China & Kashmir

Published : Apr 08, 2011 00:00 IST

China has received little thanks from Indian writers for the shift in its stand, in favour of India, on Kashmir and on India-Pakistan relations.

CHINA figures in Kashmiri discourse in two respects. In one, Kashmiri leaders, too unimaginative to craft a fitting political response to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's brutal repression and devious tactics, seek escape in plaintive appeals to foreign states to intercede in the Kashmir dispute. They are generally addressed to the United States, where some noted experts' of old are dying to be invited to join the fray and burnish their faded credentials, which were never too bright at any time.

Lately, another state has become a recipient of the Kashmiri leaders' overtures, China. It is too mature and sensible to be impressed, however. Kashmiris rest their plea on bogus foundations China is in possession of Kashmir's territory, in its eastern half (the Aksai Chin in Ladakh and much else below) and acquired in the western half Kashmiri territory in the Shaksgam valley from Pakistan under the boundary agreement of March 2, 1963.

The boundary dispute with India surely does not confer on China a locus standi in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, and China has not made any such claim either. The assertion that Pakistan ceded the territory to China is palpably false, as this writer has demonstrated more than once in this journal (Facing the truth, Frontline, December 6, 2006 and Lessons for India, Frontline, January 24, 1997).

Professor M. Taylor Fravel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has written a definitive work on China's territorial disputes. In an outstandingly able survey, he provides, with copious references to Chinese sources, an overview that reveals China's outlook on the disputes. This is what this scholar of unimpeachable credentials has to say on what the China-Pakistan boundary agreement actually provides:

China maintained control over more of the disputed territory, but the agreement overall was more favourable to Pakistan. China kept roughly 5,309 square kilometres it contested in the Shaksgam Valley. However, it transferred [ sic] control of some 1,942 square kilometres of territory in the Oprang Valley to Pakistan, which also maintained control over an additional 1,554 square kilometres of territory it already held. On balance, Pakistan seems to have gained more from the deal, as the final borderline followed closely the line of actual control advocated by Pakistan. China not only abandoned its claims to the Hunza, but Pakistan also received grazing areas in the Prang and Bund Darwaza valleys, the Kharachanai salt mine, and the town of Sokh Bulaq. In addition, Pakistan kept control over three-fourths of K2 as well as six of seven disputed mountain passes. Finally, Pakistan transferred no territory already under its control to China. (Page 116; emphasis added, throughout.) It was instead China which transferred control of some 1,942 square kilometres to Pakistan. When will the half-a-century-old lie the country has been fed on be laid to rest? In any settlement in the future, India is certain to write off those areas.

It goes back to Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah's unwise venture during a trip abroad in 1965 when he met Prime Minister Zhou Enlai in Algiers and was afterwards arrested and detained at Kodaikanal, and later New Delhi, for nearly three years. Released on Id day, January 2, 1968, he gave a press conference two days later on the lawns of 3, Kotla Lane, New Delhi, where he was detained. It remained his home for quite some time. Over 150 correspondents grilled him. The transcript speaks for itself:

Q.: Throw some light on your meeting with Mr. Zhou Enlai.

Sheikh Abdullah: I was in Algiers and Zhou Enlai suddenly came there one morning. I wanted to know from the horse's mouth about Kashmir, parts of whose area are controlled by India, another part by Pakistan and a portion thereof now is under China also. Naturally, I thought, let me see what has happened. So, I had a talk. Zhou Enlai said: Pakistan being in de facto control of that area, we thought that we must straighten the border on that side. We talked with Pakistan and we have put a clause in the agreement that it is temporary; and ultimately when the question of Kashmir is resolved the matter will again be taken up at the time.' Then he talked about India. Next day I reported the whole thing to the Foreign Minister of India through the Indian Ambassador. First the Indian Ambassador avoided me but I did not avoid him. I gave him in writing and requested him to transmit it immediately to the Foreign Minister. It is only a question of trust. But I got indications that probably my friends in India did not trust me. (He was arrested nonetheless.)

Q. : You are trying to internationalise the issue.

Sheikh Abdullah: You have already internationalised it.

