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From Azhar to OIC summit: How long will China back Pakistan on Kashmir?

By Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
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Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi's scheduled visit to India, reportedly beginning on Thursday, comes in the backdrop of his country's extraordinary leaning towards Pakistan in the last over three years. It comes close on the heels of his visit to Afghanistan coupled with Yi's endorsement of the Pakistan-sponsored declaration on Kashmir at the foreign minister's summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Islamabad.

This is also the first time a senior leader from Beijing would be visiting New Delhi after the bloody skirmishes of June 2020 on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, which claimed the life of 20 Indian soldiers. Russian media reports have put the number of Chinese fatalities at 45, even as Beijing has admitted only four. The clashes, the first of its kind on the LAC in nearly 50 years, have taken the bilateral relations between the two countries to an all-time low.

Pakistan has always hailed China as its "all time friend". The strategic partnership between the two countries - to the remarkable advantage of Beijing's economic interest - has been reinforced despite stories of persecution and 'genocide' of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Atul Aneja, China expert and Editor of India Narrative speaks on China’s aggressive position on J&K

Beijing's sudden decision to reach out to India is widely believed to relate to the implications of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Notwithstanding the equilibrium it has maintained, India is counted among the countries preventing the beleaguered Russian President Vladimir Putin's diplomatic isolation. China is among the very few countries that voted for Russia at the Ukraine related sessions of the United Nations.

After the border skirmishes, India has taken several measures to demonstrate its anger over the Chinese activities, including its role in subverting the Indian interests in neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan. Since June 2020, India has banned nearly 300 Chinese smartphone apps.

China's inimical statements over the withdrawal of Jammu and Kashmir's semi-autonomous status and reorganisation into the two Union Territories (UTs) of J&K and Ladakh, and thereafter subscription to the Pakistani narrative have widened the gulf. Even a politician of Farooq Abdullah's stature, having served several times as Chief Minister, central cabinet minister and Member of Parliament, was heard saying China would help the Kashmiris get back Article 370.

"Cheen wout Ganderbal" (Chinese army have reached Ganderbal) was the 'whistle of victory' of separatist militants and their followers amid rumours of a full-fledged war taking shape in Ladakh in the summer of 2020. Ganderbal is a town, 20 km from Srinagar, on the strategic Ladakh highway. Even as the troops of both sides have withdrawn peacefully in a phased manner, as per an agreement, both China and India have upgraded communication and defence infrastructure across the LAC in the last two years.

Senior Police officials insist that most of the drones, GPS systems and NVGs used by militants and their handlers in Pakistan carry made-in-China markings. Nearly 18 incidents of arms and drug dropping from Pakistan on the LoC and IB have been detected by the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Jammu and Kashmir Police since June 2020.

"Previously, their hostile actions were limited only to rhetoric and optics like stapled visas to the Kashmiri-Indian visitors. Now they are providing material support and logistics to the infiltrators on the IB and the LoC," said a senior Police officer. He stated how China offered dogged resistance to the Indian campaign to get the Jaish-e-Mohammad founder Masood Azhar designated as a global terrorist.

The seven decades-long border disputes and hostilities took a new turn when Beijing came out with a terse reaction to the Indian move of the abrogation of Article 370 and creation of the UTs of J&K and Ladakh in August 2019.

What happened in OIC is a bit of a backtracking. This time there was no mention of the UN. There was a one-liner that came from the Chinese. The Chinese didn’t say they are endorsing the Pakistani position. They said they are endorsing the sentiment of the OIC countries. India should continue to stay firm and reject this. We oppose internationalisation of Jammu and Kashmir from an international fora and there is a good reason for this because we don’t internationalise Tibet, we don’t internationalise Taiwan though we have our own view on all these regions. So, it is expected of the Chinese to show that sensitivity towards India as well.

Atul Aneja, China expert
Editor, India Narrative

While the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill was still under debate in the Indian Parliament, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying gave a strongly-worded response. "China is always opposed to India's inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction. This firm and consistent position remains unchanged," Hua said. She insisted that the reorganisation would directly "impede China's sovereignty".

"Recently, India has continued to undermine China's territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law. Such practice is unacceptable and will not come into force," Hua said without regard to India's tacit support to China in Hong Kong. India was among only two countries with consulates in Hong Kong that didn't accept a memorandum from pro-democracy protestors to the foreign governments.

In a soft rejoinder, Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), said: "So far as the India-China Boundary Question is concerned, the two sides have agreed to a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement on the basis of the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of India-China Boundary Question. Pending such a settlement, both sides have agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas based on the relevant agreements".

Atul Aneja, China expert and Editor of India Narrative speaks to The Probe

India's border dispute with Beijing began when Pakistan ceded territory of 5,180 sq km from the Aksai Chin area of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State to China in 1963. There have been several Chinese intrusions in Ladakh besides the non-demarcation of the LAC. The most severe stand-off was in April 2013, when Indian and Chinese troops came eye to eye at Daulat Beg Oldi for three weeks. China registered a protest against India laying a road near the LAC in Ladakh.

Ten days later, China obliged Pakistan and played a crucial role in convening the UNSC's first meeting over the Kashmir issue after 1971. China backed Pakistan's letter dated 13 August, 2019 to the UNSC president seeking an open meeting on India's move to change J&K's special status under Article 37 of the UN charter.

After Pakistan failed to garner the mandatory support of nine UNSC members, China called for "closed-door informal consultations". Its minutes are not recorded, and the UNSC issues no formal statements.

China's permanent representative to the UN, Zhang Jun, told reporters: "Judging from what I heard from the discussion of the Security Council members, they have serious concerns about the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir. They are also concerned about the human rights situation there". He said Kashmir was a "recognised international dispute to be resolved properly in accordance with the UN charter, the relevant UNSC resolutions and bilateral agreements".

"What should be pointed out is that India's action has also challenged China's sovereign interests and violated bilateral agreements on maintaining peace and stability at the border area. On that, China is very much seriously concerned. We wish to emphasise that such unilateral action by India is not valid in relation to China and will not change China's sovereignty and effective jurisdiction of the territory," China's representatives said.

Subsequently, on 15 January, and 5 August, 2020, China helped Pakistan rake up the Kashmir issue at two similar closed-door meetings. "This was not the first time that China has sought to raise a subject that is solely an internal matter of India. As on such previous occasions, this attempt too met with little support from the international community. We firmly reject China's interference in our internal affairs and urge it to draw proper conclusions from such infructuous attempts," said a statement from the MEA.

On 6 February 2022, China's support for Pakistan's stand on Kashmir figured yet again in a joint statement of the two countries when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was on a tour in Beijing.

"The Pakistan side briefed the Chinese side on the latest developments on the situation in Jammu & Kashmir, including its concerns, position and pressing issues at the moment. The Chinese side reiterated that the Kashmir issue was a dispute left from history and should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements. China opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation," said the statement.

The MEA statement, as usual, rejected Pakistan's China-backed memorandum. "We have always rejected such references, and our position is well known to China and Pakistan. In this instance, too, we reject reference to Jammu and Kashmir in the joint statement. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh have been, are and will always remain integral and inalienable parts of India. We expect the parties concerned not to interfere in matters that are internal affairs of India".

The OIC declaration on 23 March 2022 was yet again Pakistan's draft. "We renew unwavering solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and express full support for their inalienable right to self-determination in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and the OIC, and the wishes of the Kashmiri people," it said while condemning "massive violation of human rights" in Kashmir.

It added: "We reiterate rejection of India's illegal and unilateral actions since 5 August 2019 aimed at altering the demographic composition of the occupied territory, suppressing the realisation of the inalienable right of self-determination of the Kashmiris, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and international law including the 4th Geneva Convention."

India quickly rejected Wang Yi's endorsement of the OIC declaration.

"We reject the uncalled reference to India by the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his speech at the Opening Ceremony. Matters related to the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir are entirely the internal affairs of India, and other countries, including China, have no locus standi to comment. They should note that India refrains from public judgement of their internal issues," MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said.


Ahmed Ali Fayyaz is an independent journalist based out of Jammu & Kashmir. With 27 years of experience, Fayyaz is a policy analyst and a political commentator. He has extensively reported on conflict - after the 1990 Kashmir conflict - for the national and international media.