‘UPGRADED SINO-PAK RELATIONSHIP INCREASES PRESSURE ON INDIA’

JAYADEVA RANADE, President, CCAS  March 2016

                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                           Dated: February 26, 2016
 
                          ‘UPGRADED SINO-PAK RELATIONSHIP INCREASES PRESSURE ON INDIA’
                                                                  by JAYADEVA  RANADE 

At times individual events irreversibly change the dynamics of regional geopolitics and texture of bilateral relations. Xi Jinping’s well publicised two day (April 20-21, 2015) visit to Pakistan, barely three weeks prior to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arriving in China, is one such. 
During his visit Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), including construction of a slew of infrastructure projects valued by Pakistani officials at an estimated US$ 46 billion! The visit is the first step towards implementing the recommendation of Chinese strategists that ‘China should begin to shape, rather than just integrate into, the regional and international environment because China now has the capacity to do so’ and thereby alter the status quo. The visit has decisively altered the strategic environment in the region.
With his decision to visit Pakistan, Xi Jinping became only the second Chinese leader to travel to Pakistan after Hu Jintao (November 23-26, 2006) nine years earlier. Unmistakably deliberate in its timing, the visit was important and marked the initiation of a bold new policy which signalled that in the pursuit of national interest Beijing would ignore diplomatic niceties or the sovereignty concerns and sensitivities of other nations including its neighbors. This visit has far reaching implications as well as the potential to alter the geostrategic landscape in South Asia. 
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to visit Islamabad barely three weeks before Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China clearly showed that Beijing no longer feels the need to retain even the diplomatic façade of exhibiting sensitivity to India’s concerns and that, in the backdrop of warming Indo-US relations, will use Pakistan to exert greater pressure on India. Equally clear is that China’s leadership has determined that elevating its comprehensive relationship with Pakistan would best serve its strategic interests and that this objective will overshadow any other foreign policy considerations including that of a benign, peaceful neighbourhood. By announcing construction of several major civil and military infrastructure projects as part of the CPEC in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, China has accorded de facto ‘legitimacy’ to Pakistan’s illegal occupation of Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan as well as Pakistan’s illegal cessation in 1963 of the Shaksgam Valley in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to China. Beijing has thus chosen -- after decades of ambiguity -- to side with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and ignore India’s concerns regarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity.  
Reflective of China’s attitude was Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao’s remark in mid-April 2015, that "the project between China and Pakistan does not concern the relevant dispute between India and Pakistan. I do not think the Indian side should be over-concerned about that". The comment is at obvious odds with Beijing’s prickly reaction to India’s offshore exploration efforts in Vietnamese waters and stand on the South China Sea dispute. Equally insensitive were suggestions by senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials and influential Chinese academics, just weeks after Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Beijing, that India could even join the CPEC to benefit!
The CPEC sets the stage for China to wield pre-eminent economic, military and diplomatic influence in Pakistan. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to construct 51 Chinese-aided infrastructure, energy and military projects reveals that Beijing’s commitment to Pakistan is for the forseeable long-term. It implies that power generation, transport, commerce, R&D and the defence of Pakistan will all be increasingly tied to Chinese investment and interests. 
Independent credible information states that Beijing very recently informed Islamabad that it is ‘raising’ a Division strength “private army” for deployment in the PoK, Gilgit and Baltistan areas. China has already put in place the necessary legal framework permitting deployment of troops and security personnel for safeguarding Chinese national interests abroad. 
Pakistan has separately established a 10,000-strong Division comprising elements of the Frontier Corps, Police and Levies under Major General Abdul Rafiue to protect Chinese personnel and Chinese-aided projects in Baluchistan. Pakistan’s newspaper ‘Dawn’ reported that Q.U. Jainging, Deputy Director General of China's Ministry of Public Security (MPS), along with “senior officials” of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ms Lili and Zhang Maoming, visited Gwadar in November 2015 to meet Major General Azhar Naveed, Home Secretary of Baluchistan, senior Pakistan army and civil officers and assess the security environment.
