Kashmir visa row stokes India, China tensions

Kashmir visa row stokes India, China tensions

New Delhi: India has protested to China after Beijing refused a visa to an Indian army general from the disputed Kashmir region, the latest diplomatic spat between two Asian giants jostling for global influence and resources.

A defence ministry source and some local media said defence ties, which have so far been limited to visits by military officials and the occasional exercises, were suspended, but the government did not confirm this.

Last year, India protested against a Chinese embassy policy of issuing different visas to residents of Indian Kashmir. New Delhi bristles at any hint that Kashmir, where a separatist insurgency has raged for two decades, is not part of India.

“While we value our exchanges with China, there must be sensitivity to each others’ concerns. Our dialogue with China on these issues is ongoing," foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Despite decades of mistrust, China is now India’s biggest trade partner and the current spat, one of several over the last few years, is unlikely to snowball. The value of bilateral deals was expected to pass $60 billion this year, a 30-fold increase since 2000, raising the stakes in maintaining peace.

Distrust between the two economic powerhouses dates back to a 1962 border war, partly over Arunachal Pradesh that China claims in full.

China’s support for India’s arch-enemy Pakistan, which backs the Kashmir separatists and also claims the region in full, has not helped defuse tensions.

India is also unhappy with China’s economic and political ties with Pakistan and says Chinese involvement in Pakistan-held Kashmir is intended to undermine it.

China defeated India in the 1962 war, but they still spar over their disputed 3,500 km (2,170 mile) border and the presence of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in India.

“Ties heating up"

Last year, the media reported on Chinese incursions along the border, incidents the India government shrugged off.

But tension has simmered, particularly over Chinese development projects in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

New Delhi is also angry at Beijing’s move to encourage university research on Indian Kashmir after the visit by a Kashmiri separatist leader to China.

Every time a Chinese action has irritated India this year, New Delhi has responded by upping its engagement with the Dalai Lama, including a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Tibetan leader this month.

“All this is an indication of bilateral ties heating up because India sees this as interference in its sovereignty," said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

China and Pakistan’s close military and political ties are underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbour, India, and a desire to hedge against US influence in South Asia.

India and Pakistan, which claim Kashmir in full, have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947.

India has very limited military ties with China, mainly focused on visits by respective military chiefs and government officials and occasional war exercises agreed on in May 2006.

But both Indian and Chinese analysts agree the latest row is unlikely to affect the two country’s broader relations.

“Security and military ties are among the weakest aspects of the China-India relationship," Zhang Li, professor of South Asian politics at Sichuan University, told Reuters.

“But because security and military ties are under-developed to begin with this won’t have a big impact on the overall relationship."