New Delhi: China has said it will not attend the G20 meeting in Srinagar scheduled for next week, as Kashmir was a region disputed with its close strategic ally Pakistan, whilst other Group members too are likely to opt out on analogous grounds.
“China firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meeting in disputed areas and China will not attend such a meeting,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Webin told reporters in Beijing on Friday.
Earlier, China had skipped the two-day Youth-20 Summit meeting at Ladakh’s capital Leh from April 26, as well as the one immediately before in March at Itanager in Arunachal Pradesh, a region Beijing claims as its own as part of Southern Tibet, in the enduring bilateral territorial dispute between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
According to news reports, Turkey, and possibly even Indonesia, the previous G20 head, too are likely to pull out of the two-day Srinagar meeting beginning on May 24, the first major international event to be held in Kashmir after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP-led government scrapped the regions special Constitutional status under Article 370 in August 2019, after over seven decades.
In recent years, Turkey, which has close diplomatic links with Pakistan, had condemned India on its handling of Kashmir, and in 2020 its president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had raised the dispute at the United Nations General Assembly.
At the time, he had declared that the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which was the key to stability and peace in South Asia, remained a ‘burning issue’. Flagging diplomatic ties between Ankara and Delhi over Kashmir had also resulted in India calling off a collaborative venture with a Turkish shipbuilders’ consortium to indigenously design and build five fleet support vessels (FSVs) for the Indian Navy.
Several other G20 members, and guest countries that India had invited to the Srinagar meeting like Saudi Arabia and Mexico, are also likely to have ‘low level participation’, stated news reports quoting official sources. They maintained that these two countries are likely to be represented by mid-ranking diplomats from their respective embassies in Delhi.
India’s decision to host one of its G20 meetings in Srinagar has been controversial and nettlesome, to say the least.
Even the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Fernand de Varennes had, earlier this week, objected to it on the grounds that ‘massive human rights violations’ were ongoing in the Kashmir region. Varennes claimed that holding the G20 meet in Srinagar would only “lend support to attempts by India to normalise the brutal and repressive denial of democratic rights of Kashmir Muslims and minorities”.
Furthermore, he stated that India was “seeking to normalise what some have described as a military occupation of the territory by instrumentalising a G20 meeting and portraying an international ‘seal of approval'” in what was a worrying human rights situation.
Delhi, for its part, had dismissed this statement as “baseless and unwarranted”, while the Permanent UN Mission of India in Geneva asserted that as G20 president, India had the prerogative to host its meetings in any part of the country and Kashmir was its ‘inalienable’ part .
Expectedly, Pakistan – not a G20 member – had slammed India for holding the Srinagar G20 meet. Responding to a question on this during the Shanghai Cooperation Group meet in Goa earlier in May, Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had menacingly declared that Islamabad would give a “response which would be remembered”.
Bhutto stated that scheduling the G20 meeting in Kashmir revealed India’s ‘pettiness’ and ‘arrogance’, despite UNSC resolutions and bilateral agreements over the disputed region.
In the meantime, officials and diplomats in Delhi reiterated their justifications for holding the Srinagar meeting, claiming that G20 host countries were free to pick venues for the group’s multiple events in the run up to its summit in New Delhi in September.
Security has been stepped up in Srinagar to ‘unprecedented levels’ for this meeting, which officials privately concede will be a ‘cat and mouse game’ between them and militants eager to disrupt the global event for the publicity that could accrue to their cause.
Other than the army, police and paramilitaries, Indian Navy Marine Commandoes too have been pressed into service in rubber dinghies across Srinagar’s many lakes to reinforce the Union government’s claims that normalcy prevails in Kashmir.