New Delhi: A day after the Indian government began the process of removing the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, China termed the carving of Ladakh into a separate union territory as “unacceptable”, with India implicitly ticking off Beijing for commenting on an “internal matter”.
The diplomatic spat took place as the Indian parliament’s lower chamber was completing the process of approving the Bill that reconstitutes Ladakh – and Kargil district – into an union territory, without a legislative assembly. The Bill was later passed.
This is also the most serious difference between the two sides since the 2018 informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping aimed to paper over the schism caused due to the Doklam stand-off. The Chinese president is also scheduled to visit India this year for the second edition of the informal summit.
This latest friction adds further significance to S. Jaishankar’s first trip to Beijing as external affairs minister on August 11.
In a separate statement on Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying gave a strongly-worded response not on Kashmir overall, but specifically related to Ladakh.
“China is always opposed to India’s inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction. This firm and consistent position remains unchanged,” said Hua.
She stated that the reorganisation would directly “impede China’s sovereignty”. “Recently India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law. Such practice is unacceptable and will not come into force.”
The Chinese foreign ministry official urged India to “exercise prudence in words and deeds concerning the boundary question” and “strictly abide by relevant agreements concluded between the two sides”.
She also demanded that India should “avoid taking any move that may further complicate the boundary question”.
A few hours later, New Delhi retorted that the Bill passed by parliament “which proposes the formation of a new “Union Territory of Ladakh” is an internal matter concerning the territory of India”.
“India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries and similarly expects other countries to do likewise,” said MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
Incidentally, India was one of only two countries, that have consulates in Hong Kong, who didn’t even accept a memorandum from pro-democracy protestors to foreign governments.
“So far as the India-China Boundary Question is concerned, the two sides have agreed to a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement of the boundary question on the basis of the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of India-China Boundary Question. Pending such a settlement, both sides have agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas on the basis of the relevant agreements,” added Kumar.
China’s claims over Ladakh
China has claims over Ladakh due to the continuing dispute over Aksai Chin, which began when Pakistan ceded 5,180 sq. km in 1963. There have been several intrusions in Ladakh by China to the non-demarcation of the Line of Actual Control. The most serious stand-off was in April 2013 when Indian and Chinese troops ‘camped” in front of each other at Daulat Beg Oldi for three weeks.
In August 2017, China had protested when India was constructing a road near the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
Earlier during the day, Indian home minister Amit Shah, as he moved a resolution for abrogating some provisions of Article 370 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019, said that it had been a long-standing demand of Ladakh to be given UT status.
He also added that when he spoke about Jammu and Kashmir, it included all the parts which are with Pakistan and China.
“Kashmir is an integral part of India, there is no doubt over it. When I talk about Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin are included in it,” Shah said in Lok Sabha.
The Chinese envoy to India, Sun Weidong were among the ambassadors who were briefed by foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale on Monday after Shah introduced the slew of proposals in Rajya Sabha.
He was told, just like other ambassadors, that the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir was an internal issue. Further, India stated that the change in status was “aimed at providing good governance, promoting social justice and ensuring economic development in Jammu and Kashmir”.
Relatively sparse global response
Till now, there has been relatively sparse response from foreign capitals on New Delhi’s move to change the status-quo in Kashmir.
Not surprisingly, Pakistan has been the most vocal opponent abroad.
In Washington, the US state department had asked all the stakeholders to maintain peace and stability at the Line of Control. The spokesperson Morgan Ortagus also expressed concern “about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights and discussion with the affected communities”.
The UAE ambassador, Ahmad Al Banna sided with India, stating that the creation of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir as two new union territories, was “an internal matter as stipulated by the Indian Constitution”.
Earlier, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had welcomed the formation of Ladakh as the “first Indian state with a Buddhist majority”. “The creation of Ladakh and the consequential restructuring are India’s internal matters. I have visited Ladakh and it is worth a visit,” said Wickremesinghe, who is currently in the midst of furious political activities to decide on the presidential candidate from UNP for elections next year.
As per the 2011 census, Ladakh’s population is 46.4% Muslim, 39.67% Buddhist and 12.11% Hindu.