The inevitable has happened. On September 2, 2010, the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, which is an authoritative source, reported Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu’s statement on the presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) as follows:
“China on Wednesday rejected reports of the presence of over 11,000 Chinese troops in North Pakistan, saying such “groundless reports” were made with “ulterior motives”. “We believe the attempts of some people To fabricate stories to provoke China-Pakistan or China-India relations are doomed to fail” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu in a statement”.
The Xinhua news item went on to record “Gilgit-Baltistan as a region of Pakistan”.
Ms. Jiang Yu further underscored “About our visa policy towards inhabitants in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region, the policy (stapled visa) remains unchanged”.
This was a masterly crafted official statement, used when the Chinese do not resort to unsavory rhetorics and unprovoked insults.
By saying that certain people fabricated the report of 11,000 Chinese soldiers in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan to China-India relations, it obviously tried to mislead the gullible among Indians. More importantly, it gave a handle to the hard line pro-China political elements to argue that the Americans were trying to foment India-China antagonism. The presence of 7000 to 11,000 Chinese troops working on roads in Gilgit-Baltistan was first published in the New York Times.
The Chinese authorities are banking on the same Indian political section who declined to condemn the 1962 Chinese attack on India, and opposed the India-US civilian nuclear agreement in Parliament, to maintain silence if not back China.
It is abundantly clear that China is fronting Pakistan in a much larger strategy in the region, extending to the Gulf and the Middle East on one side, and the Central Asian States on the other. In between, however, there is India to deal with – the Kashmir issue, India’s acceptance among the Afghan people in a historical relationship, similar Indian relations with Central Asian States and their people, as well as no-friction exchanges and trade and economic relations with the Gulf and the Middle East. This is a huge diplomatic, political and economic ensemble.
India is not a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Yet, India maintains cordial relationship with most IOC members individually and bilaterally, save Pakistan. The OIC conference releases are based on consensus and, therefore, Pakistan’s position on Kashmir is taken into account. Otherwise, no OIC member is interested in the Kashmir issue. This has frustrated the Pakistani Army and connected establishment including the foreign service establishment.
A short time before the Gilgit-Baltistan issue camp up, a Pakistani newspaper alleged to be closed to the Pak intelligence agency, the ISI, hinted that the Kashmir issue was a tripartite one involving Pakistan, India and China. The game was given away.
In terms of regional peace and stability, China’s official statement of September 02, may have turned the whole Kashmir question and territorial issues involving India on its head. And this is going to change equations for times to come.
The withdrawal of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on “Northern Kashmir” from their website subsequently is viewed by some in India including in the government, as correcting a faux Pas or China signaling that their position was not a significant issue. The Chinese recorded their new position on POK, tested Indian reaction, closed the issue for the time being. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s and the Xinhua’s position stays, to be brought up at an appropriate time.
China has changed the India-Pakistan map, which poses a serious threat to India’s security and integrity.
The historically and UN recognized Jammu and Kashmir region has been desecrated. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry formulation there is no Kashmir question. The POK or the Pakistani “Azad Kashmir” has been washed away.
Yet, Jammu and Kashmir, which is part of India’s sovereign territory has been deviously projected as the disputed region between India and Pakistan.
The projection made by China has very serious implications on territorial issues for India. Bilaterally (China-Pak) converting POK into a part of Northern Pakistan, addresses the 1963 China-Pak agreement according to which Pakistan ceded approximately 5,400 sq. kms. of POK to China, through which the China-Pakistan Karakoram highway runs.
One clause of the 1963 agreement was that China will re-negotiate on this piece of territory with the party which won sovereignty over it once the Kashmir issue was resolved. But the new position makes this clause redundant as it becomes Pakistani territory as per the two sides.
Apart from the 1947-48 UN resolutions on the Kashmir issue which was never implemented because of Pakistan’s refusal to go with the parameters of the resolutions, the Kashmir issue remained a lame duck, and has died with time and demographic changes.
Now, this whole issue is about to change. Chinese territory makes a sharp bridge head into Northern Pakistan, going by the Siachen Glacier. Siachen is also covered by Pakistan and its military deployment on one side. This would put tremendous pressure on India’s position in Siachen, a critical enemy gateway to J&K.
It has now been revealed that the Chinese workers in Gilgit-Baltistan are no ordinary labourers. They are from the PLA Logistics Department, engineers and soldiers involved in construction. Technically, they belong to the PLA and the PLA is on active duty on foreign soil. Deployment for UN Peace Keeping forces is something totally different. The PLA activity in Gilgit-Baltistan lays bare the much touted deceptive proclamation that not a single Chinese soldier will be placed on foreign soil.
There is clearly a need to recognize the fact that when the Chinese make an official statement, its impact, prospects and consequences are very carefully weighed, looking to future strategy for which the blue print is already in place. They never make mistakes or slip-ups. When changing, they quote change in circumstances critical to their security.
In this context, it merits to revisit what is generally believed in India that China recognized Sikkim as an integral part of India in 2005. Visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao only showed a map to concerned Indian officials showing Sikkim as a part of India. China’s foreign ministry website showing Sikkim’s status in unreliable and can be changed at any time.
China can be nailed down to its words only if there is an official statement. More than that, there has to be written and signed agreements. The Sikkim issue is very much alive. After Wen Jiabao’s visit to India, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing made it abundantly clear that the Sikkim issue will be resolved along with the border issue. This is the moot point.
As regards the boundary question, the Chinese never wanted to resolve it at this phase. They wanted stable and secure neighbourhood to secure economic and military development. Having achieved their objectives, the Beijing leaders appear to have embarked on the next stage of strategic domination in Asia.
The “Watch and Wait” approach by India, Japan and some of the South East Asian countries are fraught with serious danger. China’s territory hungry surge supported by military means, is becoming louder.
A point to note is the expanding designation of “core interest” territories. From Taiwan and Tibet it has expanded to the South China Sea and its island and the so-called first chain of islands, to Japanese territory emphatically, in the past months.
India may wake up sooner than later with China’s claims on Indian territories designated as “core interest” territories. This would mean that either submit to China’s claims or prepare for a war to protect them.
What exactly that territory would be is not known. Beijing has not agreed to exchange maps of the Western and Eastern Sectors, the most strategic sections, with the Indian interlocutors. Evidence exists with the Indian side that China is encroaching upon more Indian land surreptitiously, especially in the Western Sector.
India does not have the leeway to sweep more Chinese dirt under the carpet. The carpet is now too small to hide it all. It is now time not only to use quiet diplomatic channels with China, but show that India can also hurt China.
India may have signed in 2003 that Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is Chinese territory. The operative part of this agreement in the “autonomy” of TAR. If autonomy of TAR as defined by several international treaties is addressed by Beijing, then the agreement stays. If not, the Agreement is dead, and India can revert to its original position on the entire Tibet issue, the true history of Tibet be brought out to demolish the history of Tibet concocted by China, and refuse to give visas to those Chinese officials including military officials who have served in TAR and Xinjiang Autonomous Region where Beijing has launched a scorched earth policy against pro-independent Uighurs.
Tibetans coming to India, whether on official duty or private visits, be given “paper”, not “stapled” visas and their Chinese passports not recognized.
There are issues regarding Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, and Uighur leaders in exile like Rebiya Kadeer is still palpable around the world.
China need not think that it has drunk the elixir from the Cup of Life, and that it is invincible. The responsibility lies entirely on the Mandarins of Beijing. There is more to international behavior then a bag full of money, nuclear weapons and distortion of history.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst with many years of experience. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are his own).