Ahead of its President's visit to New Delhi next week, China, for the first time, indicated that it has discontinued the policy of issuing stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir.
Though there was no categorical answer to a question whether China has stopped issuing stapled visas to those from Jammu and Kashmir, Deputy Director General of China's Foreign Ministry Li Kexin said "Have you seen any such reports (of issuance of stapled visas to Kashmiris) in recent times?" indicating that Beijing has stopped the practice.
The comments on the contentious issue by the top official came ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to New Delhi from March 28 to participate in the fourth BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit.
However, on issuance of stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh, Li referred to the boundary dispute between the two countries and said the issue should not affect the overall bilateral relations.
"The issue should not affect the overall bilateral ties. Both the countries have different positions on the boundary issue and we must continue our efforts to resolve the issue through dialogue," he told a group of visiting Indian journalists.
China had in 2008 started the practice of issuing visas on loose sheets of paper to people from Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, drawing India's ire.
China's Ambassador to India Zhang Yan had last year dropped hints of reversing the practice but there was no clear official word on it.
Seeking better people-to-people contacts, another top official in the Foreign Ministry said the number tourists visiting each other's country was quite low compared to the size of their population.