External Affairs

China’s ‘Concern’ Over Kashmir is Not a Deviation From Their Previous Line

“We are equally concerned about the casualties in the clash, and hope that relevant incident will be handled properly. The Kashmir issue is left over from history,” the Chinese foreign ministry has said.

The India-China border at Nathula. Credit: PTI

The India-China border at Nathula. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: ‘Concerns’ about Kashmir expressed by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson may have come out of the blue, but are carefully couched in “stock phrases” which do not change Beijing’s position on the dispute, experts said.

On Monday night, the Chinese foreign ministry’s website uploaded answers to two questions – one on Turkey and another on Kashmir.

Answering a question about “Indian-administered Kashmir”, foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said that China had “taken note” of reports of clashes in the Valley.

“We are equally concerned about the casualties in the clash, and hope that relevant incident will be handled properly. The Kashmir issue is left over from history. China holds a consistent stance and hopes relevant parties will address the issue peacefully through dialogue,” Kang wrote.

The Chinese foreign office’s remarks come in the backdrop of recent differences between the two Asian capitals over India’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). However, with the NSG issue on the backburner for now, the latest international flashpoint about the South China Sea verdict has got more attention as a possible area for friction.

Speaking to The Wire, former Indian foreign secretary and ambassador to China, Shyam Saran, felt that China’s remarks on Kashmir could be “payback for our statement on South China Sea, I imagine”.

After the arbitral tribunal’s decision on the South China Sea case, New Delhi’s statement had asked “all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans”. India’s response has been interpreted by some quarters as being a strong statement targeting China, since it emphasises the importance of UNCLOS.

However, according to the director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, Alka Acharya, there was “nothing offensive” in the Indian statement on the arbitral tribunal’s judgment which could have riled Beijing. She discounted South China Sea as being the reason for China’s statement on Kashmir, noting that Beijing had no choice but to publicly talk about Kashmir when the Valley is “on the boil”.

Acharya pointed out that the statement of the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson did not deviate from their previous line. “These are all stock phrases. There is nothing new here,” she said.

The catchphrase “left from history” has been used by China in the context of Kashmir several times in recent years. “Even the reference to dialogue by parties has been part of China’s statements on Kashmir,” she said.

China analyst M.V. Rappai, also from the Institute of Chinese Studies, echoed that Bejing had not said anything new about Kashmir.

“Since these are old phrases, I was struck that China did not intensify the pitch and give a more robust backing to Pakistan on Kashmir at this time. That means they are still trying to do their South Asia balancing in their own way,” Rappai added.

China’s position on Kashmir has evolved over the years, with a rather new stand introduced after Beijing started to issue stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir in 2009.

“Whether China’s position on Kashmir has been consistent depends on how far back you go – its position now is clearly markedly different from the one it held in the 1960s,” Andrew Small, author of The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, told The Wire.

He noted that China’s recent position on Kashmir “has been consistent, albeit with nuances that have related to the state of the bilateral relationship with India – such as the visa refusal case – and its own willingness to pursue investments in Gilgit-Baltistan, where it has become more willing to weather Indian objections”.

The previous summer of large-scale unrest in Kashmir was in 2010, when both countries were already dealing with Beijing’s new policy of stapled visas. China refused to grant a visa to the Indian army’s then Northern Command chief R.S. Jaswal in August that year. India immediately suspended all military exchanges. It took five years for military ties to return to normal with the third edition of joint exercise held in November 2013.

At the time, former RAW senior official B. Raman, who passed away in 2013, wrote that China’s “modification” of its Kashmir policy was a result not only of its economic stake in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but also due to Islamabad’s assistance in quelling Uighur militancy.

“Their modification of their policy relating to J&K is as a quid pro quo to Pakistan playing the role of their frontline ally in the fight against the Uighur freedom fighters represented by the Munich-based World Uighur Congress and Uighur jihadis belonging to the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement,” Raman wrote in August 2010.

This year, India had first granted and then withdrawn a visa for a senior official of the World Uighur Congress, who also had an Interpol red corner notice against him. Another colleague of his did attend the conference of Chinese dissidents and minorities organised in Dharamshala by a US-based NGO.

  • Kanhaiya Sinha

    Mr Shyam Saran is absolutely right that China’s statement on Kashmir is a pay back for our statement on South China sea verdict. Mark the similarities. India said ” noted the verdict” China too uses the same phrase “noted” in its reaction on Kashmir deaths.