‘PRC Scholars React to India’s Contentious Kashmir Move’: An Analysis

One expert said that “Kashmir war escalation shows that India is a rogue state.”

Dr. Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies; Associate Professor, Centre for Chinese & South East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Scholars in the P R China have reacted quickly and sharply to the Indian government’s sudden decision to remove Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and reorganize the state into two centrally governed territories – Jammu and Kashmir being one, Ladakh the other.  In the views of most Chinese experts, India’s ‘unilateral’ move is not only ‘irresponsible and is source of tension in one of the most complex border disputes in the region’ but it (the Indian move on Kashmir) has the potential to ‘seriously derail’ the recent consensus arrived at between the president Xi Jinping and prime minister Narendra Modi.

Echoing Beijing’s official position on the status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the scholarly commentaries too describe the Kashmir region as internationally acknowledged disputed area between India and Pakistan; as also established in the 13 August, 1948 UNSC Resolution, 5 January, 1949 UN Resolution on India Pakistan Commission, and 1972 Simla Agreement etc. respectively.   

Interestingly, in sharp contrast with the section of the Indian English language national media – both the print and electronic – reports last Tuesday that “India and China (on Monday) seemed to have stepped back from allowing Kashmir to become an unmanageable irritant between the two countries,” just as the visiting Indian foreign minister, Mr. S. Jaishankar was holding talks with his counterpart in Beijing, op-ed columns in the mainstream Chinese media were screaming out with contradictory tones. Take a look at the sample: “As India scraps Kashmir’s special status, Pakistan’s dream lies shattered,” “India Revoking Kashmir Special Status is Violation of China’s Sovereignty: Don’t Expect Beijing to sit by idly,” “China will Never Let India’s Kashmir Power Grab Succeed.”

In addition, even as the Indian EAM was shaking hands with the Chinese vice president, Wang Qishan, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, SIIS, Mr. Liu Zongyi wrote in a signed syndicated column, “Due to India’s classification of Ladakh as a centrally administered area, the territory of the region, which was occupied by India in the western sector of the Sino-Indian border, will also have an impact on the stability of Sino-Indian relations.” Mr. Liu Zongyi also dons the position of a visiting research fellow at the Renmin University of China’s Chongyang Institute, an influential Beijing think tank on foreign affairs issues.

In another signed article on the same day, a Chinese scholar argued that India’s arrogant action has posed an increased security risk to the LAC in the western sector along the boundary between China and India. “China immediately and firmly opposed (India’s Kashmir move) not only because the Indian arrogant action will exacerbate regional tensions and pose a threat to China’s peripheral security, but also because the Indian action will render the LAC along the western sector of the boundary between the two countries increasingly vulnerable.” In the wild Indian imagination, the composition of the so-called Kashmir region includes the IOK – which includes Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, Baltistan and the China’s native land of Ladakh; the POK, the Chinese Aksai Chin as well as the Demchok region to the west of Aksai Chin – currently under dispute, the article claimed.    

Several Chinese commentaries view the controversial unilateral Indian push to change Kashmir’s status is aimed at fulfilling Modi government’s Hindu nationalist agenda. According to Liu Zongyi, “the Bhartiya Janta Party and its parent organization the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have always believed India has been at the forefront of resisting the Muslim invasion for 1300 years. The revocation of the Kashmir special status is the successful accomplishment of the BJP/RSS political agenda, i e, to strengthen Indian control over Kashmir, to alter Kashmir’s demographic nature, and to fully integrate it into the Union of India.”

The article, which first appeared on the Chongyang Institute website on August 12 and was quickly picked up by various Chinese news portals claims, the Kashmir move had been hatched based on a well-synchronized strategy, with keeping in mind both national as well as international factors. Speaking of the internal factors, the article contends that the Modi government wanted to fulfil its election promises to integrate Kashmir with India, which it had failed to implement during the previous five years on account of lack of majority in the Indian parliament. Likewise, several other Chinese commentators too have interpreted the parliamentary move on 5 August as an attempt by Modi, emboldened by the recent election victory, to have greater control over Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state and the main source of conflict between India and Pakistan.

