India’s ‘Kashmir’ versus China’s ‘Tibet’

It is not easy to coin a simple straight definition of India-China relationship, given its complex dimensions and criss-crossing parameters. This reality is amply reflected in the joint statement issued on Wednesday at the end of the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India, accompanied by 400-member delegation of Chinese officials and business leaders. The 18-point statement talked about the common desire of the two countries to increase their bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015 besides offsetting its present imbalance disfavouring India. On all other major issues of common interest the statement was either too ambiguous to mean anything or it simply chose to bypass them. On the eve of Wen’s visit it was claimed that India was keen to raise and resolve the contentious question of stapled Chinese visa being issued to the Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir. The joint statement was silent on this point. However, it was officially said that the issue had been voiced by the visiting Chinese leader who hoped that it would be resolved by the officials of the two countries. No more details were offered.

On the sensitive issue of Kashmir, Wen, who is now on a visit to Pakistan, urged India and Pakistan to find a solution to this ‘territorial dispute’ through the bilateral route.

China’s position on Kashmir has and will continue to cause worry in India. Apart from the occupation of Aksai Chen area, China has lately embarked upon major project-building activity across the Line of Control in Pakistan Administered ‘Azad’ Kashmir.

Increasing Chinese presence in the strategic area, coupled with its refusal so far to do away with the stapled visa for J&K citizens of India is being viewed with great anxiety. China’s vociferous objection to recent visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Arunachal Pradesh is seen as indication of its strategy to project its intrusive attitude over the boundary dispute with India. The joint working groups set up over two decades ago have not made any progress in narrowing down differences. Meanwhile China continues to reiterate its claim over huge chunks of Indian territory in the North-east. China’s decision to construct upstream dam over river Brahmaputra has aggravated India’s fears.

Perhaps still more interesting feature of this complicated relationship between two Asian giants is that even as they continue to rigidly stick to their respective positions over Kashmir and Tibet, India has lately started to use the Tibet card to counter Chinese ‘hostility’ over Kashmir. ‘Kashmir is to India what Tibet is to China’, is the latest official refrain emanating from New Delhi. While this tactical counter attack might momentarily deflect Chinese thrust over Kashmir its logic undermines India’s claim to self-righteousness in relation to the basic issue. If the logic of ‘Tibet is equal to Kashmir’ argument is accepted it would mean that the territory has been forcibly occupied and is intended to be culturally ‘homogenised’ like China is engaged in doing to Tibet. This tactic might be useful as a counter punch to China’s growing aggressive diplomacy but its long range side effects cannot be wished away either. Tibetan dissidents led by the Dalai Lama who are opposed to Chinese occupation have been sheltered in India for over half a century. China continues to frown upon India while it also tightens its grip over the occupied territory. Pakistan’s position over Indian claim to J&K has been materially no different from India’s own position vis-a-vis China’s occupation of Tibet. Yet India chooses to equate Tibet with Kashmir, even if only to checkmate China. The only conceivable argument in favour of such an approach would be that India is as sensitive over Kashmir as China is over Tibet. The foundation of Indian position on Kashmir precludes this country from stretching the ‘Tibet’ analogy beyond a point.

A simple reading of the joint statement, in conjunction with what the diplomatic circles in China and India have stated, points to unlikelihood of any change or shift in China’s stated position over vital strategic issues affecting its bilateral relationship with India. Long pending boundary dispute will continue to linger, North-east will remain a hot point of contention, configuration of forces within South-Asian region will remain as it is and China would continue to deflect each and every move aimed at containing or curtailing its ambition to flex its economic and military muscle in and around Asian region. India has to go a long way to catch up with China.