New Delhi: Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar arrived in Beijing on Sunday amid efforts by Pakistan to internationalize the Kashmir issue that has made it a tightrope walk for both India and China as they seek to consolidate ties after a summit meeting between Indian and Chinese leaders last year.
Jaishankar’s visit to Beijing is to prepare the ground for a visit to India in October by Chinese president Xi Jinping to carry forward the dialogue begun in Wuhan last year when the two sides stabilized their relationship after a 73-day military standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam region. Jaishankar will co-chair the second meeting of the India-China High Level Mechanism (HLM) on cultural and people-to-people exchanges on Monday with Chinese foreign minister and state councillor Wang Yi. “The decision to establish the HLM was taken during the informal summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in April 2018," an Indian external affairs ministry statement said last week.
That Jaishankar would visit China this month was planned before Parliament last week did away with the special status accorded to Jammu and Kashmir. Parliament also passed a legislation conferring the status of Union territory on Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. Last week, Pakistan condemned the revoking of special status to Kashmir and China took exception to the Union territory status of Ladakh given that it claims Aksai Chin area that India says is part of Jammu and Kashmir. India and China are in talks to find a solution to their undemarcated border, a legacy of their 1962 war.
With Pakistan stating that it will move a motion at the UN Security Council to condemn India for its decision to strip the Kashmir region of special status, with China’s support, one of Jaishankar’s aims will be to set the record straight on the Indian moves. New Delhi has already briefed Chinese diplomats in India as part of its efforts to keep all five of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) up to date with the events. In Beijing, Jaishankar is expected to discuss the matter further with Wang.
Analysts such as former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal say Pakistan’s comments on taking the Kashmir issue to the UNSC makes it a tightrope walk for both India and China. “I don’t buy the Pakistan statement completely given that they very frequently give exaggerated accounts of what they discussed with foreign leaders," said Sibal. This was done to create confusion, he added.
“China would be hesitant to deny what the Pakistanis said was the substance of their conversation because it would put the Pakistani foreign minister in a difficult spot," Sibal said. “In this case, Pakistan’s comments could be a ploy to publicly put pressure on China to meet their expectations."
On the other hand, by not denying it, China could be sending India a subtle message to be watchful “since there is this option of going to the UNSC available", he said. This could then become a point of friction between India and China.
For India, it was a matter of satisfaction that the strongest statement of support to the Indian move on revoking Article 370 came from Russia, said Sibal, also a former ambassador to Moscow. This is especially in the context of China and Russia developing close ties in the past few years given Moscow’s estrangement with Western nations, post Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. In the last 2-3 years, Moscow had also grown closer to Pakistan than before, Sibal pointed out. In the wake of these developments, it was a boost to India that Russia had supported it, he added.
Given this, if a resolution is moved in UNSC with China tilting towards Pakistan, China is sure to find itself isolated as the US, Britain and France are certain to support India, Sibal said—a view supported by Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Should China lean towards Pakistan and move a resolution at UNSC, it would be risking the “cordial relations" it has worked to achieve in the past year, said Kondapalli. The other members of the UN Security Council—the US, UK, Russia and France—are unlikely to let the resolution through, he said.
It will mean opening up a new front of difficult ties with India as China faces problems on multiple fronts, something Beijing usually avoids, said Kondapalli.
“This move then will mean facing tensions along the India-China border on a long-term basis. India could become more active in the South China Sea," Kondapalli said, adding that New Delhi could be vocally supportive of the positions of countries such as Vietnam in the disputed waterway. “There are many pressure points that India could leverage," he said, listing Taiwan among them. India could make a statement or increase engagement with Taipei, raising the costs for China. New Delhi could also use the protests in Hong Kong as a pressure point—make a statement on the protests given that India has more than 25,000 expatriates living there, Kondapalli said.
Besides this, New Delhi could lean towards Japan on the dispute with China over the sovereignty of Senkaku Islands, he said, adding that the US-China trade war was another vulnerability that China was exposed to.
Backing Pakistan would also cost China at BRICS—a grouping of fast growing economies —as well as the Russia-India-China grouping known by its acronym RIC, Kondapalli said.
There are ways that India can raise the cost for China, Kondapalli said, adding that he doubted whether Beijing would push ahead with the UNSC move.