On the other hand, the external factor which largely contributed to the timing of the Kashmir move was the rapid progress achieved by the US and Taliban recently. Leaving India not only marginalized and isolated in the renewed Afghan peace process but also pushing India face the risk of losing initiative on both Afghanistan and Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan.  Besides, Chinese commentators over time have been highlighting India desperately trying to win over the US support to isolate Pakistan/Taliban in order to strengthen control over the entire Kashmir region. It is in this context these experts see a close link behind the Indian unilateral action in Kashmir to two more possible external reasons: to alert as well as draw the US attention to the fact that India alone has the right to determine what goes on in Jammu & Kashmir; and that India will not tolerate Pakistan to make use of the Taliban militants to unleash terrorism in Kashmir.

Furthermore, typically least surprising, not one Chinese commentary so far has voiced concerns such as total clampdown on democracy in Kashmir, closing down of schools, tourists evacuation, cutting off internet connectivity, and putting some of the local political leaders under house arrest etc.; on the other hand, what is also noticeably absent in the Chinese commentaries are the worldwide heightened concerns of both India and Pakistan being the nuclear weapon possessing neighbours. Neither China’s leaders nor the experts/scholars have indicated worrying signs that any escalation might push the two South Asian hostile neighbours ‘over the edge’ and start a conventional war that might well grow into a full-on nuclear conflict. 

Finally, as already mentioned, the Chinese concerns are largely centred on how Pakistan is going to equip itself both diplomatically and otherwise to successfully thwart off the arrogant Indian move in Kashmir; whether the immediate counter measures the Imran Khan government has announced would exercise any impact on India – measures such as to downgrade diplomatic relations, to cut off economic and trade ties, to put a ban on the Indian movies, to deny air space access over Pakistan to the Indian air flights and so on. A few Chinese scholars did however warn India of serious consequences of carrying out ‘aggression’ over the Chinese sovereign areas in the so-called Union Territory of Ladakh. Likening India’s highly contentious move in Kashmir to the behaviour of a rogue state, one commentator questioned: India has been dreaming of becoming a UNSC permanent member, does India aim to achieve this by deliberately violating the UNSC Resolutions and by trampling on the authority of the UN and the Security Council?

Hong Kong: A Flight Against Subordination

The present mass opposition and upheaval against a proposed extradition law by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is driven by the same factor. But, this time precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” are at stake.

Sanjana Dhar, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

Hong Kongers are known for mass protests whenever they have been pushed to a corner by their government. The present mass opposition and upheaval against a proposed extradition law by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is driven by the same factor. But, this time precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” are at stake.

The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, or the Extradition law of Hong Kong has garnered widespread attention. The proposed law deals with the extradition of fugitives from Hong Kong to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China. It was initiated by Carrie Lam in February 2019 and the motivation for it was due to a murder case, where a man from Hong Kong murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan and fled back home. Extradition requests made by Taiwanese officials could not be carried forward due to the absence of an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Carrie Lam proposed this law in the hopes of filling a “legal loophole” because without a prior treaty in place, extradition cannot be carried out. With the formulation of a new extradition treaty, criminals cannot evade punishments for crimes committed in a different country.

The present situation of mass protests in Hong Kong is driven by the fact that the extradition law will give Beijing more leeway in matters of suppressing democracy and freedom in Hong Kong. Central authorities could arbitrarily arrest individuals who oppose their authority and bring them to justice under the opaque and politicised judicial system in the mainland. This is in contrast with the judicial system in Hong Kong, which is guided by rule of law. Beijing’s overbearing involvement in Hong Kong is in contradiction to the “one country, two systems” policy, which allows Hong Kong to maintain its partial democracy and free market within the territory of China. Fear of erosion of this policy has shaken the minds of the public and they are choosing to express this fear in the form of fierce protests.

Amidst popular discontent for the law, Carrie Lam initially had a strong position and vouched that the proposed law would in no way compromise human rights principles of Hong Kong. The final say in the granting of extradition requests would rest with Hong Kong and religious and political matters would be kept out of the purview. Yet, growing public dissatisfaction against the bill has undermined her image and created demands for her resignation.

The mass protests of 9 and 12 June is evidence of the dissatisfaction among Hong Kong citizens with the turn of events. It is testimony that Hong Kongers are ready for what has been touted as the “last fight” for safeguarding their democracy and freedom.

The protests on 12 June gave the people a temporary relief as the second round of discussions of the bill was cancelled due to blockades by protesters near the government headquarters. However, the protests took an unprecedented turn as the police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at the protesters. Media outlets have dubbed it as violence which has never been witnessed in the history of Hong Kong and the police force is being held accountable by the public for such a blatant act. Rising protests after such violence has forced Carrie Lam to suspend discussions on the law indefinitely. Her apology for the negligence on her part in involving the opinions of the society in making the law and expediting the passing of the law at the cost of peace in Hong Kong has brought temporary relief, but the people do not intend to stop until the bill is entirely withdrawn.

