Should China, a responsible nation, risk its relationship with another power in the region for a minor, symbolic bus service? It is a question which the Chinese leadership should introspect on….writes Rifan Ahmed Khan
China’s decision to run a private luxury bus service between Lahore and Kashgar draws flak from India. They said it is in gross violation of the bilateral agreements with India, and several international pacts and covenants on non-interference in other sovereign nations’ affairs and on dealing with disputed territories.
India has called the bus service, which passes through the disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), as a ”violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
India says that “connectivity initiatives that straddle national boundaries must be pursued in a manner that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations. They should promote trade, not tension.”
China is acutely aware that PoK is part of the disputed territory which Pakistan refuses to acknowledge or discuss with India. China’s own stated position on Kashmir has been one of non-interference and for the countries involved in the dispute two resolve the issue. It is therefore unbecoming of a country aspiring to be a super power to violate one of the basic principles of international law, that is of non-interference.
In the bilateral agreements with India, over the years, China has accepted the position that there should be no third-party intervention or interference in matters of territorial or other disputes between two sovereign nations.
In the 1954 agreement between India and China, it was clearly laid down that there would be “mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.”
All subsequent discussions and agreements since then have reiterated the above principles. Measured against these mutual assurances, the Lahore-Kashgar bus service is a clear violation of the agreements. Should China, a responsible nation, risk its relationship with another power in the region for a minor, symbolic bus service? It is a question which the Chinese leadership should introspect on.
Besides the mutual pacts, the decision also runs afoul of the UN Charter and International Law. Article 3 of the UN Charter stipulates that the “duty of each state shall be to refrain from whatever interference in internal or external affairs of some other state.”
Several other international laws have clearly laid down the policy of non-interference. China too has claimed often that it abides by the policy of interference and yet its actions in South China Seas and in the Indian sub-continent have persistently been that of interference either directly or indirectly. China has cleverly manipulated the electoral politics of Nepal and Sri Lanka for instance. The Chinese role in the military and civilian realm in Pakistan is well documented.
China’s latest instrument of intervention is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The corridor, passing through a disputed territory, has raised questions about China’s respect for bilateral and international agreements and understandings. Although China has countered the charge that the bus service was in clear contravention of its own stated policy on Kashmir dispute, the arguments are merely a weak cover for an aggressive posturing in the volatile region.
The bus service may seem to be a minor irritant but it carries the potential of spoiling its relationship with another economic powerhouse in the neighbourhood. A bus service, which in any case will prove to be economically unsustainable, is not worth the risk, for a country which has transcontinental ambitions.