Q.: Do you consider China a party to the Kashmir problem in view of her agreement with Pakistan on a part of the State?

Sheikh Abdullah: China does not claim Kashmir. They have occupied some parts of Kashmir and so the dispute is going on.

Q.: The part of Kashmir which is under occupation of China, have you anything to say about that?

Sheikh Abdullah: That is a part of Kashmir and belongs to Kashmir. You should ask the Foreign Minister about it.

(From Speeches and Interviews by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah; G.M. Shah (ed.), Member, Plebiscite Front; Delhi; 1968, pages 8-10).

Another noted authority Prof. John W. Garver, has demonstrated in his able work, also based on Chinese sources, a fundamental shift in China's stand on Kashmir and on India-Pakistan relations in favour of India. He prepared a table tracing the Evolution of the PRL Position on Kashmir for his book Protracted Contest (Oxford University Press, 230).

Nuanced statements

China's statements, like its policies, are nuanced. Suffice it to say that during the worst phase of the Kashmir problem China did not support Pakistan. Several days before President Jiang Zemin's December visit to India and Pakistan, China's Ambassador to India told the media We do not stand for internationalisation of the Kashmir question', thereby directly and publicly rejecting Pakistan's approach to the problem. Nor did the President once mention Kashmir during his 45-minute speech to Pakistan's Senate. (Garver, page 231. See also his essay on The future of the Sino-Pakistani Entente Cordial in South Asia in 2020, edited by Michael R. Chambers; Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; pages 385-448; and the Chinese scholar Mao Siwei's article China and the Kashmir Issue in Strategic Analysis, March 1995, IDSA, New Delhi, pages 1575-1597.) In his opinion, China is against a plebiscite in Kashmir, is for the status quo in Kashmir, and, generally, is for a settlement between India and Pakistan.

China has received little or no thanks from Indian writers for its shift. Comment, surcharged with sheer chauvinism, misses the sense in the sound. What China's Ambassador to India Zhang Yan said on December 13, 2010, was highly significant. China-India relations are very fragile and very easy to damage and very difficult to repair. These wise words of caution were played up. The conclusion was ignored: Therefore they need special care in the information age. China dislikes publicising differences. The agreement on confidence-building measures (CBMs) along the Line of Actual Control (LOAC) in the border areas, signed on November 29, 1996, provided (Article IX) that in case a doubtful situation develops in the border region each side is entitled to seek clarification from the other through diplomatic channels. This statement of the obvious emphasises confidentiality.

The Chief of the Army Staff General V.K. Singh's statement on January 10, 2011, put paid effectively to the scare stories of Chinese incursions into Indian territory in Demchok. The area was in dispute. Perceptions on the LOAC differed. It was put out of bounds for construction work until the issue was settled. Unfortunately such activities were being pushed by some people for local gains ( Rising Kashmir, January, 11, 2011).

Another such scare was China's knocking off of nearly 1,600 km from its definition of China's border with India as one of India's best-informed writers, C. Raja Mohan, put it. He wrote that the first signs of trouble came nearly a decade ago during the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] tenure when maps were to be exchanged to clarify the LOAC. Beijing was reluctant to do the same in the western sector partly out of respect for Pakistan's sensitivity to the delineation of the Sino-India border in J&K ( Indian Express, December 19, 2010). If a writer with an academic background like C. Raja Mohan can go so completely wrong, it is hard to blame the shrieking hyenas on television channels in competition for TRPs.

Talks on boundary issue

China's position was made clear in the fifth meeting of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai in New Delhi in April 1960 three years before the boundary pact with Pakistan. Pursuant to their directive, officials of both sides met to discuss the data. At the very first meeting in Beijing on June 27, 1960, S. Gopal, head of the Ministry of External Affairs' Historical Division, defined the boundary as commencing in the west from the Sino-Indian-Afghan trijunction. This drew a vigorous protest from the leader of China's delegation, Chang Wen-chin. He said: It is necessary for both sides to adopt a matter-of-fact attitude and avoid serious political questions unrelated to our work. The boundary with Sikkim and Bhutan was also excluded. (See Parshottam Mehra; Negotiating with Chinese 1846-1987; Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi; page 222.)