The report in Dawn of January 7, 2016, that Pakistan plans to upgrade the constitutional status of the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, is a corollary to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Islamabad. Described by a senior ‘government’ official from Gilgit-Baltistan as intended to give “legal” cover to proposed Chinese investments, since "China cannot afford to invest billions of dollars on a road that passes through a disputed territory claimed both by India and Pakistan," such a move has other major implications. It will integrate this portion of Kashmir with Pakistan by giving it considerably enhanced legislative powers, control of its revenue and allowing it to be represented in Pakistan’s federal parliament by two members for the first time -- albeit as observers. Pakistani strategic analyst Ayesha Siddiqa interpreted the move as possibly demonstrating “Islamabad's desire to end the Kashmir conflict by formally absorbing the territory it controls -- and, by extension, recognising New Delhi's claims to parts of the region it controls, such as the Kashmir Valley”. She said: "If we begin to absorb it so can India. It legitimises their absorption of the valley." 
This could, however, well be the thin end of the wedge. China had indicated its position on Gilgit-Baltistan as early as in the 1980s when its official media referred to this as Pakistani territory. China’s official and authoritative news agency Xinhua on March 2, 1984, for example, referred to trade between China’s Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region and “Pakistan’s Northern Areas”. Two days later on March 4, 1984, another Xinhua despatch mentioned the increased “traditional border trade” between a prefecture of the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region and Gilgit in “Northern Pakistan”.  
China has on separate occasions also laid claim to Kashmir. An official Chinese map published in 1954 -- still used in Chinese school text books -- depicts territories taken by ‘imperialist’ powers and which China has said it would ‘recover’. Ladakh is part of these territories along with Arunachal Pradesh and the Andaman Islands. On March 1, 1992, ‘Shijie Zhishi’ (World Affairs) published a map showing India without the state of J&K and depicting Kashmir as part of China. Again in January 1993, the restricted-circulation ‘internal’ version of ‘Ban Yue Tan’ depicted portions of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as part of China.  This was repeated on June 16, 1993 in a map published by ‘Shijie Zhishi’ (World Affairs) which showed areas of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as parts of China. From August 2010, China designated the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as ‘disputed’ and began to issue ‘stapled visas’ to residents of the state. More recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at his press conference in New Delhi in August 2014, reiterated Beijing’s stand by making a carefully worded remark that the issue of stapled visas by China were a “unilateral” “flexible” “goodwill gesture” or, in other words, that the status of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir remain disputed.  
Pertinent is that soon after China’s intrusion in the Depsang Plains in Ladakh immediately prior to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s first visit to India as Premier in April 2013, Beijing reiterated its claim over Ladakh. On May 14, 2013, Zhongguo Qingnian Bao (China Youth News), the influential high-circulation official mouthpiece of the Communist Youth League (CYL), published a lengthy article alleging that “since 2008, India has used the so-called ‘China threat’ to launch the largest border troop build-up program in the past 30 years, greatly increasing troop deployments to Chinese-Indian border areas”. Asserting that India had adopted a more “radical border policy” of stepping up patrols and control of border areas, it described the 20-day "tent confrontation” in the Depsang Plains in April 2013, which ended with the simultaneous withdrawal on May 6, 2013, as “the most serious border friction since the armed confrontation in the Sumdorong Chu Valley on the eastern sector of the Chinese-Indian border in 1987.” It cautioned that though the stand-off had been “eventually resolved peacefully, its negative impact offers numerous warnings to the world”. 
Significantly, the Zhongguo Qingnian Bao article elaborated that the Ladakh region “has been part of  Tibet since ancient times … Ladakh was unified with China's Yuan Dynasty as part of Tibet in the 13th century. Ladakh was under the jurisdiction of the central government of China's Qing Dynasty until 1830s.The archduke of Kashmir, which adjoins Ladakh, launched an armed invasion of the Ladakh region in 1843. Although it is under Kashmir, Ladakh shares similarities with Tibet in terms of culture, religion, customs, and language, and it has long been dubbed "Little Tibet." Observing that the British East India Company transported opium to Xinjiang via Ladakh, it said “Britain's unilateral illegal acts sowed the seeds of future trouble, with Aksai Chin becoming a disputed region… After gaining independence, India inherited everything from British colonists and actively pursued a "forward policy" based on the illegal borderline drawn up by them. It constantly crossed the traditional customary line to nibble away at Chinese territory in an attempt to occupy the Aksai Chin region. This ultimately triggered a border war between China and India in 1962. During the war, Chinese troops removed