After the abrogation of Article 370, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the Pakistani foreign minister, dashed to China desperate for their support against the Indian action. China had already commented on the changed status of Ladakh, which was countered by India stating that actions were internal and there were no additional claims on the boundary dispute.
The Indian foreign minister, S Jaishankar visited China as part of his advance plans from 10 to 12 August. After the meeting between the foreign ministers, the Chinese ruling party mouthpiece Global Times stated, “the Indian diplomat pledged that India’s constitutional amendment won’t create new sovereignty claims and won’t change the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kashmir region.”
It added, “China opposes any unilateral action that complicates the regional situation and hopes India and Pakistan can resolve the disputes through peaceful methods.” Subsequently, the Global Times published a series of articles critical of Indian actions. It stated, “New Delhi is too reckless on border issues. It keeps taking unilateral actions and breaking the status quo with impact on the regional situation. Its actions challenge surrounding countries’ interests, but it wants these countries to swallow the provocation and accept the new facts made by India.”
It added, “The US and the West also connive with India. India also thinks China is busy at the trade war and the Belt and Road Initiative, and so it is a good time to act on border issues. But this is not the proper strategy for a big power. India needs a friendly neighbourhood to rise.” It also questioned India’s quest for a seat in the UNSC. Pakistan had been pushing for a discussion in the UN Security Council on India’s actions on removing Article 370 and breaking J and K into two Union Territories, claiming India altered the status of a disputed region, while India contends that J and K, including POK and Gilgit Baltistan are Indian territory.
Pakistan’s demand was rejected by the UNSC President. China, on behalf of Pakistan approached UNSC for a special meeting on Kashmir. It was accepted and a closed-door meeting was held on 16 August. A closed-door meeting only enables members to share their views. There are no decisions, no official records maintained, nor a press release issued on what transpired. Neither India nor Pakistan attended, as neither is a member of the UNSC. After the discussion, there were three press conferences.
These were by China, Pakistan and India. Each nation projected its own views. For Pakistan, the biggest gain was that Kashmir was discussed in the UNSC for the first time in 50 years. Since it was not an official meeting, nothing of relevance was gained. As per inputs, China was alone as other members agreed with the Indian view that the matter was internal. The Chinese statement only highlighted that both nations should commence dialogue. India stuck to its stand that it was an internal matter.
The Chinese demand for a UNSC meeting was not to raise their objections on the changed status of Ladakh, where it has territorial disputes with India, but Kashmir, where Pakistan is concerned. Thus, the message being conveyed to the world was that China itself has no concern after the clarification given by the Indian Foreign Minister, but was acting at the behest of Pakistan. China acted for multiple reasons, while ensuring its actions did not anger India. Hence, it accepted a closed-door meeting. China has investments in Pakistan which it cannot risk. There is immense anger within Pakistan against Indian actions.
If China had not supported Pakistan, it could face local anger which would damage its investments in the CPEC. In Pakistan, the government and army are facing local wrath. Decades of propaganda on regaining Kashmir has impacted their national psyche. Pakistan could only adopt diplomatic actions as militarily it remains weak. It received no support from its traditional allies. Maintaining silence could sound the death knell for the government and this could not be accepted by China as it could jeopardise its investments. With the Belt and Road Initiative facing hurdles and the economy impacted due to the ongoing trade war with the US, it already has its plate full. It cannot afford to include CPEC as another problem.
Within Pakistan, support from China, which was the only one it received, boosted the Chinese image. It saved the face of the Imran led government. The fact that Kashmir was even discussed in the UN and that too due to Chinese insistence, was a face saver. China also needs to be careful. Despite ignoring international criticism for its handling of the Uyghur Moslems, the same could also be raked up in another closed-door meeting. Further, Hong Kong is facing its worst unrest since the takeover of the region by China.
There have been comments from the US and UK on the manner it is being handled. While Hong Kong police authorities have claimed they have things under control, China is feeling the heat. Tibet is always a burning topic, on which China has sought Indian cooperation. China is aware of Indian proximity to the US and its alliances with Japan, Vietnam and other nations in conflict with China. India has presently not acted in any manner to anger China, but if pushed to the wall, it could. Indo-Chinese strategic partnership is developing post Doklam.
Both sides have sought to avoid further differences cropping up. China is aware that if it pushes the Kashmir issue hard in the UNSC and demands a full meeting, then nations supporting India would demand similar discussions on Uyghur and Hong Kong, which despite all its efforts would get international coverage. China has many skeletons in its cupboard, which it would prefer keeping under wraps. War or antagonism with India is not the preferred option for China now. It therefore took this mild step. Indian government’s silence on the closed-door discussions indicate that it has no concerns about Chinese actions and is aware of the reasons for China adopting this stance.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)