By Claude Arpi
Before equating the ‘Kashmir issue' with the ‘Tibet issue', China should think twice. Unlike Jammu & Kashmir, Tibet has no autonomy
To the surprise of many people, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna recently told his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi that New Delhi expects Beijing to change its position on Jammu & Kashmir by reciprocating the way India has handled Chinese “core issues”.
It is the first time that India has equated Jammu & Kashmir with Tibet. This happened during a 70-minute bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Russia-India-China trilateral conference.
After the meeting, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was more explicit: “Our Minister referred to the need to show mutual sensitivity and that the Chinese side needs to be sensitive to our concerns in Jammu & Kashmir like India has been sensitive to Chinese concerns on Taiwan and Tibet.”
This issue started when China began issuing stapled visas for residents of Jammu & Kashmir. Apparently, by doing so China wants to make a point: Beijing does not recognise Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India. As former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal says, “This would suggest that the Chinese now consider India’s presence in Jammu & Kashmir as lacking in legitimacy.”
Later, China denied a visa to Lt Gen BS Jaswal, chief of the Northern Command, to attend a scheduled defence meeting in Beijing. To make matter worse, the Chinese Embassy stated that the General was serving in the “sensitive location of Jammu & Kashmir” and “people from this part of the world come with a different kind of visa”.
Interestingly, the position of Beijing has historically been quite clear: China wanted Pakistan and India to solve the ‘Kashmir issue’ bilaterally (even though Beijing’s favours have always heavily tilted towards Islamabad).
The recently declassified transcript of a meeting between Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and the Pakistani Ambassador to China, Ahmed Ali, in February 1957, offers a good historical perspective. During the discussion, Zhou Enlai repeatedly asked the Ambassador, “Is there a danger of conflict breaking out over the Kashmir issue?” The Pakistani Ambassador wouldn’t reply even after Zhou Enlai clarified, “The two countries of Pakistan and India are sister countries; if a conflict occurs, it is not only disadvantageous to the two countries, it is also disadvantageous to the peace of Asia.”
When Zhou drew a parallel with Taiwan, the Ambassador retorted, “The Taiwan issue and the Kashmir issue are different. We hold that Taiwan is a part of China, and that this issue will eventually resolve itself. But the Kashmir issue is a point of contention between two independent countries.”
Zhou answered, “Of course the Taiwan issue and the Kashmir issue are different in nature. (But) we have always hoped that the two countries of Pakistan and India can peacefully resolve the Kashmir issue.”
In another interesting historical document, Zhou Enlai told another Pakistani Ambassador just a few weeks before the October 1962 attack on India: “(About our) attitude towards Kashmir, we have repeatedly demonstrated that China holds a neutral stance: (We) have not stated that Kashmir belongs to (this or) that side, but have advocated seeking a resolution for this issue through peaceful negotiation. We also listened to India’s opinion, but did not express any preferences. We respect the two sides’ resolution reached through negotiation.”
The Chinese Premier continued, “During my second visit to India (in 1957), Nehru repeatedly hinted about this issue (Kashmir). He deliberately invited a Kashmiri prince (Karan Singh) to a banquet; I did not take any notice of it. We adopted an extremely objective attitude.”
This has remained Beijing’s policy for decades, but since a few months things have changed. China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was ambiguous in his response to Mr SM Krishna. Could it be otherwise? Today it is clear that it is not Mr Yang Jiechi who decides China’s foreign policy. However, the use of the ‘Kashmir card’ by Beijing is new, at least in this open and deliberate manner. How else can it be explained?
To understand the issue one should look at a larger perspective. India is not alone to face a problem emanating from China. In recent months, Japan, Korea and other neighbours of China have encountered Beijing’s change of mood.
Most China watchers agree that it is due to the increasing interference of the People’s Liberation Army in that country’s foreign policy, sometimes in opposition to the ‘civilian’ State Council’s positions (the theory of the ‘Peaceful Rise of China’ seems, for example, to have been forgotten).
These developments are quite worrying. The Wall Street Journal published an article last month affirming “China’s Army Extends Sway”. The Wall Street Journal’s correspondent Jeremy Page wrote: “The Chinese military’s political clout is expected to grow as the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo Standing Committee prepares for China’s change to new leadership in 2012.”
Page added, “It is unclear to what extent the PLA is unilaterally expanding its traditional role — to defend the party and Chinese territory — or being encouraged by party leaders to redefine China’s broader national interests. But the military has become far more outspoken in recent months, frequently upstaging the Foreign Ministry and heightening concerns in the region and beyond about how China plans to use its economic muscle.”
In September, the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation had noted: “While China and India have long sparred over the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s status, border incursions and China’s growing footprint in southern Asia, a perceptible shift in the Chinese stance on Kashmir has now emerged as a new source of inter-state friction. Throughout the 1990s, a desire for stability on its south-western flank and fears of an Indian-Pakistani nuclear arms race caused Beijing to take a more evenhanded approach to Kashmir, while still favouring Islamabad.”
The jockeying for key positions in the next Politburo and its mighty Standing Committee as well as the coveted seats in the Central Military Commission probably explains the latest Chinese moves.
However, Beijing should think twice before equating Jammu & Kashmir and Tibet. The ‘civilian’ or PLA leaders should not forget that Jammu & Kashmir lives under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Though a similar Article in the Chinese Constitution for Tibet would probably be the ideal solution for solving the Tibetan issue, it may not be to Beijing’s taste. For the Dalai Lama, it would undoubtedly be interesting to have a 370-type Article barring non-State subjects from other Provinces to settle or start businesses in Tibet.
Jammu & Kashmir also has its own Constitution, flag, Legislative Assembly and its own elected Government. Indian laws have to be ratified by the State Assembly before being implemented and several other features exist, providing a large autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir. This sounds close to the ‘genuine’ autonomy for Tibet on which the Dalai Lama insists.
Suppose tomorrow New Delhi tells Beijing, “If you must club Jammu & Kashmir with Tibet, why don’t you have something like ‘Article 370’ for Tibet and all the Tibetan-inhabited areas? It will be to your benefit, the Tibetan issue will be settled, and after a ‘larger autonomy’ is granted to Tibet, one can certainly find an arrangement to sort out the India-Tibet border issue.”
Perhaps Mr Krishna did not have this in mind, but whoever decides foreign policy in Beijing should think about it before unnecessarily upping the ante on the ‘Kashmir issue’.
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