all the outposts set up by India across the traditional customary line, including outposts at Tianwentian in the Chip Chap Valley and at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), the site of the current ‘tent confrontation’. After the war, Chinese and Indian border troops successively withdrew from the Line of Actual Control pursuant to the agreement reached by the two sides, and calm was restored in the Chip Chap Valley.” The article pointedly mentioned that “India and Pakistan fought fiercely for the Siachen Glacier in the 1980s. The Siachen Glacier, located to the west of the Chip Chap Valley, and the DBO are two corners whose positions are prominent because they are two important points that guard India's northern borderline. For this reason, India resumed patrols of the DBO in the late 1980s, but the situation in the region was generally calm because Indian troops only conducted seasonal patrols.” It accused India of having “frequently tried to nibble away at our country's territory, including Aksai Chin and other disputed regions. India's military build up has not only seriously undermined the agreement reached by the two countries to keep their border areas peaceful and calm and posed a material challenge to China's territorial sovereignty but has also greatly increased the odds of friction and conflict between border troops from the two sides. The high incidence of friction in Chinese-Indian border areas in recent years is proof positive of that. For this reason, the ‘tent confrontation’ is actually a ‘microcosm’ of a series of incidents of border friction between China and India in recent years, an inevitable result of India's pursuit of a ‘forward policy’. Only that the majority of border friction incidents in the past occurred on the Chinese side as a result of provocation by India, but this time around China hit back. India feels that it has gotten the short end of the stick and has started to play the victim by hyping the incident to gain the sympathy of the world. This is really a case of a thief crying thief.” Identifying the border issue as a bottleneck impeding the development of relations between the two countries, the article added “We can expect that border friction incidents will become normal in the future as China's and India's overall national strength continues to grow.” It concluded that “There is little possibility of peacefully resolving the border issue in the short term given the considerable differences between China and India on the border issue. For this reason, the top priority right now for the two countries is to maintain stability in their border areas. India needs to abandon its Cold War mentality.” 
Anticipating a long-term commitment in the region and further upgrading of the bilateral Sino-Pakistan defence relationship, the PLA too initiated substantive preparations a few months before Xi Jinping’s visit. The erstwhile Lanzhou Military Region (MR) – since January 2016 merged in to the West Zone – exercised operational jurisdiction across India’s Ladakh region, PoK and the northern areas occupied by Pakistan, and was the pivotal Military Region involved. It was headed till January 2016 – when the extensive ongoing military reforms began -- by General Liu Yuejun, a ‘princeling’ like Xi Jinping who was the Commander during the intrusions in April 2013 in the Depsang Plains and in September 2014 in Chumar and was promoted to the rank of General in early January 2015. Three months prior to Xi Jinping’s visit to Islamabad, the Lanzhou MR in January 2015 received directives to particularly begin to “cultivate joint operational command talent”; train selected operational and border defence officers on “informationisation” and “joint operations command”; and guide border defence colleges to train officers in “border discussions” and the usage of mortars. Specifically, the Lanzhou MR was tasked to commence language training for its “backbone personnel” in Pushto and Urdu.
Commitment in this sector was obviously envisaged by China’s leadership when it merged the Lanzhou and Chengdu MRs to create the West Zone. Comprising more than half China’s land area, 22 percent of its population and more than one-third of China’s land-based military, the newly constituted West Zone represents a strengthened military formation. Merger of the Lanzhou and Chengdu MRs enhances joint planning, coordination and integrated joint operations (IJO). Incorporation of the Qinghai region in the West Zone facilitates the rapid induction and deployment of high altitude acclimatised and trained troops into Tibet and across Ladakh. Chinese media reports state the West Zone will also focus on “threats in Xinjiang and Tibet as well as Afghanistan and other states that host training bases for separatists and extremists”.
Equally pertinent is the appointment of General Zhao Zongqi as Commander of the new West Zone. His credentials indicate he was handpicked for this post. General Zhao Zongqi is fluent in Arabic and has experience of Tibet. He has battle experience, having participated in the Sino-Vietnam War in 1979 when he is reported to have often disguised himself as a Vietnamese to gather information. He has served over 20 years in Tibet as Deputy Chief of Staff (1984-99) and Chief of Staff (1999-2004) of the Tibet Military District (TMD). Born in 1955, General Zhao Zongqi additionally has experience of Foreign Service consequent to his posting in Tanzania as a Defence Attaché. Creation of the West Zone and appointment of Zhao Zongqi as its Commander reveals China’s enhanced and abiding military interest in the region.
