ambitious BRI or One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project, also considered a national security threat by New Delhi ally the United States.
Last week, Pakistan and India both carried out reciprocal air bombing operations in Kashmir, marking an escalation of periodic clashes along the LOC not seen in decades but that appeared to be easing in recent days with Islamabad’s return of a captured Indian pilot.
In what Islamabad described as retaliation to India’s airstrike operation — prompted by the JEM terrorist attack on Valentine’s Day — Islamabad shot down a warplane and detained the pilot last Wednesday.
India claimed it targeted a JEM training camp, but Pakistan denies it, adding that it does not harbor any terrorist groups.
This week, Pakistan launched a crackdown against domestic terrorist organizations.
Despite a 2003 ceasefire in Kashmir between India and Pakistan — which have fought two wars and a minor conflict over the region — the two countries have repeatedly clashed along the LOC, and those incidents continue.
Citing the much-touted reset in relations Wuhan summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after a tense border stand-off at Doklam in 2017, the Chinese foreign minister vowed to continue working with its rival India “to comprehensively strengthen sectoral cooperation and our people-to-people ties.”
India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamic terrorists in Kashmir. Meanwhile, Islamabad accuses New Delhi of violently oppressing pro-Pakistan separatists who are fighting for independence or in favor of a merger with Pakistan.