Beijing/Islamabad: China on Saturday announced the postponement of President Xi Jinping's first visit to Pakistan due to the ongoing political crisis there, in a decision which marks his skipping an "all weather" ally for the first time during a South Asia trip which will take him to India and Sri Lanka.
China and Pakistan have agreed to postpone President Xi's state visit to Pakistan, which was scheduled to take place later this month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said in a statement in Beijing tonight.
The two countries made the decision in view of the current political situation in Pakistan, Qin said.
Earlier today in Islamabad, a Pakistan Foreign Office statement said: "In view of the current political situation in Pakistan, the governments of China and Pakistan have mutually agreed to postpone the state visit of Xi Jinping to Pakistan."
"New dates for the President's visit to Pakistan are being discussed through diplomatic channels," it said.
The statement came a day after China downplayed reports of cancellation of Xi's visit, saying the trip was never officially announced.
"The two sides have maintained communication and made productive preparation for Xi's visit to Pakistan," Qin said, adding that new dates for Xi's visit, at an early date, are being finalised through diplomatic channels.
Both countries underline that China and Pakistan are time-tested all-weather friends, he said, stressing that the two attach great importance to Xi's Pakistan visit.
Both sides expect Xi will visit Pakistan as early as possible, for promoting China-Pakistan mutually beneficial cooperation, Qin said.
The postponement is regarded as a diplomatic setback between the two close allies as Xi will be going ahead with the India visit omitting Pakistan for the first time.
For over decade top Chinese leaders visited Pakistan whenever they made a trip to India and Xi's visit was regarded significant as this is his first visit to the subcontinent after he took over as President last year.
As per the schedule yet to be announced, he was due to visit Pakistan first and Sri Lanka and later go to India in the third week.
The visit has now been cancelled due to political standoff between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the opposition parties led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahirul Qadri.
According to reports, Xi was expected to announce USD 34 billion worth of projects during his Pakistan trip.
The two sides are in the final stage of drawing up plans for the Pakistan, China Economic Corridor through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, (POK), which included rail, road and pipeline projects connecting the two countries.
In the last few days, Chinese Foreign Ministry played down reports of cancellation of Xi's visit.
"China and Pakistan are friendly neighbours. We enjoy all weather friendship and cooperation in various fields," he said and once again appealed for political reconciliation in Pakistan to maintain domestic stability.
"We hope all relevant parties in Pakistan to make joint efforts to uphold domestic stability," he said.
Protests have put Pakistan government under pressure. The protesters headed by Imran Khan and Qadri have alleged vote rigging in last year's general election and are demanding Prime Minister Sharif's resignation.
Khan wants the ruling PML-N government's ouster over alleged rigging in last year's polls which his party lost, while Qadri wants to bring a revolution in the country. Both the leaders are agitating since August 14.