China's different strokes

China's different strokes


One did not have to be an expert on China to anticipate that the visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to India would be a flop and the one to Pakistan a success. There was no surprise either in New Delhi or in Islamabad.

The joint statements issued in the two countries say it all. India refused to follow ‘one China’ policy which meant that it did not recognise Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibet and Taiwan. This was a departure from New Delhi’s stand in the three previous joint statements. Wen Jiabao refused to mention in the joint statement that Kashmir was India’s integral part. What it would have meant was Beijing’s barter of ‘one China’ for Kashmir. He did not do so keeping in mind Pakistan’s sensitivities.

In sharp contrast, Pakistan not only enunciated a ‘one China’ policy but also condemned “any attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Obviously, the sling was directed at India and to reemphasise that China had in Pakistan a ‘trusted and reliable’ friend.

Wen was, however, careful not to say anything on Kashmir in New Delhi as well as in Islamabad. Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani said in a speech at the banquet in honour of the Chinese premier that the solution to Kashmir would usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in South Asia. It was a bait for Wen who preferred to stay silent. Even otherwise, Beijing has maintained that it wants India and Pakistan to resolve the question of Kashmir bilaterally.

However, from last year, China started issuing stapled visas to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This is, no doubt, a departure from Beijing’s earlier stand. But it conveys to New Delhi that Beijing regards J&K a disputed territory. The new Chinese approach also reveals that India’s problem could be much larger than the question of stapled visas. It may well be that Beijing has a question mark against India’s sovereignty over J&K.

Yet, before the Chinese premier’s visit, the word from Beijing was that the stapled visa issue was an administrative not a political matter. New Delhi did not bring it up until the end when Wen took the initiative to mention the stapled visa. He did not pursue the subject despite New Delhi’s desire to do so. After Wen’s return to Beijing, the Indian embassy there said the matter had been entrusted to officials to sort it out.

The point on which the two sides strongly differed was terrorism. India was first keen on China mentioning the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in their joint statement.

When Wen refused to do that, India merely wanted a reference to the word ‘terrorism’. But the Chinese prime minister did not agree to it, probably because he was to visit Pakistan a day later. However, he did mention terrorism during his stay in Islamabad while praising Pakistan for its efforts towards fighting terrorism, countering criticism from many quarters that it is not doing enough. The reference was obviously to India and the US.

Not unexpected

However, India should have known Beijing’s stand when it made it clear on the eve of Wen’s departure that the Chinese government would play no role in pressuring Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups operating on its soil. Beijing reiterated its position that cross-border terrorism and Kashmir were issues for India and Pakistan to resolve.

India’s real worry is over the nibbling at ‘its territory’ by China. The media has extensively followed a story which appeared in one of the leading English dailies in Delhi. The story said that China had shown the length of the border with India around 2,000 kilometres as against 3,500 km it would mention earlier.

Probably, China has deducted the border along Kashmir and Tibet from the length it had mentioned earlier. This has come when India is already smarting under the Chinese ‘occupation’ of nearly 5,000 square miles of Shakigam Valley in ‘Azad Kashmir’ ceded by General Mohammed Ayub to Beijing. New Delhi fears that Beijing may push itself as a party to the Kashmir problem confined to India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris.

It is apparent that India and Pakistan have gone still more distant. One is moving towards America and the other towards China. Both New Delhi and Islamabad could get sucked into the ensuing cold war. America has its own designs to serve in the region as the Wikileaks disclosures show and China its own interest. When will India and Pakistan realise — and they will do so one day — that South Asia is neither for America nor China to boss over them. It is for the South Asians who should develop into a common market as Europe has done, with soft borders and free trade. Only then can the region develop.

Beijing can, however, play a role in persuading New Delhi and Islamabad to have sustainable dialogues for the resolution of all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. China has done well in entering into deals worth $16 billion with India and $12 billion with Pakistan. Strangely, trade between the two countries is only a fraction of their deals with China.

Even if these deals are to fructify in the real sense of the term, New Delhi and Islamabad have to develop confidence in each other. This may not be possible if both continue to arm themselves because the presence of weapons indicates the absence of peace.