China has relented on Sikkim and concluded an agreement with Bhutan on December 8, 1998 on maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas. Talks on the boundary question continued. It is one of the most difficult negotiations, undoubtedly. Reportedly, an offer to confirm the Sikkim boundary as laid down in the Convention with Britain on March 17, 1890, made a few years ago, coupled with accord on the middle sector, was clumsily withdrawn.

The stapled visa issue reeks of clumsiness. China began stapling visas for Kashmiris only in 2008 ( The Times of India, October 27, 2010). This is coupled with a marked hardening of its position on a boundary accord over the last decade and more.

The question we need to ask ourselves and answer realistically is: Why this shift? India has not changed its stand on Tibet. Chinese pronouncements reflect a certain disquiet over India-American relations; not that China or for that matter Russia does not seek good relations with the U.S. Who does not, pray? The staple issue will vanish perhaps. The basic issue of India's equation with China and the U.S. will survive. What is especially unbearable is how the U.S. blatantly encourages China's neighbouring countries to go against China, Xu Yunhong wrote in Qiushi (Seek the Truth), the Communist Party's official magazine (Ananth Krishnan; The Hindu, February 12, 2011).

This is where Prof. Fravel's work is of immense help. His opinion bears quotation in extenso:

China is the new great power of the twenty-first century. Whether its rise will be peaceful or violent is a fundamental question for the study and practice of international relations. Unlike many past power transitions, China's current economic growth has occurred largely through its acceptance of the prevailing rules, norms, and institutions of the international system. Nevertheless, ambiguity and anxiety persist around how China will employ the military power that its growing wealth creates.

Amid this historical change, one concern is China's potential for violent conflict with other states over territory. The congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, for example, stated in its 2006 annual report that China might take advantage of more advanced military to threaten use of force, or actually use force, to facilitate desirable resolutions of territorial claims'. Such concerns have merit. Historically, rapid internal economic growth has propelled states to redefine and expand the interests that they pursue abroad. Economic development funds the acquisition of more robust military capabilities to pursue and defend these interests. Often such expansion results in the escalation of territorial disputes with other states. More generally, the disruption in the balance of power generates uncertainty among the leading states in the system about the security of vital interests and the structure of international order. In its territorial disputes, however, China has been less prone to violence and more cooperative than a singular view of an expansionist state suggests. Since 1949, China has participated in twenty-three unique territorial disputes with its neighbours on land and at sea. Yet it has pursued compromise and offered concessions in seventeen of these conflicts. China's compromises have often been substantial, as it has usually offered to accept less than half of the contested territory in any final settlement. In addition, these compromises have resulted in boundary agreements in which China has abandoned potential irredentist claims to more than 3.4 million square kilometres of land that had been part of the Qing empire at its height in the early nineteenth century. In total, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has contested roughly 238,000 square kilometres or just 7 per cent of the territory once part of the Qing.

Although China has pursued compromise frequently, it has nevertheless used force in six of its territorial disputes. Some of these conflicts, especially with India and Vietnam, were notably violent. Others, such as the crises over Taiwan in the 1950s and the clash with the Soviet Union in 1969, were tense moments in the Cold War involving threats to use nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, despite a willingness to use force in certain disputes, China has seized little land that it did not control before the outbreak of hostilities.

In Fravel's view China escalates a dispute when it perceives a shift in the balance of power. It has used force mostly in response to weakness and decline (page 313).

China's rising power poses a diplomatic challenge, but its territorial disputes are unlikely to be the leading cause of instability. India should not be deflected from the course it has set before itself. China knows that there is no India-U.S. alliance.

There is, however, no harm in conducting, on the quiet, a serious and sustained dialogue on the basics of China-India relations. A boundary accord will follow once India and China arrive at an understanding on the basics of their relations in the days to come. It is that understanding which will yield the boundary accord, not the other way around. Meanwhile, India should push ahead to finalise with Pakistan its framework of agreement on Kashmir.

+ SEE all Stories
Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment