Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom. This week we cover: China’s reaction to the scrapping of Article 370; India gets a warning on Huawei; Xi heads to Beidaihe; an escalation in Hong Kong’s protests and much more.
I. The Kashmir Reaction
It took a while, but the Chinese foreign ministry on August 6 responded to the Indian government’s decision to revoke provisions of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state. That decision was followed by Home Minister Amit Shah’s speech in Parliament in which he mentioned Aksai Chin too.
Hua Chunying termed New Delhi’s decision “unacceptable.” She added that “India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law.” That’s as absurd as statements can be. She then urged India to “exercise prudence in words and deeds concerning the boundary question.” Interestingly, this was specifically in the context of the creation of the Union Territory of Ladakh. In response to a separate question, she discussed J&K in the Indo-Pak context, she said that there is an “international consensus that the Kashmir issue is an issue left from the past” between the two countries. She then asked both sides to exercise restraint and not unilaterally change the status quo. Meanwhile, Yao Jing, China’s ambassador to Pakistan, termed the decision as a unilateral one, which “will definitely have negative repercussion.”
Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had briefed Chinese ambassador Sun Weidong, among others, about New Delhi’s decision. The MEA’s response to Chinese MFA statements was that “India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries and similarly expects other countries to do likewise.”
So how does one understand the Chinese stakes here and the response? Hu Shisheng, from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, says that New Delhi’s move was aimed at separating “the two most ticklish disputes in the world from each other” and “to try to settle the Kashmir dispute unilaterally.” Two pieces in the Global Times also discussed the issue. One by Hu Weijia and the other by Li Qingqing. The first says that the Indian decision has hurt the possibility of Chinese economic cooperation in Kashmir. The second says: “China will not choose sides or interfere in the India-Pakistan disputes, but this does not mean that China will let India harm its national interests. India’s move has sabotaged the hard-fought and developing relationship between China and India.” I’d take these with a pinch of salt when it comes to reflecting the official position.
How do Indian analysts assess the Chinese response? Well, Jabin Jacob argues that “a change in the status of J&K is not a major concern for China in so far as it involves Pakistan.” But there could be a shift in Beijing’s position on the Shaksgam Valley and with regard to Indian sovereignty claims over POK and consequently BRI. On Ladakh, he says “there is little that actually changes on the ground on the LAC between India and China despite the latter’s rhetoric.” Professor Srikanth Kondapalli argues that the reasons for China’s negative response are located in its territorial dispute with India but also to its grand designs of dominating the region from its previous position of being merely a “balancer” between India and Pakistan.”
My Bubble: The Chinese reaction so far has been quite constrained. It’s largely in the context of its boundary issues with India, and there is no marker that Beijing wants to escalate. In fact, there might be a sense that the bifurcation of the state presents an opportunity. Kashmir is about territory and identity; the latter now shifts with Ladakh as a UT. But Beijing is likely to remain cautious and watch how things develop. There are bigger concerns along its periphery and strategically at the moment.
Next Moves: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has landed in Beijing, in a hastily arranged visit. He will be meeting his counterpart Wang Yi. Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is scheduled to meet Wang in Beijing on Monday. Subsequently, India and China are to hold the next round of SR talks in September.
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