Undoubtedly, these events have drawn the attention of the international community. Leaders all over the world have come out in support of the anti-extradition protests and voiced their concerns of Hong Kong transforming into an illiberal region, not suitable for its once reputed liberal, market oriented society. Multiple rallies have taken place worldwide in support of the protesters. Hong Kongers have also urged foreign leaders to discuss the situation in the G-20 Summit and back demands of withdrawal of the bill.

China is at the center of this issue, although its direct involvement in the matter is not clear. Regardless, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang initially came out in full support of the administration in Hong Kong. Beijing believed the involvement of “foreign forces” was aggravating the situation and filling the public with animosity towards the law, which would not jeopardise the rule of law and justice in Hong Kong. But Beijing has now backtracked and is in support of the suspension of the bill.

The shift in Beijing’s stance reflects the precarious condition China is presently in, due to the trade war with the USA and the slowing economy. Can Xi Jinping afford to counter the situation in Hong Kong through force and add another tragedy in China’s history or could the protests in Hong Kong further attenuate Beijing’s vulnerabilities, are some of the questions which are yet to be answered. But at the moment, Hong Kongers seem to have gotten the better of Beijing.

The black clad protests of 16 June of nearly two million people sent a strong message to the administration over the people’s demands of complete withdrawal of the bill. Protesters won’t be satisfied only with the suspension of the bill because they speculate the administration will bring back discussions once the protesters have calmed down.

The situation in Hong Kong demonstrates the resolution of the protesters and their concerns about erosion of the “one country two systems” and its eventual merging with the system present in mainland China. Fierce resistance of the people is not just against the extradition law, but this upheaval is critical for Hong Kongers to safeguard their prized rights and freedoms in the face of arbitrariness and subordination from Beijing.

Competing for Influence: China’s Strategic Constraints and Challenges in the Indian Ocean

Chetananand Patil, Research Intern, ICS

The Indian Ocean is increasingly becoming a platform for the new emerging competition between major powers with China making its forays into the region, India seeking to preserve its dominance and the US keen to contain rise of China. Conventional wisdom perceives Chinese presence as a threat for the region and especially for India as it challenges Indian supremacy in its own backyard. Although China’s increasing presence cannot be overlooked or seen in idealist terms, there are certain limitations to its expansion which places Beijing in a strategically disadvantaged position vis-à-vis India.

The most important aspect that needs to be taken into account regarding China and the Indian Ocean Region is that China has no maritime territorial claims in the IOR and the region is not its strategic backyard. For Beijing, to protect maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea is the first priority Continue reading “Competing for Influence: China’s Strategic Constraints and Challenges in the Indian Ocean”

19th National Congress of the CPC: Xi Jinping Firmly in Charge

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Xi Jinping is officially China’s strongest leader in decades. The Communist Party of China’s Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) was unveiled at the end of the 19th National Congress of the CPC in Beijing yesterday with Xi Jinping reelected General Secretary for a second term. The 7-member PBSC includes besides Xi and his Premier Li Keqiang, at least four of Xi’s close allies in key positions. Also, in a departure from Party norms it offers no choice of potential successors to take over from Xi in 2022 when again according to norms, he is supposed to step down from power.

This composition of the PBSC in favour of Xi is the culmination of a series of steps he has taken over the past five years, foremost of which was a popular and far-reaching anti-corruption campaign that netted hundreds of senior Party and military officials including a potential rival and a former PBSC member, no less. Continue reading “19th National Congress of the CPC: Xi Jinping Firmly in Charge”

The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

The standoff between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan has been resolved with each government putting out differing versions of the exact terms of the settlement. But it is certain that status quo before 16 June this year has been restored. The Chinese have stopped their road construction in the area, which had led to the Indian action in the first place and Indian troops have pulled back to their positions.

The Chinese government has sought to sell the deal as a case of the Indians having blinked, of having bowed to Chinese threats and coercion. It is doubtful that the line has much purchase even within China where the netizen community might have constraints on their conversations but are not stupid and not entirely without access to information from the outside world. Continue reading “The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?”