Beijing’s commitment to the upgraded relationship with Pakistan was evident during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Beijing in May 2015. During their meeting at Xi’an, when Modi raised the border issue Chinese President Xi Jinping side-stepped any substantive response. Instead, Modi was informed of China’s stance on Pakistan and the Chinese raised the issue of the Dalai Lama. A few weeks following Prime Minister Modi’s visit an Indian delegation met high-level central Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and military officials in Beijing. The Chinese delegation was led by 1952-born He Yiting, handpicked by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 for appointment as Executive Vice President of the Central Party School. On this occasion too, the Chinese side avoided any discussion on the issue of the border and intrusions and, instead, insisted that India needs to curb its media and restrain hard-liners from writing “unhelpful” articles in the press. China’s stand regarding the Dalai Lama was read from a prepared text. Explanations were offered about the CPEC emphasizing that it was a “commercial venture” and that even India could join to benefit! It was, however, made clear that Beijing would not dilute the CPEC nor change its stand regarding the territories it claims. Towards the end of the day long deliberations, a retired but influential General still affiliated with a PLA think-tank, interjected and underscored China’s close ties with Pakistan. He unequivocally stated that India must ease tensions with Pakistan, that it must resolve the Kashmir dispute and that India’s relations with China would improve only thereafter. His remarks were not contradicted.  
A 28-member delegation of Indian think-tanks that travelled to Beijing and Shanghai in December 2015, had a similar experience. They found that in their interactions with Chinese scholars and analysts in six Chinese think-tanks and universities as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the boundary dispute and other contentious issues like Jammu and Kashmir, Tibet and transnational rivers were not discussed and found place only as isolated remarks or queries.
Beijing’s intentions became clear within weeks of the CPEC being announced. It increased its land holding around Gwadar Port and supported Pakistan in the UN by using its veto to protect Lashkar-e-Taiyeba (LeT) operational Commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, thus disregarding its assurances to India and the international community of working together to eliminate terrorism. Sino-Pakistan defence cooperation accelerated with the US$ 4-5 billion agreement to jointly produce eight submarines – four each in Karachi (where Pakistan is building a submarine training centre) and China. These Yuan-class submarines will be a variant of China’s S-20 Yuan Class Type 039A/Type 041 class diesel-electric submarine with air independent propulsion (AIP) and represent "China's largest ever arms deal". Beijing and Islamabad continue to collude to block India’s entry to the UNSC. Other areas of probable heightened Sino-Pakistan cooperation and collaboration are Afghanistan and Baluchistan.  The latter was suggested in an article contributed by former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar to China’s state-run Global Times on April 19, 2014. Pointing quite obviously to this region through which the CPEC passes, he recommended: “The two should also cooperate to identify hostile foreign elements, which create problems to undermine the solid relations between them”. 
Beijing is unlikely to waver in its commitment to Pakistan in the near to mid-term despite the reservations harboured by Chinese strategists about Pakistan’s stability or the differences beginning to appear inside Pakistan between provincial politicians and the military, over the CPEC.  Well informed senior Chinese academics specialising on Pakistan-Afghanistan said that Pakistan is China’s “only friend” and privately confided that the CPEC is primarily a political decision. Talking to the New York Times on February 9, 2016, Prof Yan Xuetong, Director of the Institute for International Relations at Beijing's Tsinghua University and an influential Chinese strategic analyst close to Xi Jinping, similarly said: "China has only one real ally, Pakistan."  
For India, in the near to medium term these developments will imply difficulties in Afghanistan, increased military pressure along its borders, and enhanced Pakistan-instigated activity in Kashmir and on the Kashmir issue. China will fully back Pakistan’s efforts to secure predominant influence over any post-US Afghanistan regime, acquire so-called ‘strategic depth’, and exclude or marginalise India in Afghanistan. US, Chinese and Pakistani interests converge on Afghanistan, as evidenced by only US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan deciding to hold direct peace talks with insurgent groups in Pakistan next week. Beijing’s interest will be in getting India to acquiesce to Pakistan’s occupation of Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan. It could exploit its contact with the Hurriyat for a role in the Kashmir issue. India should anticipate that Pakistan, emboldened by its relationship with China, will stir up the Kashmir issue, including through supporters in Kashmir and inside India. Reliable reports suggest that Pakistan has established a chain of ‘madrassas’ along the border opposite India’s Bikaner District to support the launch into India of cadres of the Lashkar-e-Taiyeba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mahmud (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahiddin (HuM). It is also setting up a new outfit called the Ahle Summat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) to especially target India’s Sunni Muslim population. It would be prudent for India to craft a definitive long-term policy on Kashmir where ‘separatist’ elements have no place.  China and Pakistan will also both keep India under military pressure. 

                                                              -------------------------------------
(The author is a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.)


 
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