Shahid M Amin
ANALYSTS are wondering about a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s statement at a press conference on March 17, 2017 that development of CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) will not affect China’s stance on Kashmir issue. When asked by a journalist to comment on India’s objections to Pakistan’s plan to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province, the Chinese spokesperson stated: “On the Kashmir issue, China’s position is consistent and clear-cut. As a leftover issue from history between India and Pakistan, it needs to be properly settled through dialogue and consultation between the two sides. The development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor does not affect China’s position on Kashmir issue.”
A similar wording was used by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesmen on various occasions in the recent past. For example, Pakistani media had reported after a meeting on sidelines of the UN on September 22, 2016 between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that the latter had said: “We support Pakistan and we will speak for Pakistan at every forum.” But the day after, when the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson was asked to comment on Pakistani press reports that Li had extended support to Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, she replied: “The issue of Kashmir is an issue left over from history. Our stance on that is consistent. We hope that the parties concerned will pursue a peaceful settlement through dialogue.”
In another instance, the Chinese Consul General in Lahore, Yu Boren, was quoted by Pakistani media as having told Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on September 26, 2016 that China will fully support Islamabad in case of any foreign aggression, and that “the aspirations of the Kashmiris should be taken into account in resolving the Kashmir dispute.” He had added that “we are and will be siding with Pakistan on Kashmir issue.” However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman immediately issued a clarification that “China’s position on the relevant issue is consistent and clear. As neighbour and friend to both Pakistan and India, we hope the two countries will properly address their differences through dialogue and consultation, manage and control the situation and jointly work for peace and stability of South Asia and the growth of the region.” When asked to comment specifically on Kashmir, the spokesman said: “With regard to the Kashmir issue, we believe it is an issue left over from history. We hope the relevant parties will peacefully and properly resolve the issue through dialogue and consultation.”
The foregoing comments by Chinese spokesmen indicate that China wants Pakistan and India to resolve the Kashmir issue bilaterally through dialogue and consultation. Chinese spokesmen are silent on the merits of the Kashmir issue. They make no mention of several UN Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir, passed in 1948 and thereafter, which had called upon Pakistan and India to resolve Kashmir issue through an impartial UN-sponsored plebiscite.
But there was a time when China had openly supported Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. In 1964, Premier Chou En-lai had issued a Joint Communiqué with President Ayub Khan that “expressed the hope that Kashmir dispute would be resolved in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir as pledged to them by India and Pakistan.” This Chinese stance was “reaffirmed” in the Joint Communiqué issued after Ayub Khan’s state visit to China in 1965. The same position was reflected in a Joint Communiqué issued after President Yahya’s visit to China in November 1970 wherein the latter reiterated its support for the Kashmiris in their struggle for the right of self-determination. It was also notable that shortly after 1971 India-Pakistan War, US President Nixon and Chou En-lai issued a Joint Communiqué in February 1972 in which China reiterated its support to the people of Kashmir “in their struggle for the right of self-determination.”
Pakistan and China held negotiations in 1962-1963 to demarcate their boundary. China had proposed that this would be a provisional agreement pending the settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The border agreement was signed on March 2, 1963. It purported to be provisional in nature and stipulated that, after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned would reopen negotiations with China. India had protested against this border agreement. But the Chinese action, in negotiating and signing agreement with Pakistan, was a clear rejection of Indian position on Kashmir.
The dilution in China’s open support for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue took place in the 1980s when China proceeded to improve its relations with India. Since then, China no longer makes a specific reference to Kashmiris’ right to self-determination. At the same time, China has never accepted the Indian claim that Kashmir forms an integral part of India. Pakistan can also take encouragement from some aspects of Chinese policy on Kashmir. A Chinese spokesman stated on July 20, 2016 that China had “taken note” of reports of clashes in Kashmir Valley and was “equally concerned about the casualties, and hopes that the relevant incident will be handled properly. The Kashmir issue is a leftover from history. China holds a consistent stance and hopes relevant parties will address the issue peacefully through dialogue.”
Earlier in 2009, China angered India by issuing stapled visas to the residents of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of stamping a visa on the passport itself, the Chinese Embassy issued the visa on a separate sheet of paper that was stapled to one of the pages of the passport, without an official stamp. This signaled that China did not accept the Indian nationality of travelers from Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. India protested against this procedure and stopped such travelers having stapled visas from proceeding to China. In 2010, China refused to grant a visa to General R.S. Jaswal, the chief of Indian army’s Northern Command covering Kashmir. In protest, India suspended all military exchanges with China for several years. Leaving aside the subtleties, most relevant point is that China’s full involvement in CPEC, and the boundary agreement with Pakistan, is clear demonstration of its rejection of spurious Indian claims to this territory. Pakistan is in peaceful possession of the territory through which CPEC passes and nearly all international maps also show this territory to be under Pakistan.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.