Friday, November 19, 2010
Kashmir Card vs Tibet Card
To the surprise of many, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna recently told his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi that New Delhi expects Beijing to change its position on Jammu & Kashmir by reciprocating the way India has handled Chinese ‘core issues’.
It is the first time that India has equated Jammu and Kashmir with Tibet. This happened during a 70-minute bilateral meeting during the Russia-India-China trilateral Meet.
After the meeting, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was more explicit: “Our minister referred to the need to show mutual sensitivity and that the Chinese side needs to be sensitive to our concerns in J&K like India has been sensitive to Chinese concerns on Taiwan and Tibet.”
This issue started when Beijing began issuing stapled visas for Kashmir residents. Apparently China wanted to make a point: Beijing does not recognize J&K as an integral part of India.
Former Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal wrote in The Times of India: “This would suggest that the Chinese now consider India's presence in J&K as lacking in legitimacy.”
Later Beijing denied a visa to Lt Gen BS Jaswal, Northern Command boss, to attend a preplanned defense meeting in Beijing. To make matter worse, the Chinese Embassy stated that the General was serving in the ‘sensitive location of Jammu and Kashmir’ and ‘people from this part of the world come with a different kind of visa’.
Interestingly, the position of China has historically been quite clear: Beijing wanted Pakistan and India to solve the ‘K’ issue bilaterally (even though Beijing’s favours have always heavily tilted towards Pakistan).
The recently declassified transcript of a meeting between Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and the Pakistani Ambassador to China, Ahmed Ali in February 1957, offers a good historical perspective. During the discussion, Zhou repeatedly asked the Ambassador “is there a danger of conflict breaking out over the Kashmir issue?”. The Pakistani Ambassador wouldn’t reply even after Zhou Enlai clarified: “The two countries of Pakistan and India are sister countries; if a conflict occurs, it is not only disadvantageous to the two countries; it is also disadvantageous to the peace of Asia.”
When Zhou made a parallel with Taiwan, the Ambassador retorted: “The Taiwan issue and the Kashmir issue are different. We hold that Taiwan is a part of China, and that this issue will eventually resolve itself. But the Kashmir issue is a point of contention between two independent countries,”
Zhou answered: “Of course the Taiwan issue and the Kashmir issue are different in nature. [But] we have always hoped that the two countries of Pakistan and India can peacefully resolve the Kashmir issue.”
In another interesting historical document, Zhou Enlai told another Pakistani Ambassador just a few weeks before the October 1962 attack on India: “[About our] attitude toward Kashmir, we have repeatedly demonstrated that China holds a neutral stance: [we] have not stated that Kashmir belongs to [this or] that side, but have advocated seeking a resolution for this issue through peaceful negotiation. We also listened to India’s opinion, but did not express any preferences. We respect the two sides’ resolution reached through negotiation.”
The Chinese Premier continued: “During my second visit to India [in 1957], Nehru repeatedly hinted about this issue [Kashmir]. He deliberately invited a Kashmiri prince [Karan Singh] to a banquet; I did not take any notice of it. We adopted an extremely objective attitude.”
This has remained Beijing’s policy for decades, but since a few months, things have changed. China’s Foreign Minister Yang was ambiguous in his response to S.M. Krishna. Could it be otherwise? Today, it is clear that it is not him who decides China’s foreign policy. However, the use of the ‘K’ Card by Beijing is new, at least in this open and deliberate manner. How can it be explained?
To understand the issue one should look at a larger perspective. India is not alone to face the problem. In recent months, Japan, Korea and other China’s neighbours have encountered Beijing’s change of mood.
Most watchers agree that it is due to the accrued interference of the People’s Liberation Army in China’s foreign policy, sometimes in opposition to the ‘civilian’ State Council’s positions (the theory of the ‘Peaceful Rise of China’ seems, for example, to have been forgotten).
These developments are quite worrying. The Wall Street Journal published last month an article affirming China’s Army Extends Sway. The WSJ correspondent Jeremy Page wrote: “The Chinese military's political clout is expected to grow as the Communist Party's ruling Politburo Standing Committee prepares for China's change to new leadership in 2012.”
Page added: “It is unclear to what extent the PLA is unilaterally expanding its traditional role—to defend the party and Chinese territory—or being encouraged by party leaders to redefine China's broader national interests. But the military has become far more outspoken in recent months, frequently upstaging the foreign ministry and heightening concerns in the region and beyond about how China plans to use its economic muscle.”
In September, the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation had already noted: “While China and India have long sparred over the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s status, border incursions and China’s growing footprint in southern Asia, a perceptible shift in the Chinese stance on Kashmir has now emerged as a new source of interstate friction. Throughout the 1990s, a desire for stability on its southwestern flank and fears of an Indian-Pakistani nuclear arms race caused Beijing to take a more evenhanded approach to Kashmir, while still favoring Islamabad.”
The jockeying for key positions in the next Politburo and its mighty Standing Committee as well as the coveted seats in the Central Military Commission probably explains the Chinese latest moves.
However, Beijing should think twice before equating Kashmir and Tibet. The ‘civilian’ or PLA’s leaders should not forget that J&K lives under the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Though a similar article on the Chinese Constitution for Tibet would probably the ideal solution for solving the Tibetan issue, it may not be to Beijing’s taste. For the Dalai Lama, it would undoubtedly be interesting to have a 370-type article barring non State subjects from other Provinces to settle or start businesses in Tibet. J&K has also its own Constitution, flag, Legislative Assembly and its own elected government; Indians laws have to be ratified by the J&K Assembly before being implementable and several other features providing a large autonomy for the State. This sounds close to the ‘genuine’ autonomy on which the Dalai Lama insists.
Suppose that tomorrow New Delhi would tell Beijing, “if you insist on clubbing Kashmir and Tibet, why don’t you grant a ‘370 Article’ to Tibet and all the Tibetan inhabited areas? It will be your benefit, the Tibetan issue will be settled and after a larger ‘autonomy’ is granted to Tibet, one could certainly find an arrangement to sort out the Indo-Tibet border issue.”
S.M. Krishna did not perhaps have this in mind, but whoever decides the foreign policy in Beijing should think about it before unnecessarily rattling the ‘K’ issue.