June 1999 News

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China refuses to bite Sharif bait, Urges Talks

30 June 1999
Times Of India

By: Harvey Stockwin

HONG KONG: China on Tuesday urged India and Pakistan to negotiate an end to their clash over Kashmir, despite two days of lobbying for Chinese support by Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

A day after holding talks with Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, Mr Sharif briefed legislative chairman Li Peng on the Kashmir conflict and met President Jiang Zemin before cutting short his visit and flying home via Hong Kong.

Mr Sharif hoped China would back a Pakistani plan for a final settlement with India over Kashmir. But China has appeared more evenhanded out of worries about war on its south-western border and India's and Pakistan's new nuclear capabilities.

Mr Jiang Zemin was quoted by China Central Television as telling Mr Sharif, "As we are close neighbours to South Asia, we are deeply concerned with the conflict in Kashmir." He further added, "Without real peace and development in South Asia, there will be no real peace and prosperity in Asia."

China firmly maintains that both the nuclear weapons and missiles rivalry in South Asia and the tensions in Kashmir "are not in the interests of the region's peoples," legislative chairman Li Peng told Mr Sharif, according to an account by China's official Xinhua news agency.

The foreign ministry called for a diplomatic solution but did not openly back Pakistan's plan. "China has listened to the briefing of the Pakistani side on the relevant situation," the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

Diplomats here are mystified as to why Mr Sharif went all the way to Beijing on Monday only to hurriedly leave on Tuesday. He looked preoccupied when he arrived in Beijing. One wonders if he had received some news during his flight sufficient to cause his distraction.

It is tempting to assume that disappointment with the Chinese stand caused Mr Sharif to shorten his visit. Islamabad was naively hoping that Beijing's current anti-American posture might lead the Chinese to offset the intense US pressure on Pakistan to withdraw from Kargil.

Meanwhile, contradicting an earlier statement by Pakistan army chief General Pervez Musharraf that efforts were on to arrange a meeting between Mr Sharif and US President Bill Clinton, a statement in Islamabad said there was no such "agreed programme".

In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin categorically stated that the US was "not a mediator" but simply wished to see the dispute resolved rapidly. "We have not offered any specific proposals for resolving the dispute."

Asked what various American officials were doing in Islamabad and New Delhi, he said, "We're trying to be helpful. I think it's fair to say US diplomats play a role in many parts of the world without being considered mediators." He denied there were moves to delay multilateral loans to Pakistan.

He said Washington had been in touch with Beijing and both countires shared an interest "in not allowing the issue to escalate".

He said he, at the State Department, had "no information" on the possibility of a Nawaz Sharif visit to Washington at this stage.

France, in keeping with the new found warmth in relations with India, has been openly supportive of New Delhi's position in the current crisis. In consultations in Paris between foreign secretary K Raghunath and his French counterpart Loic Hennekine on Monday, France once again endorsed India's stand and referred to the G-8 statement which had called for the LoC to be respected and immediate withdrawal of armed intruders from Kargil.

Among Western countries, France had been one of the few states which had shown understanding of India's concerns after its nuclear tests. In fact, it was mainly French backroom lobbying which stopped a move for collective sanctions against India and Pakistan by the EU.

This sensitivity had led to a marked improvement in ties between the two countries so much so that India which normally would have protested against the delivery of Mirage aircraft to Pakistan, has shrugged off the contract as an old one, signed as early as 1995.

Efforts by Pakistan to rope in the Commonwealth also failed when the latter made it clear that there are no prospects of its mediation unless both India and Pakistan agree to it.

Japan wants the LoC to be restored but is not willing to blame Pakistan for the Kargil trouble.

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