China's Changing Kashmir Position Can Affect Boundary Resolution13 October 2010
New Delhi: China's changing stance over Kashmir is causing considerable disquiet in India and could have implications on resolution of the long-standing boundary dispute between the two countries, say well-placed sources. According to sources familiar with the government's strategy towards China and strategic analysts, China had earlier been taking a neutral stand on Kashmir and treated it as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, but its position has undergone 'subtle but noticeable changes' in the last few months. This was demonstrated by its actions in giving stapled visas to those from Jammu and Kashmir and denying visa to an Indian general who has Kashmir under his charge, they said, pointing out that this 'slight but strategic shift' in Chinese attitude has been taken note of at the highest level of the Indian establishment. From seeing it as a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan, China is now seeing it as a 'trilateral dispute', and trying to project itself as a party to the dispute, said the sources. Pakistan, which India claims is in illegal occupation of one-third of Kashmir, has itself ceded strategic areas to China. Beijing is now building a strategic road link across Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to gain access to seal lanes to the energy-rich West Asia. 'Pakistan seems to have ceded responsibility and sovereignty over that part of Kashmir to China with the larger strategic aim of being physically connected to China if and when the need arises,' said a China watcher who wished to remain unnamed. 'The mutation in Chinese position is bound to cause disquiet in the highest echelons of the government and probably have implications for the long-standing boundary dispute between the two countries,' the China watcher said. China observers are stumped by Beijing's latent aggression, and its attempt to step up influence in India's immediate neighbourhood. However, the Indian government has decided to engage China more so as to know its mind better, rather than taking a confrontationist stand and making a big diplomatic noise over them. 'The engagement quotient has to go up rather than the confrontation quotient,' said an official. In recent months, strategic analysts have noted 'massive Chines presence' in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Washington-based political activist Senge H. Sering, who was in India for over a year as Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), has repeatedly warned the Indian government about the increasing Chinese presence in Pakistani Kashmir. Highlighting the multifaceted character of Chinese presence in the Gilgit-Baltistan province, Sering said China-Pakistan cooperation includes expansion of the Karakoram Highway (KH), construction of a parallel railway line as well as oil and gas pipelines, which will give China rapid connectivity to Pakistani ports lying in the gateway to the Strait of Hormuz and Suez Canal. In a note to the government, Sering observed that Chinese dominance in this strategic Himalayan gateway will be a serious setback to India's strategic interests in this region, including on the Kashmir dispute. He expressed concern that China may use its presence in Gilgit-Baltistan as leverage in its border dispute with India by potentially demanding India's guarantees of non-aggression or claim on the region for similar quid-pro-quos in the western and eastern sectors. More importantly, Pakistan aims to permanently mitigate India's claims of the province, which Senger says is 'constitutionally part of J&K, and under Pakistan's illegal occupation since 1947'.