Chinese Views on the Kargil Conflict

25 Jun, 1999    ·   211

Bhartendu Kumar Singh argues why China will not support Pakistan on Kargil, or for that matter, even Kashmir

The ongoing conflict in Kargil between India and Pakistan has attracted world-wide reaction including China . Of all the Great Powers, the Chinese views are most important for India . Firstly, China is India ’s neighbour, and also borders Pakistan by virtue of its occupation of nearly 5000 sq. kms. of Kashmir transferred to it by Pakistan . Secondly, Pakistan has tried to enlist Chinese support on Kargil where it has been pushing infiltrators across the Line of Control (LOC). Yet, it has failed in this effort, despite its close friendship with China .



Behaving as a responsible ‘Great Power’, China has refrained from taking sides in the Kargil imbroglio and adopted a neutral posture. Firstly, China believes that resort to military confrontation by India and Pakistan will not resolve the Kargil crisis. As a leading official Chinese daily commented editorially on 7th June, 1999, “history has repeatedly told (us) that war will do nothing to the settlement of border disputes but crank up tensions”. Secondly, in the Chinese opinion, continued Indo-Pak hostility will be detrimental to peace and security in South Asia . Therefore, China has advised both India and Pakistan to show restraint to prevent the situation from further deteriorating. Thirdly, China has asked both countries to discuss and negotiate the issue. On June 12, 1999, when the Pakistan Foreign Minister Mr. Sartaz Aziz went to Beijing to seek Chinese support, China   told Pakistan to ‘settle its disputes with India peacefully through dialogue and negotiations’.



Reasons behind China 's neutrality



China ’s views on Kargil has to be seen in the broader context of its policy on Kashmir . In the last two decades, there has been a change in its Kashmir policy, which has much to do with its own internal compulsions. During the days of Sino-Indian hostility, China adopted a pro-Pak policy on Kashmir , and talked of the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people. By the early 1980s, however, the new thinking in China developed an anathema for the word ‘self-determination’, lest it be applied by the West to the case of Tibet . The rise of secessionist tendencies in its Muslim province of Xinjiang also made China aware of the dangers of ‘self-determination. Moreover, by the late 1980s, China 's own territorial disputes with the South-East Asian countries over the Spratly Group of Islands led to military clashes. Having shown its preference for bilateral talks to resolve the dispute, China could not deny the same principle in the case of Kashmir . Therefore, as relations between India and China improved by the end of the 1980s, China advocated bilateral talks between India and Pakistan on Kashmir . In fact, during his visit to India and Pakistan in December 1996, the Chinese President, Mr. Jiang Zemin, stunned the Pakistani Senate by calling on both countries to build a co-operative relationship and set aside ‘difficult issues’. Although he did not directly mention Kashmir the reference was obvious.



There are other reasons why China cannot support Pakistan on Kashmir or Kargil. The very foundation of Pakistan is based on Islam and therefore is a source of religious terrorism. While it has openly supported terrorist forces in Kashmir , there are reports of Uighur Muslim terrorists getting training in Pakistani camps. In fact, China had protested to Pakistan on this issue in February this year, an allegation denied by Pakistan . Besides, after the break-up of the Soviet Union , Muslim fundamentalism is on the increase in Central Asia . Any support to Pakistan on Kashmir , therefore, will only lead to more problems in the adjoining more vulnerable Chinese province of Xinjiang .



A policy meant to appease



China 's present stand on Kargil is designed to please both India and Pakistan . Unlike the G-8 countries (excluding Japan ), China has not blamed Pakistan for infiltrating militants across the Line of Control (LOC). When Li Peng, China's number two leader, described Kashmir as a ‘complicated affair’ during his meeting with Mr. Sartaz Aziz, it was meant to keep Pakistan in good humour. It has not allowed Kargil to become an irritant in Sino-Indian relations either. Unlike Iran and Libya , China has not offered to play a ‘third-party role’ in the  Kargil crisis. Moreover, during the recent visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, to Beijing only a passing reference was made to the Kargil crisis during his talks with his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan.