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    South Asia
     Oct 8, 2010

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Beijing playing its Kashmir card
By Mohan Malik

Even as the Chinese navy signals its intent to enforce sea denial in the "first island chain" in the East (comprised of the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea of the Pacific Ocean), the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is reportedly on the move along China's southwest frontier in Pakistani-held Kashmir.

In late August, media accounts reported the presence of thousands of Chinese troops in the strategic northern areas (renamed Gilgit-Baltistan in 2009 by Pakistan) of Pakistani-held Kashmir, bordering Xinjiang province.

A Western report suggested that Islamabad had ceded control of the area to Beijing, prompting denials from both capitals. Chinese Foreign Office spokesperson Jiang Yu denied the story, saying


the troops are there to help Pakistan with ''flood relief work.''

Nonetheless, credible sources confirm the presence of the PLA's logistics and engineering corps to provide flood relief and to build large infrastructure projects worth US$20 billion (railways, dams, pipelines and extension of the Karakoram Highway) to assure unfettered Chinese access to the oil-rich Gulf through the Pakistani port of Gwadar. As China's external energy dependency has deepened in the past decade, so has its sense of insecurity and urgency.

'The Kashmir card'
While China and India have long sparred over the Dalai Lama and Tibet's status, border incursions and China's growing footprint in southern Asia, a perceptible shift in the Chinese stance on Kashmir has now emerged as a new source of interstate friction. Throughout the 1990s, a desire for stability on its southwestern flank and fears of an Indian-Pakistani nuclear arms race caused Beijing to take a more evenhanded approach to Kashmir, while still favoring Islamabad.

Yet, in a major policy departure since 2006, Beijing has been voicing open support for Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists through its opposition to the UN Security Council ban on the jihadi organizations targeting India, economic assistance for infrastructure projects in northern Kashmir, and the issuance of separate visas by Chinese embassies to Indian citizens of Kashmiri origins.

Amid the current unrest in the valley, Beijing has also invited Kashmiri separatist leaders for talks and offered itself as a mediator, ostensibly in a tit-for-tat for India's refuge for the Dalai Lama. Yet China is actually the third party to the dispute in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). While India holds about 45% of J&K territory and Pakistan controls 35%, China occupies about 20% (including Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley, ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963).

The denial of a visa in July 2010 to the Indian Army's Northern Commander, General B S Jaswal – who was to lead the fourth bilateral defense dialogue in Beijing – because he commanded "a disputed area, Jammu and Kashmir", was said to be the last straw.

Consequently, a new chill has descended on Sino-Indian relations. India retaliated by suspending defense exchanges with China and lodging a formal protest. New Delhi sees these moves as part of a new Chinese strategy with respect to Kashmir that seeks to nix its global ambitions and entangle India to prevent it from playing a role beyond the region. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Indian media: "Beijing could be tempted to use India's 'soft underbelly', Kashmir, and Pakistan to keep India in 'low-level equilibrium'."

Resurrecting old issues and manufacturing new disputes to throw the other side off balance and enhance negotiating leverage is an old tactic in Chinese statecraft. The downturn in Sino-Indian ties since the mid-2000s may be partly attributed to the weakening of China's "Pakistan card" against India, necessitating the exercise of direct pressure against the latter.

Beijing fears that an unrestrained Indian power would eventually threaten China's security along its southwestern frontiers. One Chinese analyst maintains that "Beijing would not abandon its 'Kashmir card.’ The Kashmir issue will remain active as long as China worries about its southern borders." China and Pakistan have been allies since the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. This enduring alliance was formalized with the conclusion of the China-Pakistan "Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation and Good-Neighborly Relations" in April 2005.

Likewise, the sharper focus on Tawang is part of a shriller claim over Arunachal Pradesh in the east, which Beijing now calls "South Tibet" (a new Chinese term for Arunachal Pradesh since 2005), ostensibly to extend its claim over the territories.

It is worth noting that prior to 2005, there was no reference to "South Tibet" in China's official media or any talk of the "unfinished business of the 1962 war." Nor did the Chinese government or official media ever claim that the PLA's "peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1950 was partial and incomplete" or that "a part of Tibet was yet to be liberated.''

Taking a cue from the Pakistanis, who have long described Kashmir as the "unfinished business of the 1947 partition,'' Chinese strategists now call Arunachal Pradesh, or more specifically, Tawang, the "unfinished business of the 1962 war." China also sought to internationalize its bilateral territorial dispute with India by opposing an Asian Development Bank loan in 2009, part of which was earmarked for a watershed project in Arunachal Pradesh.

Chinese strategic writings indicate that as China becomes more economically and militarily powerful, Beijing is devising new stratagems to keep its southern rival in check. Some Chinese economists calculate that within a decade or so, India could come close to "spoiling Beijing's party of the century" by outpacing China in economic growth. From Beijing's perspective, India's rise as an economic and military power would prolong American hegemony in Asia, and thereby hinder the establishment of a post-American, Sino-centric hierarchical order in the Asia-Pacific region.

The past decade has, therefore, seen the Chinese military bolstering its strength all along the disputed borders from Kashmir to Burma (aka Myanmar). Beijing also prefers a powerful and well-armed Pakistani military, as that helps it mount pressure, by proxy, on India. China continues to shower its "all-weather" friend with military and civilian assistance ranging from ballistic missiles and JF-17 fighter aircraft to nuclear power plants and infrastructure.

Having "fathered" Pakistan's nuclear-weapons program, China is now set to "grandfather" Pakistan's civilian nuclear-energy program as well. Chinese and Pakistani strategists gloat over how Beijing is building naval bases around India that will enhance the Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

However, the best-laid plans might come unstuck if Pakistan fails to pacify Balochistan province, where Gwadar is located. The growing Balochi independence movement, which has repeatedly targeted Chinese engineers since 2004, makes the Chinese nervous about implementing their proposals for investment in the construction of a petrochemical complex, a pipeline and a railway line.

Mutual suspicions, geopolitical tensions and a zero-sum mentality add to a very competitive dynamic in the China-Pakistan-India triangular relationship. Beijing and Islamabad are concerned over the growing talk in Washington's policy circles of India emerging as a counterweight to China on the one hand and the fragile, radical Islamic states of Southwest Asia on the other, viewing a potential US-Indian alignment with horror.

The US military bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and India's growing footprint in Afghanistan cause alarm in Beijing and Islamabad. Some Chinese strategists worry about the destabilizing consequences of a prolonged US military presence in "Af-Pak" for the future of Sino-Pakistani ties, as well as on Pakistan's domestic stability. While the remarkable upturn in Indian-American security ties has exacerbated the security dilemma, the post-9/11 US military presence in Pakistan has sharpened the divide within the Pakistani military into pro-West and pro-Beijing factions. 

Continued 1 2  

Indian might met with Chinese threats (Jul 10, '09)

Chinese antics have India fuming
(May 5, '09)

1. Tehran alarm grows at Russia's defection

2. Afghan war moves deeper into Pakistan

3. Perils of forgetting why China matters

4. Yellow hoard

5. Funeral postings in Singapore

6. A dragon-tailed Trojan horse?

7. China's misread 'bubble'

8. Russia along for a Chinese ride

9. Time for US to get real

10. America suffers a power outage

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Oct 6, 2010)


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