China ramps up pressure over Kashmir
By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - A recent report in the Chinese media describing the Sino-Indian
border as being 2,000 kilometers long, roughly 1,500 km shorter than that
defined by India, has evoked an alarmed response among sections of the Indian
The "missing 1,500 km" from the definition of the Sino-Indian border is seen to
be a clear pointer to Beijing's hardening position, not only on its
long-standing boundary dispute with India but also on 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
A Beijing-datelined Xinhua news agency report of an official briefing by
China's Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue on the eve of Prime Minister Wen
Jiabao's recent visit to India triggered the flap. "China and India share a
2,000-km-long border that has never been formally demarcated," the report said.
India describes the border as being 3,488 km.
The different positions were made even more explicit by the Global Times, an
English-language newspaper published by the People's Daily, the official
mouthpiece of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. In an interview with Global
Times, India's ambassador to China, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, spoke of the "long
common border of 3,488 kilometers" between the two countries. But a comment by
the editors of Global Times in parentheses said: "There is no settled length of
the common border. The Chinese government often refers to the border length as
being 'about 2,000 kilometers'."
Reports in state-owned media have been describing the border as being 2,000 km
for at least a year now.
The roughly 1,500 km-long shortfall in the Chinese perception is believed to
refer to the Sino-Indian boundary in J&K. "China apparently no longer
treats the line of nearly 1,600 km separating Jammu and Kashmir on the one hand
and Xinjiang and Tibet on the other as a border with India," strategic affairs
expert C Raja Mohan wrote in the Indian Express. That is, it does not recognize
Kashmir to be part of India.
Beijing is questioning India's locus standi to discuss J&K’s border
with China, observes B Raman, a retired director in India's external
intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). In essence, it is
seeking to exclude discussion of the western sector of the disputed Sino-Indian
boundary with India. The western sector includes the large chunk of Indian
territory, Aksai Chin, in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir that China
occupied in 1962.
Besides, China "wants to change the format of the border talks in order to keep
it confined bilaterally to the eastern and middle sectors and expand it to a
trilateral issue involving India, China and Pakistan in the western sector,"
Raman wrote recently.
China has become increasingly assertive in its questioning of India's
sovereignty over J&K. Since 2008, it has been issuing visas on a separate
sheet of paper to residents of Jammu and Kashmir rather than stamping the visa
in their passports, as is the norm with other Indian citizens. In August last
year, China also denied a visa to Lieutenant General B S Jaswal - commander of
the Indian army's Northern Command, which includes Kashmir - for an official
visit to China, on the grounds that he "controlled" a "disputed area".
Besides, over the past year, Beijing has been reaching out to the Hurriyat
Conference, an umbrella organization of Kashmiri separatist outfits. In March
2010, for instance, Chinese Foreign Affairs director Ying Gang met with
Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in Geneva on the sidelines of the 13th
session of the UN Human Rights Council. Besides questioning India's sovereignty
over Kashmir, China has been endorsing Islamabad's control over the part of
Kashmir it has administered since 1947.
It was with India that the Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, Hari Singh, signed
an Instrument of Accession in October 1947. However, only 45% of the territory
of the former princely state is in India's hands today, roughly 35% remaining
under Pakistani administration and another 20% under Chinese control. The
territory under Chinese occupation includes Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley
that Pakistan gifted to China in 1963.
In the Northern Areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, China is involved in
the construction of several infrastructure projects, including roads,
hydroelectric power projects, dams, expressways, bridges and telecommunication
facilities. During Wen's recent visit to Pakistan, the two countries signed a
US$275 million agreement for repair and expansion of the Karakoram Highway.
Earlier in September, Beijing underlined its support to Islamabad's territorial
claims over parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir when it described the
Northern Areas as "a northern part of Pakistan".
The India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir predates the People's Republic of China
(PRC). India and Pakistan had already fought their first war over Kashmir when
the PRC came into being. Initially, China took its cues from the Soviet Union
on the issue. It described the conflict as a Western creation and maintained
that the US and Britain were hoping to make Kashmir a Western base.
China took a "neutral position" in the 1950s. It opposed foreign arbitration on
the Kashmir issue, which pleased India. At the same time, it did not endorse
Delhi's claims over Kashmir. Fraying Sino-Soviet relations and Moscow's overt
support to Jammu and Kashmir as "an inalienable part of the Republic of India",
as well as concerns that its backing of India would push Pakistan into a closer
embrace of the US, seem to have prompted it to adopt a more "neutral position"
between India and Pakistan on Kashmir.
With Sino-Indian relations deteriorating from 1959 onwards, China began tilting
towards Pakistan. It signed a border agreement with Pakistan. Since this dealt
with areas that constituted Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the agreement
amounted to a de facto Chinese recognition of Pakistan's control over this
area. Although it subsequently denied such recognition, describing this as
"provisional" and "pending settlement of the Kashmir dispute", a joint
communique issued at the end of prime minister Zhou Enlai's visit to Pakistan
in February 1964 was a strong endorsement of the Pakistani position. It urged a
solution of the dispute "in accordance with the wishes of the people of
Kashmir". India is opposed to a plebiscite in Kashmir.
By the mid/late 1970s, China began advocating a status quo on Kashmir. Support
for the Kashmiris' right to self-determination was toned down. In 1976, in his
speech before the UN General Assembly, Chinese foreign minister Chia Kuan-Hua
omitted naming Kashmir in a list of territories where the right to
self-determination had not been exercised. It is believed that China's own
troubles with separatism and improving ties with India prompted its shrinking
support on self-determination.
With Sino-Indian rapprochement gathering momentum in the 1990s, China began
describing Kashmir as a bilateral matter to be resolved by India and Pakistan
through peaceful means. On his visit to India in 1996, president Ziang Zemin
called on India and Pakistan to set aside contentious issues and build a
cooperative relationship. During the brief Kargil conflict in 1999, China
called on India and Pakistan to respect the Line of Control that separates
Pakistani- and Indian-administered Kashmir. These were seen as signs of Beijing
taking a neutral position on Kashmir again.
China has never accepted India's sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir, even over
the part that is under its control. After all, if it did it would mean giving
up the roughly 43,180 square kilometers of territory that is currently under
its control. However, it had avoided provoking India on the matter publicly.
This has changed in recent years, with Beijing being "deliberately provocative"
India is not letting the repeated provocations go unchallenged. After all, the
territorial integrity of the country is a core concern of the Indian state. A
couple of months ago, in his talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi,
India's External Affairs Minister S M Krishna did some tough talking. According
to officials quoted by the Hindu, for the first time India drew a parallel
between "the territorial red lines" of the two countries.
Krishna reportedly told Yang that just as India had been sensitive to its
concerns over Tibet and Taiwan, Beijing too should be mindful of Indian
sensitivities on Jammu and Kashmir. The message that India is sending is that
if China questions India's sovereignty over Kashmir, India will question
Beijing's sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan.
Delhi has indicated that Krishna's warning was to be taken seriously. The joint
communique issued at the end of Wen's visit to India made no reference to
India's commitment to a "one china policy". This is the first time since 1988
that a summit-level joint communique has made no mention of the policy.
Instead, both sides agreed to show "mutual respect and sensitivity for each
other's concerns and aspirations".
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in