The India-Pakistan conflict and China’s geographical interests

He Jun

Latest conflict over Kashmir has become an increasingly heated political hotspot

(Xinhua/Sajjad-Kashif Masood)

On the morning of Aug. 5, Indian Minister of Home Affairs and President of the Bharatiya Janata Party Amit Shah moved two bills to abolish Article 370 of the Constitution in order to restructure Jammu and Kashmir State.

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This was to establish Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory (UT) with local legislature and Ladakh as a UT without local legislature.

Eight hours after the motion was moved by Shah, both bills were passed.

This news immediately caused great concern around the world.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry urgently summoned the Indian ambassador on Aug. 5 and condemned the Indian government’s actions, claiming that it would use all options to respond to India’s “illegal” and “unilateral” moves.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged India and Pakistan to exercise restraint after India revoked Kashmir’s “special status”.

A UN spokesman said that the UN peacekeeping forces deployed in India-controlled Kashmir observed and reported an increase in military activities along the control line.

Bloomberg observed that this move initiated by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi allows the Indian federal government to take full control of the police machinery in Jammu and Kashmir.

The revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy has temporarily eased criticism faced by Modi concerning the country’s negative economic news, making it a distraction from the government’s ill-conceived sovereign borrowing plans, slowing growth and rising joblessness.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Washington-based Wilson Centre, believes that India’s sudden move on the Kashmir issue will cause risks of violence to rise “significantly”.

After revoking the special status granted to Kashmir, India has blocked most of Kashmir’s territories, cutting off all local and foreign communications, including mobile phones, internet and fixed-line telephones, as well as sending troops to the border areas.

The move sparked strong opposition in Pakistan, which subsequently announced that it would refer the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council and downgrade its diplomatic relations with India, in addition to suspending its bilateral trade with India.

The Reuters media group reported that the Indian government has revoked the “special status” of India-controlled Kashmir, attempting to fully integrate the country’s only Muslim-dominated region with the rest of the country.

This is the most impactful move on Kashmir in the past 70 years.

This latest conflict in South Asia centring around Kashmir involving the two arch-rivals, which both possess nuclear weapons, has caused the geopolitical situation in South Asia to intensify and may even develop into a partial war between India and Pakistan.

Since the Ladakh UT planned by India involves the territory of the western section of the China-Indian border, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that China has always opposed the inclusion of this section into the Indian administration and this position has never changed.

Recently, from China’s perspective, the Indian side has continued to damage China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally modifying its domestic laws.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that such a move is unacceptable and will not prove to be effective.

It is also worth noting that although the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its position on this matter, China’s ally Pakistan has not solicited help from China, but rather has turned to the United States.

On Aug. 5 local time, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted: “[US} President Trump offered to mediate on Kashmir.

This is the time to do so as the situation deteriorates there and along the LoC [line of control] with new aggressive actions being taken by Indian forces.”

We have noticed that in addition to resorting to the United States, the Pakistani government is seeking support from the Islamic world as well.

Khan immediately briefed the leaders of Turkey and Malaysia on the developments in Kashmir to seek help.

China and Pakistan are considered to be strategic partners and the two countries have always maintained friendly relations.

In modern history, Pakistan is the only country among China’s neighbours that has always maintained good relations with China.

In several Indian-Pakistani wars, China had helped Pakistan in different forms.

In terms of economic construction, China has given Pakistan various support from funds to technology, from materials to manpower.

At the same time, Pakistan is also an important supporting country for China’s implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative.

China and Chinese companies are important participants in the construction of important infrastructure such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Gwadar Port.

Similarly, China’s geopolitical and geo-economic interests in South Asia cannot be achieved without Pakistan’s support.

It is precisely because of this that when the Pakistani Prime Minister actively sought help from the United States and not China, at least openly, this has somewhat put China in an awkward position.

Does Pakistan think that China will assist without being asked, or does it think that China is unable to provide any help over the Kashmir issue?

We don’t know for sure but, judging from the sudden pressure on Pakistan’s Kashmir issue, we think the latter is more possible.

It appears that China is the neglected party in this matter.

The Pakistan-Kashmir crisis is still developing.

For China, one of the consequences to be considered is that China may lose its trust or “friendship” with Pakistan.

If Pakistan realises that China has no voice nor real status in the geopolitical game, for the survival of the country, it might choose another path.

It is indeed not possible for China to support Pakistan today, considering the situation China faces now.

It is actually not important for China if Pakistan chooses the United States and the West, or if it chooses the Islamic world.

What concerns China is whether it actually loses the trust of Pakistan over this issue.

Final analysis conclusion

From Pakistan’s attempt to seek help from the United States and the Islamic world while neglecting China, China may not be able to provide Pakistan with persuasive guarantees in this matter.

This means that China could very well lose the trust of an “old friend”, which will affect China’s geopolitical interests in South Asia.

He Jun is a master in the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, majoring in the intellectual history of science and is a senior researcher at ANBOUND Consulting, an independent think tank with headquarters in Beijing. ANBOUND was established in 1993 and specialises in public policy research

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