China’s stance on Kash­mir will never be static

Bei­jing is pur­su­ing an ag­gres­sive en­gage­ment strat­egy.

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

Global iso­la­tion for Pakistan is ris­ing with each pass­ing day on the twin is­sues of ter­ror­ism and Kash­mir. Islamabad’s lat­est ef­fort to in­ter­na­tion­alise Kash­mir at the Or­gan­i­sa­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion meet­ing stood dis­hon­oured, this time, by none other than its “all-weather ally”—China. The for­eign min­istry spokesper­son for China stated, “China’s po­si­tion on the Kash­mir is­sue is clear-cut… Kash­mir is an is­sue left over from his­tory. China hopes India and Pakistan can in­crease di­a­logue and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and prop­erly han­dle rel­e­vant is­sues…” Else­where, Bei­jing’s at­tempt to dis­tance it­self from Pakistan’s move got re­flected when Chi­nese en­voy to India, Luo Zhao­hui com­mented, “China sup­ports the so­lu­tion of dis­putes through bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions... Take the Kash­mir is­sue… We sup­ported the rel­e­vant UN res­o­lu­tions before the 1990s... Then we sup­ported a set­tle­ment through bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tion in line with the Simla Agree­ment.”

Not­with­stand­ing the on­go­ing sig­nalling from Bei­jing, its pre­vi­ous track record and stance on Kash­mir have been in­con­sis­tent, reek­ing of prej­u­dice, and strik­ingly rem­i­nis­cent of the po­si­tion that Bei­jing took on Kash­mir in 1965. His­tory sug­gests that the un­der­ly­ing ra­tio­nales be­hind China’s Kash­mir pol­icy need to be gauged within the broader con­tours of China’s evolv­ing South Asia pol­icy. Bei­jing is known to have sup­ported Islamabad’s po­si­tions on Kash­mir to demon­strate sol­i­dar­ity with its “all­weather ally” dur­ing pe­ri­ods of Sino-In­dian es­trange­ment and hos­til­ity.

China’s align­ment with Pakistan on Kash­mir was archived when For­eign Min­is­ter Chen Yi gave a state­ment dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Karachi on 4 Septem­ber 1965, ex­press­ing “com­plete sym­pa­thy and sup­port for Kash­mir’s just strug­gle”. A day later, on 5 Septem­ber, “Kash­mir peo­ple’s war of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion” was en­dorsed by the Peo­ple’s Daily ( Ren­min Ribao) when it said “… Chi­nese peo­ple deeply sym­pa­thize with the just strug­gle of peo­ple of Kash­mir for their right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion... Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and peo­ple...res­o­lutely sup­port... Kash­mir peo­ple’s strug­gle for na­tional self-de­ter­mi­na­tion...”

Trac­ing the tra­jec­tory of China’s Kash­mir pol­icy only reaf­firms the un­scrupu­lous state­ments and pos­tur­ing un­der­taken by Bei­jing. In April 2016, China’s of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency, filed one re­port af­ter the other on Kash­mir, stat­ing “…a sep­a­ratist move­ment and guer­rilla war chal­leng­ing New Delhi’s rule is go­ing on in In­dian-con­trolled Kash­mir since 1989”. Be­sides, all this while China pub­lished tourist maps de­pict­ing Kash­mir as an en­tirely sep­a­rate en­tity.

It would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for China to de­fend and jus­tify its self- styled con­sis­tency on “neu­tral­ity” over Kash­mir in the above­men­tioned fac­tual back­drop. State­ments made by the Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry that China’s po­si­tion on Kash­mir has been con­sis­tent are self-con­tra­dic­tory. Bei­jing has shifted its po­si­tion on Kash­mir, grad­u­ally, yet firmly, with each pass­ing decade. China’s tra­di­tional and evolv­ing equa­tion with Pakistan, cou­pled with its strat­egy vis-à-vis Pak­istanOc­cu­pied-Kash­mir (PoK) is headed to­ward gain­ing tacit con­trol of the re­gion—both mil­i­tar­ily and politico-diplo­mat­i­cally. The first pub­licly ac­knowl­edged and ad­ver­tised joint pa­trol by the fron­tier de­fence reg­i­ment of China’s PLA and Pakistan’s bor­der po­lice force along the bor­der stretch con­nect­ing PoK with China’s Xin­jiang prov­ince in July 2016 emit­ted mul­ti­ple sig­nals.

The pres­ence of reg­u­lar Chi­nese army in­side Pak­istanoc­cu­pied-Kash­mir re­mains a fore­gone con­clu­sion. With the re­ported sta­tion­ing of a unit of PLA soldiers near the Khun­jerab Pass and Chi­nese military of­fi­cials fre­quent­ing the Field Com­mand Of­fice of Gilgit, which hap­pens to be Pakistan’s military head- quar­ters in the re­gion, a per­va­sive Chi­nese in­tent of es­tab­lish­ing its military edge in India’s north­ern sec­tor can­not be de­nied any longer. My De­cem­ber 2011 col­umn stated that not­with­stand­ing the de­bate sur­round­ing the ac­tual num­ber of Chi­nese PLA troops present in PoK, the fact re­mains that China has firmly perched it­self in PoK along­side the 772-km long LoC run­ning be­tween India and Pakistan. Fur­ther, Bei­jing bids to ques­tion the sta­tus of J&K vis-à-vis the In­dian Union by is­su­ing sta­pled visas to In­dian pass­port hold­ers from J&K, rather than stamp­ing the visas on their pass­ports, as is the norm.

Bei­jing is pur­su­ing an ag­gres­sive en­gage­ment strat­egy by means of spon­sor­ing and in­vest­ing in nu­mer­ous “in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment projects” in­side Gilgit-Baltistan. Be­sides, the Chi­nese Con­struc­tion Corps of the PLA, which is a highly or­gan­ised para­mil­i­tary force, re­mains firmly de­ployed in the re­gion. Chi­nese stakes in CPEC, es­pe­cially in­side Pakistan-oc­cu­pied-Kash­mir by virtue of heavy eco­nomic in­vest­ments and pres­ence of Chi­nese per­son­nel (civil­ian work­ers, en­gi­neers) make China an in­dis­pens­able “fac­tor” in the Kash­mir de­bate. By mak­ing far­ci­cal state­ments that it has main­tained a neu­tral pos­ture/po­si­tion on Kash­mir in per­pe­tu­ity, China is fur­ther ex­pos­ing its char­ac­ter­is­tic dou­ble­s­peak. On the con­trary, re­al­ity is that Bei­jing, po­lit­i­cally and diplo­mat­i­cally, has con­tin­u­ally pro­vided im­plicit sup­port to Pakistan’s po­si­tion on the sub­ject, and is likely to do so in future. Dr Monika Chan­so­ria is a Tokyo-based Se­nior Vis­it­ing Fel­low at the Ja­pan In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs (JIIA).

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