It will try, but if China tries to meddle in Kashmir, it must be watchful of India’s position on Tibet and Xinjiang.
The Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, according special status to Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated by the President of India on 6 August 2019 after both Houses of Parliament passed a motion revoking the status and bifurcating the state into two Union Territories. The abrogation invited strongest reactions from both Pakistan and China, who have formed an entente cordiale against India since the early 1960s. Reacting to the abrogation and bifurcation, Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said in a press briefing on 6 August that “China has always opposed the Indian side’s transfer of Chinese territory in the western sector of the Sino-Indian border into the administrative jurisdiction of India. This position is firm and consistent and has never changed. Recently, the Indian side has continued to damage China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally modifying the domestic law. This practice is unacceptable and will not have any effect. We urge the Indian side to be cautious on the border issue, strictly abide by the relevant agreements reached between the two sides, and avoid taking actions that further complicate the border issue.”
The MOFA statement wasn’t all. Chinese media was set ablaze with rhetoric like “India unilaterally annexes Chinese territory of Ladakh, which equals 7 Shanghais (some said 40 Hong Kongs) into the Indian political map.” Even Chinese scholarship on India scrambled for varied explanations. According to Hu Shisheng of China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, the move is aimed at “strengthening effective control”, “establishing a strong image” and the “promotion and revival of Hindu nationalism”. Hu is of the view that some politicians and elites whose rights have been compromised may encourage the people to engage in violent activities; moderates may join hands with the radicals; and some extremist forces seeking independence may even create terrorist attacks. However, he believes that ultimately normalcy would be restored.
Zhao Gancheng, a researcher with the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, in an article titled, “Indian Government is carried away by populism” takes a more aggressive line. Reiterating the position of the Chinese government, he says that the Indian move “undermined the status quo of the disputed western sector of China and India, which has caused great concern to China”. Zhao does not claim entire Ladakh as Chinese territory, but does mention that it was a “subsidiary of Tibet in history”. He also mentions the 33,000 square kilometres disputed Aksai Chin under Chinese jurisdiction. According to him, by amending the Constitution, and creating the Union Territory of Ladakh, India has “obviously unilaterally changed the status quo of the disputed boundary in the western sector”. Zhao either is ill informed about the history of the region or is brushing aside the Instrument of Accession deliberately, when he says that India annexed some parts of Kashmir following the India-Pakistan conflict. According to him the carving of a new union territory is an “affront to China”. He says that in 1987, Indian government created the so-called Arunachal Pradesh in a similar fashion.
Another article written by Lan Jianxue of China Institute of International Studies on 15 August in China Daily opines that the abrogation of Article 370 has opened a “Pandora’s Box” and that “India’s unilateral move to fundamentally change the administrative division of the region and seize Pakistani and Chinese territories has angered its two neighbours and invited strong reactions from both”. Voicing concerns of the Kashmiris that the move will “change the demography” of the region, he attributes it as a “careless move” while ignoring China’s own demographic changes in Xinjiang and Tibet since the 1950s. He opines that the prevailing situation in Kashmir “could trigger a new round of violence in the restive region and the resulting security disaster could trigger a devastating storm in South Asia”.
Forget about the articles published by the jingoistic Global Times and statements such as “we don’t know how India dares to flatly scrap Kashmir’s autonomy” by its equally cacophonous editor Hu Xijin. Chinese media and scholars must know that it is India which accorded “special status” to Kashmir, not any other country and this special status was temporary in nature. It was again India which took it to the United Nations at a time when China didn’t even repose its trust in the international organisation. Since the UN failed to vacate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir from Pakistani armed forces, a prerequisite for the plebiscite, India increasingly adopted the bilateral approach demonstrated by the 1972 Simla Agreement. However, rather than finding a bilateral solution, Pakistan has exported terror by creating terror outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jamat-ud-Dawah, etc., as instruments of state policy. It is in this context that India deemed it fit to put a full stop to the policies that didn’t yield desirable results in Kashmir. It was also in this context that Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told his Chinese counterpart on 12 August on the sidelines of the Second High-Level Cultural and People to People Exchange Mechanism that the abrogation of Article 370 was an internal affair of India and that the move would have no implication for either the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control with China.
Not satisfied with the Indian reply, China pushed the letter of Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Kashmir for closed-door informal consultations at the UN Security Council without any outcome, nonetheless, China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun told the media after the meeting that the members of the Security Council “expressed serious concerns” regarding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, as well the situation of “human rights” there. He reiterated what Wang Yi had told Qureshi in Beijing that the issue must be resolved according to the “relevant Security Council resolutions, the UN Charter and bilateral agreements”, and that it is an internationally recognised dispute. He also said that the “unilateral actions” of India have “changed the status quo” and will aggravate the tensions. As rightly pointed out by Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UNSC that the “two states” [China and Pakistan] have tried to pass off their own statements as the will of the international community.
It is obvious that China has all along exploited India-Pakistan hostilities to its advantage—be it in 1965, 1971, 1999, 2019 India-Pakistan conflicts or the recent abrogation of Article 370. The aim behind arming Pakistan to the teeth including providing it with nuclear technology is to pin India down to the subcontinent on the one hand and play the mediator by claiming the high “moral ground” on the other. It may continue to do so in future too, but China also knows that the space Article 370 had provided it in the UN and Kashmir, will not be there anymore. It is now India’s internal matter and if China tries to meddle in it, it must be watchful of India’s position on Tibet and Xinjiang.
Finally, in the words of Confucius, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you.”
B.R. Deepak is Professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.