The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been able to sustain its growth rate despite global recession; it is also firmly projecting that growth into the strategic domain. To be seen in this context, is China’s assertive role being played in the cases of South China Sea dispute with ASEAN and East Asia Sea dispute with Japan. Unmistakably, tensions among China and its neighbors are growing and negating the notion of Peaceful Rise of China .
There are other zones of conflict of interest like India-China border dispute which has not been resolved even after holding more than one dozen high voltage dialogue sessions. The Chinese PM has visited India in May 2013 and pledged that if India and China will club together, that will dominate the future global order. The two nations are already working together through multilateral platforms. They are cooperating on issues of common concerns like climate change and interacting through BRICS and the China, India and Russia Trilateral mechanism. No doubt, it is politically significant that India has been the first foreign country to be visited by the Chinese PM after his take over, but as a development suggesting the complex nature of bilateral ties, the Chinese PLA , earlier, made incursions in Ladakh sector of western borderland and refused to withdraw for almost two weeks. To be precise, the incursions showed that the process of finding a solution to the boundary issue , which can result in permanent normalcy in India-China ties, is going to be time consuming. It may not be wrong to say that the PRC would like to resolve the boundary issue with India only when it is able to settle the Tibet question which case looks difficult in the present atmosphere of continuing ethnic unrest in Tibet. Since 2011 more than 100 Tibetan activists have self immolated to register their unprecedented dissent against illegitimate Chinese rule.
Next to boundary issue,China-Pakistan nexus, is a major irritant in New Delhi-Beijing ties. After his May 2013 India visit, the Chinese PM went to Pakistan and had a marathon meeting with all concerned. During his meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Zardari he pledged for the construction of road and rail corridor between Gwadar in Pakistan and Kashgar in China. Gwadar is one of the best strategically located natural harbors which Pakistan has handed over to China in February 2013 for all round infrastructure development. It is situated at the mouth of the Persian Sea just less than 100 KM from Iranian border and nearest Iranian natural harbor, Chabahar. Needless to say that Gwadar will provide China an outpost to monitor Indian Navy’s movement within Indian Ocean. It will also provide an alternative to Pakistan Navy to survive in the time of war with India because during previous wars, Indian Navy blocked Karachi port easily due to its proximity with Indian maritime border.
If operated Gwadar could be pivotal to China to ensure its energy security due to the bottlenecks it experiences in the Strait of Malacca. It is strategically very close to oil producing Middle East and could provide an access to Sea to landlocked western Chinese province of Xinjiang. Important to note is that Gwader port, will provide China access to the Arabian Sea and Strait of Hormuz, a gateway for a third of the world’s traded oil. Another prospect is increase in China-Pakistan trade volume, which is low in comparison with Sino-Indian trade. In the year of 2012 it has reached $ 12 billion and is targeted to touch to $ 15 billion in the next two to three years.
In the due process of time, China has poured Han Chinese population in the Province and today Han constitute more than 40 percent of the overall population. Needless to say that it has kept the province quite volatile and violence escalates often despite iron rule of China. . The region had been turbulent since the formation of China . and if one will go into the history they will find that Uighurs (main inhabitants of the province) have been rebellious since last many hundred years. Today they are Turk Muslim but their dissent against China is very old and even before introduction of Islam. It is one of the biggest provinces of China in terms of area but due to inhospitable terrain it is sparsely populated. The Chinese nuclear devices test centre, Lopnor is located within this province. This province is hugely enriched with natural oil and other minerals. It has the proximity with the borders of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics. The indigenous people of the province are Turk by ethnicity therefore it is also called as Eastern Turkistan. But the head quarter of the separation movement is not based in Turkey but in western world because Turkey could not dare to antagonize China due to gamut of factors.By establishing trade linkages between Xinjiang and Pakistan, China seems to be intent on bringing economic prosperity to that province as a mean to bring stability there
The Chinese PM and Pakistani leadership have pledged to connect Kashgar to Gwadar because up to Kashgar China has already developed its infrastructure. China-Pakistan friendship has been termed as ‘all weather friendship” but there is an irritant. China is concerned that the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement—which seeks an independent homeland for Muslim Uighurs in China’s western Xinjiang region—is training ‘terrorists’ in Pakistan. In July 2013 Syrian Ambassador for China has alleged that more than two dozens of Pakistan trained Uighur fighters are fighting against Syrian forces along with the rebels. It is also recently reported that the Pakistani Taliban has its presence in Syrian war. The U.S led NATO forces are intended to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. This new situation may provide a safe heaven for terror breeding machinery in Afghanistan again. Needless to say that it will put more pain on Chinese in Xinjiang. Better connectivity with Pakistan could be a push factor for frequent terror attacks in Xinjiang.
