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China wants to be part of Kashmir dispute

Last updated on: October 14, 2010 15:18 IST
'The China-Pakistan strategic calculus is particularly dominant in this narrative. It is a marriage literally made in the Karakorams.'

Why does China worry India's diplomats? Nikhil Lakshman listens in:

How to deal with an "more assertive, more muscular" China represents a huge challenge for Indian diplomats and the country, sources in India's ministry for external affairs ministry revealed on Wednesday morning.

Speaking on the periphery of External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's interaction with senior editors, the sources noted with concern "China's role in Kashmir affairs."

The sources, who spoke on background and did not want to be identified because it would probably upset Chinese sensitivities, were responding to a question posed by Indian Express Strategic Affairs Editor C Rajamohan.

Dr Rajamohan felt that China had gone even further than Pakistan in defining the Kashmir issue.

While Pakistan insists that Kashmir is disputed territory, he said recent Chinese positions have made it clear that Beijing believes Pakistan occupied Kashmir is Pakistan territory, while India's Kashmir state is the only part of the province that is disputed.

China, like the United States, the MEA sources said, had long held the position that Kashmir was a dispute between India and Pakistan and China favoured the two South Asian neighbours talking to each to find a resolution to the problem.

When China started issuing stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir a couple of years ago, alarm bells started chiming at South Block where the ministry of external affairs is headquartered.

"We try to reason it out with the Chinese," one source said, "pointed out that a part of Kashmir is illegally occupied by Pakistan, but we noticed a shift in China's attitude and their continuing to issue stapled visas."

What seems to be coming out of all this, another source added, is that China wants to assert that it is also a part of the Kashmir dispute.

Thirty eight thousand kilometres of Indian territory in Ladakh -- one of the three regions that comprise Jammu and Kashmir state -- was occupied by China after the 1962 war with India.

"The China-Pakistan strategic calculus is particularly dominant in this narrative," the source added, "It is a marriage literally made in the Karakorams."

Alluding to Selig Harrison's article in The New York Times in August which revealed that between 7,000 to 10,000 troops of China's People Liberation Army are stationed in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, the source felt that Pakistan had ceded responsibility for those areas to the Chinese.

China is helping Pakistan build high-speed rail and road links in Gilgit-Baltistan that will enable Chinese merchandise to travel from Eastern China to the Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara ports -- all built with Chinese help -- within two days.

All these developments, the source added, had profound implications for the long-standing boundary dispute between India and China. Protracted discussions in recent years have been unable to make significant progress, let alone resolve the complicated boundary question.

However, the source cautioned the editors present not to draw any "doomsday conclusions" about the India-China relationship from the stapled visas for Kashmir residents or the recent denial of a Chinese visa to North Command Commander Lieutentant General B S Jaswal.

"It is not as if the India-China relationship has a frost which we have not been able to permeate," the source noted, "and even though we have not yet built a convergence to find a settlement to the border issue, the border is tranquil and the occasional transgressions have not resulted in any military confrontation."

The ministry of external affairs, the sources pointed out, closely monitors China's actions in South Asia, its interactions with India's neighbours, and indeed across the world.

China's investments and interactions, one source added, are "high profile, but short term," contrasting India's "low profile, but long-term" role.

This source felt that the internal political calculus in China may likely influence recent Chinese actions.

The old Communist system is mutating, the source added, and there is insufficient clarity about the route the current political order will take, especially when President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao transfer their powers to the next generation in 2012.

Apart from China's unquestioned economic strength, the source believed it is possible that the new Chinese assertiveness could also be linked to the People's Liberation Army's greater say in matters of statecraft.

The PLA's influence had declined in the Deng Xiaoping era; Deng disapproved of the PLA's fingers in many pies, much like the Pakistan army operates, and had clipped its nails during his years in power.

In recent years, China observers have noted the PLA's resurgence and though a military takeover is not on the cards, the generals clearly influence policy in the backrooms of Chinese governance.

As its strategy to deal with the New China, India has moved to build strategic relationships with many countries who share its apprehensions about the Middle Kingdom -- the US, of course; Russia; Japan, and in recent years, Vietnam, South Korea and Indonesia, which Rediff.com columnist and NDTV Defence Editor Nitin Gokhale discussed in his most recent column.

India has always chosen its Chief Guests for the Republic Day parade with an eye on its strategic goals, be it Russia's then president Vladmir Putin, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak this year.

Unusually, India announced its Chief Guest for Republic Day 2011 early, in August itself: Indonesian President Susilo Banbang Yudhoyono. The choice clearly highlights India's desire for a better relationship with Indonesia, a country that shares New Delhi's worries about an assertive China.

"We have laid the groundwork for a better relationship with Indonesia," one source pointed out, "We have paid greater attention. Indonesia is a democratic country with a big population, and traditionally there has been a civilisational relationship with India."

Indonesia, the source added, is increasingly important for India to make a difference in the region.

"What we are seeing now is that the game playing has now begun," the source said, indicating China, "Many rounds will take place and the tensions will not be good for the region."

"But the engagement quotient has got to go up," the source added, highlighting the matured India-China relationship in the last 20 years, the $60 billion worth of trade between the Asian giants, and the increasing Indian corporate presence in Eastern and Southern China. "Not the confrontation quotient."

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Nikhil Lakshman in New Delhi