To celebrate its “long-term friendship” with Pakistan, China has said it will send an expedition to the Baltoro glacier in the Karakoram mountain range, located in the disputed Pakistan- occupied Kashmir (PoK) region, in the coming weeks.
A first of its kind joint mountaineering expedition to this region from China and Pakistan will scale the 7,000 metre-high Mount Spantik peak either in June or July, Chinese officials said on Wednesday.
“Friendship with Pakistan”
“We have long-time friendship with Pakistan people,” said Li Zhixin, vice chairman of the Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA), adding that it was the first ever Chinese expedition to the peak and it would include the country's “best climbers.” “I hope all the athletes can reach the summit and thus reach a new level of our friendship,” he said.
The expedition has been seen as reflecting China's growing willingness to engage in the disputed PoK region, both commercially and politically. China has a long-standing policy of not interfering in the Kashmir dispute, which it describes as an issue for India and Pakistan to resolve.
However, some recent Chinese policies to the region have concerned India, including the issuing of stapled visas to Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir, even while the PoK residents are issued regular visas, and Chinese investments in infrastructure projects.
Chinese officials said last month that China's only focus in PoK was boosting the local economy of the region, which borders the far-western Xinjiang autonomous region, and the government would not be “judgemental” over disputes.
India also expressed concerns over the presence of between three and four thousand Chinese military personnel in PoK, although China says the troops are all from engineering and construction corps and stationed there for humanitarian activities in the wake of the 2010 floods.
Separately, Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie on Wednesday said the People's Liberation Army (PLA) would “enhance strategic communication and deepen pragmatic cooperation” with the Pakistani Navy, following talks with Pakistan's Chief of Naval Staff Muhammad Asif Sandila, who was in Tianjin, a port city near here, this week for the commissioning of the Pakistani Navy's first Fast Attack Craft, which he described as “a milestone in defence and strategic cooperation between Pakistan and China.”