With heightened border disputes between India and China, Pakistan’s role cannot be overlooked. With the changing regional geopolitical landscape in South Asia, India and China are in the midst of a fierce standoff that Islamabad is quietly watching.
Beijing could have raised the Aksai Chin dispute probably due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which runs through Pakistan-controlled-Kashmir, a region claimed by India and administered by Pakistan. Experts believe that CPEC and Pakistan could be the cause for the standoff between India and China.
“There appears to have been a strategic shift in Chinese thinking after India abrogated Article 370 last year and created the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. India has always claimed Aksai Chin as part of its territory, but the issue appears to have been re-interpreted in China after the special status of J&K was revoked,” said P. Stobdan, former ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, who specialises in trans-Himalayan studies.
The CPEC program was launched under the Border Road Initiative (BRI) in 2015 with an intention to connect Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Afric and Europe with a network of land and sea routes in China.
According to Stobdan, Pakistan has become exceptionally important to China as CPEC — which gives access to Gwadar port and helps Beijing reduce its vulnerability on the Americans who dominate Malacca Strait — is the gateway governing China’s international trade. The CPEC has allowed game-changing strategic advantage to the Sino-Pak relationship.
Last year on August 5, the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was scrapped by an amendment in the Indian constitution. “Kashmir is an integral part of India, there is no doubt over it. When I talk about Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin are included in it,” said Home Minister Amit Shah. This also meant that the CPEC plan was strongly questioned by the Home Minister because the corridor passes through Pakistan controlled Kashmir including Gilgit-Baltistan.
On the contrary, China has claimed Aksai Chin as an important territory of the country. “Aksai Chin is the essential link between Xinjiang and Tibet, and China’s national highway 219 passes through this passage. Aksai Chin is, therefore, central to China’s territorial unity and the one-China principle,” a Chinese academic, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu.
Islamabad also furiously objected to India’s August 5 decision on J&K special status. Beijing supported Islamabad, citing the UN resolutions and the UN charter as the basis for resolving the Kashmir issue.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that the decision regarding J&K “did not impact the Line of Control (LoC)”. “There was no implication for the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. India was not raising any additional territorial claims. The Chinese concerns in this regard were misplaced,” he had stated.
Furthermore, India’s decision to issue weather bulletins for Pakistan controlled Kashmir regions may have infuriated Islamabad who could have sought Chinese assistance in battling and protecting the CPEC initiative from New Delhi, experts talking to the EurAsian Times stated.
Bejing reinforced the trust in CPEC when it announced the construction of a new high-altitude airport at Taxkorgan that falls within the Shaksgam valley, in Gilgit-Baltistan, which Pakistan had surrendered to China in 1963.
Another factor that has flared up India China ties, is the growing beneficial ties between India and the US. On the other hand, the US-China diplomatic ties have worsened to a point where US President Donald Trump has threatened to cut ‘all ties‘ with China.
India-Pakistan-China Trilateral Pact
Last year, during a summit in Chennai between Indian PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mr Wang Yi, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that President Xi had proposed to Mr Modi, a trilateral partnership among China, Pakistan and India, free from the influence of “third parties” — a veiled reference to Washington.
“President Xi Jinping stressed that the Chinese side sincerely expects sound China-India relations, China-Pakistan relations and India-Pakistan relations and expects to see all sides work together to promote regional peace and stability and achieve development and prosperity,” he added.
“Chinese actions during the current stand-off are strategic in that they regard the DSDBO road with some suspicion, given the advantage and access we would gain to the Karakoram pass,” said Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary. He was referring to the 255-km Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) section of the road between Leh and Karakoram Pass to Demchok.
According to experts, the India-China standoff in Ladakh can further deteriorate relations. “Faceoffs between Indian and Chinese troops does occur from time to time, and in recent years they have been more frequent as both sides have increased patrolling,” said Ashok Kantha, Director of the Institute of Chinese Studies.
He further explained that even so, the current standoff and recent incursions appear to be different from the past, as Chinese troops have shown more aggression, engaged in physical skirmishes and disregarded agreed protocols.
Another expert talking to the EurAsian Times, who did not wish to be named said that India-China border clash could actually be a blessing in disguise. Both nuclear-capable nations cannot go to war and the only way forward is to settle the border dispute and sign a pact. And if Pakistan can join in too, as President Xi had proposed, this will be a new beginning for Asia.