In the Wake of Doklam: India-China Relations Entering a New Phase

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

This article was originally published as,‘भारत-चीन संबंध नये दौर में, in Rashtriya Sahara, 29 July 2017. The original English version follows below the Hindi text.

भारत के राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकार अजित डोभाल बीजिंग में ब्रिक्स देशों के राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकारों की बैठक में शिरकत करने चीन पहुंच चुके हैं। सभी निगाहें इस तरफ हैं कि क्या भारत और चीन इस मौके पर भूटान के डोकलाम क्षेत्र में बने तनाव को समाप्त करने में सफल होंगे। लेकिन दोनों देशों के आधिकारिक बयानों पर गौर करें तो लगता है कि चीन किसी सूरत पीछे हटने को तैयार नहीं है। न केवल इतना बल्कि वह भारत के खिलाफ तीखे बयान भी दे रहा है। मांग कर रहा है कि उसके क्षेत्र, जिसे वह अपना होने का दावा कर रहा है, से भारत अपने सैनिकों को पीछे हटाए।

लेकिन इस मामले से जुड़े तय बेहद सरल-सादा हैं।

Continue reading “In the Wake of Doklam: India-China Relations Entering a New Phase”

Doklam – The Legal and the Bilateral

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

The ongoing standoff between India and China in the Doklam area in Bhutan is the result of a disagreement over the terms of the 1890 Convention Relating to Sikkim and Tibet[1] signed by the colonial British government in India and the Qing empire in China.

Contrary to the Chinese stress today on “Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier” (Article I) as the beginning of the boundary between Tibet and Sikkim, India has pointed out that the specific trijunction point should be that point which adheres to the watershed as indicated in the same Article I of the Convention. Under the 2005 Agreement between India and China[2], the two countries agreed that “the delineation of the boundary will be carried out utilising means such as modern cartographic and surveying practices and joint surveys” (Article VIII) and that “[p]ending an ultimate settlement … the two sides should … work together to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas” (Article IX).

This clarifies several dimensions of this issue. Continue reading “Doklam – The Legal and the Bilateral”

Bhutan: the ‘Missing’ Piece of the Puzzle

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

In the latest faceoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Doklam area, the role and place of Bhutan has been easily overlooked. It is the Bhutanese after all that are contending with Chinese over the area and it is they who invited the Indians to take up cudgels on their behalf against the Chinese.

Bhutan is, in many respects, probably India’s only genuine ally in the region and this too, is largely the result of that country’s unique political history and development. The Bhutanese monarchy has played a key role in nurturing a close and beneficial relationship with India and India has in large measure reciprocated. While a tiny country, Bhutan has always been favoured with fairly senior and always competent Indian ambassadors in its capital and maintains the Indian Military Training Team in support of the Bhutanese army. Also worth remembering is the fact that it was to Bhutan that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first official foreign visit after taking office.

That said, India should simply count itself lucky that it has managed to maintain a special place for itself in Bhutan’s international affairs for such a long time despite the vagaries of international politics. Continue reading “Bhutan: the ‘Missing’ Piece of the Puzzle”

Doklam: Understanding Chinese Actions in Bhutan

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Following the latest confrontation between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan, there is clearly an edge to the repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary.

The Chinese have stressed that this ‘is the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’.

What should Indians make of this and what should we look out for? Continue reading “Doklam: Understanding Chinese Actions in Bhutan”

India-China Face-off in Doklam: Need for both Resolve and Prudence 

Shyam Saran, Member, ICS Governing Council and former Indian Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy

The latest face-off between the Indian and Chinese security forces in Doklam, where the borders of India, China and Bhutan meet, brings a sense of déjà vu. There was a similar extended face-off in the Depsang area in Ladakh in April 2013. There have been other incidents as well but the mechanisms in place to maintain peace and tranquillity at the border have eventually worked and the issues have been resolved. Both sides have remained committed to preventing escalation. One hopes that the Doklam incident will not be allowed to vitiate the relationship between the two countries, particularly in view of the fact that Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly had a friendly meeting on the sidelines of the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Almaty. Both leaders made a special effort to put relations back on a positive track after a somewhat prickly interlude, which included India’s refusal to join the Chinese-led One Belt One Road initiative. This turnaround in relations must not suffer a setback as a result of the latest incident. This may impact the prospects of a possible bilateral summit when the leaders attend the forthcoming G-20 summit in Hamburg. Continue reading “India-China Face-off in Doklam: Need for both Resolve and Prudence “