NEW DELHI : China seemed ready to relent on its long-held position of opposing moves to designate Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist, with Beijing on Tuesday reporting “positive progress" on the matter, which it said could be “properly solved".

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said China supports the issue of designating Azhar a terrorist under UN rules.

“On the listing of the (UN) 1267 Committee, we have stated our position many times. I won’t go into details here. I just want to emphasize that, first, China supports the issue of listing, which should be resolved through political consultation within the framework of the 1267 Committee," Geng told reporters.

“At present, the relevant consultations are underway in the 1267 Committee. And positive progress has been made. Thirdly, we believe in the joint efforts of all parties. This problem can be properly solved," Geng said.

The apparent change in the Chinese position comes after Beijing in March put a technical hold on a proposal introduced by France and supported by the US and UK to list Azhar as a terrorist under UN norms. Azhar’s JeM terrorist group claimed responsibility for the 14 February Pulwama suicide attack that killed 40 Indian security personnel.

A report in Hindustan Times on Tuesday said Beijing could lift the technical hold as early as Wednesday.

If the turnaround materializes, it would come after more than three years of diplomatic efforts by India. New Delhi in 2016 tried to get Azhar listed as a terrorist under UN norms, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then president Pranab Mukherjee making separate appeals to the Chinese leadership, but to little avail.

A lifting may boost Modi in the middle of a poll campaign that has seen him make several references to India’s fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistan. “I think it (the possible change in China’s position) is due to a mix of economic compulsions and diplomatic pressure mounted by India," said A.K. Verma, a Kanpur-based political analyst. “China cannot afford to ignore the Indian market at this point," Verma said, pointing to trade tensions with the US.

“There is also international pressure that India has worked to its advantage—with the Arab countries on one side and the US, UK and France on the other—which makes China seem isolated," Verma said, adding that international opinion was now firmly against terrorism. Significantly, China’s reported change of heart comes in the wake of Sri Lanka bombings.

The hold placed on the French proposal in March was the fourth time China had blocked Azhar’s listing as a global terrorist by the UN. This time round, the US, UK and France stepped up pressure on Beijing by circulating a draft text of a resolution—naming Azhar as a terrorist under UN norms—that the three countries said would be introduced in the UN Security Council.

PTI contributed to this story.

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