Kashmir issue has outstretched and continues to baffle all interventionists and the world community. A permanent and peaceful solution has evaded for over six decades. Different international actors have been engaged with numerous threadbare discussions and debates but nothing conclusive has been achieved so far. Surprisingly, China has been taking an assertive role on Kashmir lately, which has put suspicions on its intent. Why do we see the traditional Sino-Indian rivalry extending to Kashmir? China’s policy regarding Kashmir and the future course of the dispute makes an important subject and needs to be examined on a cautious note.
India and Pakistan have been trapped in the quagmire, Kashmir issue, for sixtysix years now. Many renowned writers and scholars like Sumantra Bose in Roots to Conflict & Paths to Peace, Vergheese Kothari in Crafting Peace, Josef Korbel in Dangers in Kashmir, Alstair Lamb in Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, et al have explicitly expressed the Kashmir issue as one among the world’s longest-running, central and intractable international dispute. A by-product of the violent 1947 partition of the British India into India and Pakistan, Kashmir issue has led to three wars between India and Pakistan, and repeatedly brought a series of crises that have threatened to give way to a full-scale conflict. The capability to test and produce nuclear arsenal has increased the instability in the region South Asia and it has now become more dangerous a problem to be left unattended.
China has not remained indifferent to it either, even if its involvement has not been consistent. China’s declared positions on the Kashmir issue have evolved through four distinct phases, each one determined by its own interests in the region, its relations with Pakistan and India, and its general strategy in Asia. China’s declared position on the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir has been an important determination of Sino-India relations. There are at least six distinct and imposing policies of China on the Kashmir issue. These are:
• China’s formal declared position towards the Kashmir issue
• Chinese demonstrations of security support for Pakistan during periods of Pakistani confrontation with India over Kashmir
• Steady and substantial support for development of Pakistan’s military–industrial capability due to confrontations with India over Kashmir;
• Beijing’s stance regarding modalities appropriate for dealing with the Kashmir issue;
• China’s interests, and latent policies, relating to a possible solution of the Kashmir issue;
• Chinese use of Kashmir to achieve diplomatic influence with New Delhi.
China’s formal declared position on Kashmir
The Chinese approach to Kashmir during the brief period from January 1948 to December 1949 was characterized by objectivity and impartiality. The western powers’ pro-Pakistan attitude did not influence the Chinese attitude much. China played an active role during the month of March 1948 when Dr. Tsiang, a Chinese representative, was the Chairman of the Security Council. On 10 March the Security Council authorized the President, Dr. Tsiang to enter into negotiations with the two parties and asked to utilize the services of the two former Presidents of the Council, the representatives of Canada and Belgium who had taken interest in the matter and the services of other members whose participation was agreeable to parties.
Beijing’s reservations on Kashmir during the 1950s probably derived from an understanding that deep conflicts between Chinese and the Indian perspectives over Tibet, plus latent conflicts over the boundary might someday lead China into direct conflict with India, making convenient the Chinese alignment with Pakistan. In such an eventuality, reversing a pro-Indian stance on Kashmir would have proven difficult and embarrassing. Yet China did not leap quickly or easily to Pakistan’s side. Even as Indian–Chinese relations deteriorated over Tibet starting in 1959, collapsing altogether over the border in 1962, Beijing avoided taking sides on the Kashmir issue.
Only in early 1964, as Beijing moved to establish a strategic partnership with Pakistan and, probably more importantly, as Pakistan’s rulers became willing to undertake such a partnership, did China fall into line behind Pakistan’s position. From 1964 to 1980 Beijing’s position on Kashmir paralleled Pakistan’s, to wit that the people of Kashmir were entitled to an exercise of self-determination on whether to join India or Pakistan as had been promised to them by various United Nations resolutions in 1948 and 1949.
By 1965 Beijing endorsed the Kashmiri people’s war of self determination. An “Observer” article in Renmin ribao (People’s daily) on September 5, 1965, for example, began: “The Chinese people deeply sympathize with the just struggle of the people of Kashmir for their right to self-determination…”
A week later an editorial in Renmin ribao declared “The Chinese government and people… resolutely support… the Kashmir people’s struggle for national self-determination… the Kashmir people will surely realize their desire for national self determination.” Renmin ribao was, and remains, the newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Peter Van Ness makes the point that Beijing refused in the 1960s to declare the war in Kashmir a “war of national liberation” thus denying it full revolutionary legitimacy under Marxist-Maoist theory. But by declaring it a mere war of self-determination, Beijing avoided the conclusion that the “people of Kashmir” might be entitled to their own independent state, and paralleled the Pakistani position that the people of Kashmir were entitled to join either Pakistan or India.
After Deng Xiaoping consolidated power as Mao’s successor in December 1978, China’s position on Kashmir began to change. One of Deng’s key international objectives was to reduce tension between China and its neighbors, whenever that was possible without sacrificing core Chinese interests, in order to create an environment conducive to a sustained push for economic development. Deng was convinced that the confrontational foreign policies of Mao had contributed to the dire poverty and he was determined to set Chinese diplomacy on a new direction.
Thus, when Indian Minister of External Affairs A. B. Vajpayee visited Beijing in February 1979 and told Deng that China’s position on Kashmir was an additional and unnecessary irritant in Sino-Indian relations, Deng was receptive. Within a year or so Beijing acceded to New Delhi’s request. In June 1980 Deng publicly stated that the Kashmir issue was a bilateral issue left over from history between India and Pakistan, and should be resolved peacefully.
Beijing thus adopted a more or less neutral position on the Kashmir issue. Being “left over from history” meant that the problem was not due to the intentions or actions of either India or Pakistan, but, implicitly, to the incompetence or perhaps sinister intentions of the former British masters of the subcontinent. This can be seen, in fact, as a slight nod toward India since it entails an implicit rejection of Pakistan’s view that “Indian aggression and expansionism” is at the root of the Kashmir problem.
Being a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan also meant that China need not take sides on the substance of the dispute. Specification of Kashmir as a bilateral issue which should be solved via India–Pakistan negotiations also embodied a slight tilt towards India. Pakistan, being the weaker power, which believed it enjoyed the advantage of majority support within Indian administered Kashmir, had long called for international involvement in a resolution of the dispute. India, being the stronger power and in possession of the better part of Kashmir, insisted on settlement of any disputes purely on the basis of bilateral talks.
Until about 1990 Beijing tried to prevent the implicit pro-India tilt of its declared Kashmir policy by mentioning occasionally the role of the United Nations and/or United Nations Resolutions in solving the issue. Once again Indian diplomats intervened to lobby for Chinese non-reference to out of date (from the Indian perspective) UN resolutions or mediation. By the early 1990s the almost universal formulation of China’s position on Kashmir was that it was a bilateral matter to be solved via peaceful negotiations between India and Pakistan.
In May 2001, Premier Zhu Rongji visited both India and Pakistan, and again laid out China’s position on the Kashmir issue. China had always emphasized the need for negotiations between India and Pakistan (i.e. bilateral negotiations) to achieve a peaceful settlement of the dispute, Zhu said.
China’s position on Kashmir did not change following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Pakistan’s leaders apparently hoped that Pakistan’s renewed partnership with the United States after 9/11, plus heightened international fear that an India–Pakistan war that might further strengthen terrorism, would lead to stronger international pressure on India to compromise with Pakistan on Kashmir.
(To be continued)
Author teaches Political Science at Government College for Woman, M.A. Road, Srinagar, J&K. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org