China’s economy is five times the size of India and has a military expenditure that most superpowers would envy. Given this fact, one needs to see the India-China equation as one of competition rather than confrontation. Seen in this framework, the Chinese angst against India on its move to reorganise the territory of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories can have only one other motive apart from its usual grouse on the boundary question. This is to support its all-weather friend Pakistan… writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
One can well understand Pakistan responding to India’s abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A, but for China to have taken umbrage to this development is a little surprising. Well the facts of the matter are as follows. While moving a resolution to abrogate some provisions of Article 370 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah had said on 6 August 2019 in the Lok Sabha that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Aksai Chin are part of Jammu and Kashmir and that Kashmir Valley is an integral part of the country.
The Home Minister stated “Kashmir is an integral part of India, there is no doubt over it. When I talk about Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin are included in it.” This must be the first time when an Indian political leader stated this fact.
A day later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to the Home Minister and specifically raised the reference to Ladakh. “China is always opposed to India’s inclusion of the Chinese territory in the Western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction. This firm and consistent position remains unchanged,” said Hua. She also demanded that India should “avoid taking any move that may further complicate the boundary question”.
Hua stated that the reorganisation would directly “impede China’s sovereignty”. “Recently India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law. Such practice is unacceptable and will not come into force.” One wonders how a change in domestic law would undermine China’s territorial sovereignty. This is a question that only China can answer.
Similarly, this has nothing to do with the boundary question; recall that India has done nothing to change the territorial status quo of the region of Jammu and Kashmir. What has been done is to effect a change in the constitutional status of the state and its reorganization into a Union Territory to be ruled from the centre. The boundary question in the Chinese mind is about territory and how it can occupy more; take the instance of Arunachal Pradesh, which they keep stating to be their own territory. The Indian position is more realistic and wants to settle the boundary question based on some sort of ground check. The specific details of this agreement remain to be worked out.
The other instance of land grabbing is the 1963 Sino-Pak Agreement by which Pakistan illegally handed over the Shaksgam Valley to China. While Article 6 of the treaty speaks of a final settlement after resolution of the Kashmir issue, the fact remains that China is in illegal occupation of this part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir also. Given this fact, one needs to understand that the Chinese react to any statement that India makes, on areas that they see as being of their territorial interest, including in Ladakh. The dangerous part of this assertion has to do with the nibbling away of territory in Ladakh as the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China remains vague on both sides.
The lack of clarity on the LAC helps China to move forward in uncharted territory with a view to being able to establish a claim which would be useful when negotiations for the final boundary issue begin in earnest. That the Chinese have an advantage over India in this regard is clear from a perspective of the access that China has points of contact along the LAC. This includes all the 31 passes, trijunctions and unheld areas. The road access to the LAC is complemented by rail connections for logistics and POL hubs in the TAR along with radar, helipads and infrastructure for billeting of troops. All this gives the Chinese the confidence that they can advance as far as they want in peacetime.
This aspect then translates to a confidence about their territorial ambitions in South Asia, with particular reference to India. Here it is clear that countries like Nepal and Bhutan are targets in one form or the other to ensure that these nations stay away from the Indian sphere of influence. The ability of the Chinese state to use money power and political influence across the region is too well documented to be repeated here. Suffice it is to say that the forces unleashed by China in terms of debt and funding gaps are indicators that their long-term strategy is bound to face challenges. However, in the short term this has translated to give China a clout in the country that they have invested in, beyond any comprehensible reasoning. This is certainly true in the case of Nepal.
China’s economy is five times the size of India and has a military expenditure that most superpowers would envy. Given this fact, one needs to see the India-China equation as one of competition rather than confrontation. Seen in this framework, the Chinese angst against India on its move to reorganise the territory of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories can have only one other motive apart from its usual grouse on the boundary question. This is to support its all weather friend Pakistan. Of this there is little doubt, for it was only China which took upon itself the task of taking the issue for a closed door consultation of the UNSC members. China as a member of the P 5 is in a position to do that, but to use that authority to help its terrorist sponsor friend Pakistan is going one step further and a little perplexing, to say the least.
One only hopes that as the time comes closer for the President Xi Jinping visit to India in October 2019, the Chinese will take cognisance of the Indian reasoning for action in relation to Jammu and Kashmir. This will lead to a better understanding of how informal summits could provide the backdrop for a new beginning in ties with a view to the future. Till this actually happens, it is wait and watch on India-China relations.