China’s stance on Kashmir will never be static
Beijing is pursuing an aggressive engagement strategy.
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).