China and Pakistan are two sovereign nations and both are eligible for cooperating with each other. Third country has no business to interfere in this process. But, China which remains sensitive on its perceived borders and often threatens proximate countries not to occupy their border, should know that the planned Kashgar –Gwader Rail –Road corridor will pass through the Pak occupied Kashmir (POK), a zone still under dispute between India and Pakistan. Indian parliament has already passed resolution to vacate the POK.
Implications for India
Newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif has visited China in the first week of July 2013. It was his maiden visit abroad since he took over, and this connectivity was prominently highlighted as Pakistan-China summit. Interestingly Sharif went to China along with Baluchistan Chief Minister merely to tell Chinese that Baluchistan is at China’s disposal.
The POK which is in Pakistan’s control is still disputed. It links western China with Pakistan. Without crossing these areas China could not physically be able to reach Pakistan. Karakoram Highway which is connecting western China to Pakistan is passing through these disputed borderlands. As a sizeable distance of this proposed Rail-Road link will cross disputed Kashmir , India must register its strong protest . If China and Pakistan do not listen , the Indian side can take up the Tibetan card and stress that it is an unresolved issue and that India is dedicated for the promotion and protection of Tibetan’s right of self determination.
In 1960s, China accepted Macmohan Line drawn in 1914 after Shimla agreement with respect to border with Burma, but it refuses to accept the same principle towards boundary with India. Despite fifteen rounds of high voltage dialogue held between two countries top negotiators , no progress has been made yet. Government of India has stated in the parliament that since last many years Chinese are doing more than 1,000 incursions in all western, middle and eastern sectors annually. After April-May 2013 incursion in Daulat Beg Oldy (LADAKH) , China has again made incursion in the same sector in July 2013. This is an indication of China’s mix of cooperation and conflict while dealing with India.
India is growing on economic front despite global recession. This has been translated into the strategic sector as well to certain extent. ASEAN and East Asian countries have inked gamut of bilateral and multi-lateral deals with India to bolster their position against assertive China. Asian balance of power is also positive for India. China wanted to dominate the entire Asia under her single leadership while seeking space with other dominant countries at the global stage. India along with Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam is seeking for multilateralism in both Asia as well as in the entire globe. Here is a divergence of interests between India and China. Chinese neighborhood is not happy with China despite high voltage of economic engagement due to Chinese assertion. Both South China and East China Sea disputes bring the divergences into a sharp focus.
China never respected geographical integrity of its ASEAN and East Asian brethren both on land and maritime boundary. Many people have probably forgotten that ASEAN came into being due to Chinese expansionism in 1967. Even today despite more than $ 400 billion bilateral trade ASEAN is apprehensive against China’s assertive policy which is coincided with its unprecedented economic growth. The message from thinkers , from Kautilaya to Kenneth Walsh, is that commonality of interests is the basic foreign policy determinant. Such commonality exists between India, ASEAN, and countries in East Asia and is absent in the India-China context.
It is the demand of the hour that India must assert itself. We have to show some spine at China front. The POK is ours according to the tenets of international law. China cannot build infrastructure in our territory. We have to tell Chinese in clear terms that creation of Road and Rail link along the POK is a belligerent act against India and that India will not tolerate it.
( The writer, Dr. Sudheer Singh is teaching in Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi, New Delhi. Views expressed are his own. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)