Cold Comfort for Mr. Aziz in China

18 Jun, 1999    ·   208

Giri Deshingkar analysing the respective visit of Pakistan and Indian Foreign Minister to Beijing, says that China looks set to provide mere moral and verbal support to Pakistan in the event of an all-out war with India

Pakistan ’s Foreign Minister Mr. Sartaj Aziz and his Indian counterpart Mr. Jaswant Singh visited Beijing within the space of four days over the last one week. The specific context of Mr. Aziz’s visit was the India-Pakistan conflict in the Kargil sector of Kashmir . This visit was hurriedly arranged after the dates of Mr. Singh’s visit to Beijing were announced. Pakistan had feared that Mr. Singh would brief the Chinese leaders on the Kargil situation; Mr. Aziz wanted to preempt that.



Mr. Jaswant Singh’s visit had an entirely different purpose. For one thing, it was planned well in advance. India-China relations had gone into a deep freeze after a series of anti-China statements by India ’s Defence Minister Mr. George Fernandes and after India ’s Prime Minister Mr. A. B. Vajpayee had written to US President Mr. Bill Clinton justifying India ’s nuclear tests as a deterrent against security threats from China . Somewhat later India had tried to control the damage by reining in Mr. Fernandes and by making conciliatory statements both at the Foreign Ministry level as well as the level of the Prime Minister and the President of India. China had taken note of these. As a result, attacks on India in the Chinese media had ceased and the Chinese side had been expressing its desire to improve relations with India . This became concretely manifest in the fact that the regular Joint Working Group meeting which China had postponed last year was held early this year. Mr. Jaswant Singh had already visited the US and European capitals to mend India ’s relations with those countries but he had yet to visit Beijing . He took the earliest opportunity to do so. His main agenda for discussions there was primarily bilateral but it also included an exchange of views on global questions of common interest. A discussion over the Kargil conflict was not a part of the official agenda.



Pakistan had reasons to be worried about the Chinese attitude towards the Kashmir problem. In the aftermath of the India-China war of 1962, China had spoken in terms of there being four parties to the dispute over Kashmir : (1) Pakistan ; (2) India ; (3) the United Nations which had passed various Resolutions about the conflict; and (4) the people of Jammu and Kashmir expressing their views through a plebiscite.



But as the relations between India and China began to improve with the late Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in 1988, China dropped the last two parties as essential to resolution of the conflict. Then in 1996, during his visit to (India and) Pakistan, China’s President Mr. Jiang Zemin advised Pakistan publicly to set aside the Kashmir issue and seek common ground with India to settle other issues. Pakistan was shocked and felt betrayed but had to lump it in view of the multi-layered friendship between the two. Now comes Chinese neutrality over the Kargil flare-up. Such neutrality clearly favors India in view of the past Chinese positions over Kashmir . Mr. Aziz obviously hoped for a “tilt” towards Pakistan , at least a statement about the desirability of clearly marking the Line of Control (LoC) on the ground. But he came back empty handed. It is reported that the Chinese leaders assured him that China will support Pakistan ’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Such support would come into play only if there is all-out war between India and Pakistan and that too will be limited to moral and verbal support as in 1971. China will not get militarily involved.