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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Beijing playing its Kashmir card

October 13, 2010

By Mohan Malik
Asia Times
October 8, 2010

Even as the Chinese navy signals its intent to
enforce sea denial in the "first island chain" in
the East (comprised of the Yellow Sea, the East
China Sea and the South China Sea of the Pacific
Ocean), the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is
reportedly on the move along China's southwest
frontier in Pakistani-held Kashmir.

In late August, media accounts reported the
presence of thousands of Chinese troops in the
strategic northern areas (renamed
Gilgit-Baltistan in 2009 by Pakistan) of
Pakistani-held Kashmir, bordering Xinjiang province.

A Western report suggested that Islamabad had
ceded control of the area to Beijing, prompting
denials from both capitals. Chinese Foreign
Office spokesperson Jiang Yu denied the story,
saying the troops are there to help Pakistan with ''flood relief work.''

Nonetheless, credible sources confirm the
presence of the PLA's logistics and engineering
corps to provide flood relief and to build large
infrastructure projects worth US$20 billion
(railways, dams, pipelines and extension of the
Karakoram Highway) to assure unfettered Chinese
access to the oil-rich Gulf through the Pakistani
port of Gwadar. As China's external energy
dependency has deepened in the past decade, so
has its sense of insecurity and urgency.

'The Kashmir card'

While China and India have long sparred over the
Dalai Lama and Tibet's status, border incursions
and China's growing footprint in southern Asia, a
perceptible shift in the Chinese stance on
Kashmir has now emerged as a new source of
interstate friction. Throughout the 1990s, a
desire for stability on its southwestern flank
and fears of an Indian-Pakistani nuclear arms
race caused Beijing to take a more evenhanded
approach to Kashmir, while still favoring Islamabad.

Yet, in a major policy departure since 2006,
Beijing has been voicing open support for
Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists through its
opposition to the UN Security Council ban on the
jihadi organizations targeting India, economic
assistance for infrastructure projects in
northern Kashmir, and the issuance of separate
visas by Chinese embassies to Indian citizens of Kashmiri origins.

Amid the current unrest in the valley, Beijing
has also invited Kashmiri separatist leaders for
talks and offered itself as a mediator,
ostensibly in a tit-for-tat for India's refuge
for the Dalai Lama. Yet China is actually the
third party to the dispute in Jammu and Kashmir
(J&K). While India holds about 45% of J&K
territory and Pakistan controls 35%, China
occupies about 20% (including Aksai Chin and the
Shaksgam Valley, ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963).

The denial of a visa in July 2010 to the Indian
Army's Northern Commander, General B S Jaswal –
who was to lead the fourth bilateral defense
dialogue in Beijing -- because he commanded "a
disputed area, Jammu and Kashmir", was said to be the last straw.

Consequently, a new chill has descended on
Sino-Indian relations. India retaliated by
suspending defense exchanges with China and
lodging a formal protest. New Delhi sees these
moves as part of a new Chinese strategy with
respect to Kashmir that seeks to nix its global
ambitions and entangle India to prevent it from
playing a role beyond the region. Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh told Indian media: "Beijing could
be tempted to use India's 'soft underbelly',
Kashmir, and Pakistan to keep India in 'low-level equilibrium'."

Resurrecting old issues and manufacturing new
disputes to throw the other side off balance and
enhance negotiating leverage is an old tactic in
Chinese statecraft. The downturn in Sino-Indian
ties since the mid-2000s may be partly attributed
to the weakening of China's "Pakistan card"
against India, necessitating the exercise of
direct pressure against the latter.

Beijing fears that an unrestrained Indian power
would eventually threaten China's security along
its southwestern frontiers. One Chinese analyst
maintains that "Beijing would not abandon its
'Kashmir card.’ The Kashmir issue will remain
active as long as China worries about its
southern borders." China and Pakistan have been
allies since the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. This
enduring alliance was formalized with the
conclusion of the China-Pakistan "Treaty of
Friendship and Cooperation and Good-Neighborly Relations" in April 2005.

Likewise, the sharper focus on Tawang is part of
a shriller claim over Arunachal Pradesh in the
east, which Beijing now calls "South Tibet" (a
new Chinese term for Arunachal Pradesh since
2005), ostensibly to extend its claim over the territories.

It is worth noting that prior to 2005, there was
no reference to "South Tibet" in China's official
media or any talk of the "unfinished business of
the 1962 war." Nor did the Chinese government or
official media ever claim that the PLA's
"peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1950 was partial
and incomplete" or that "a part of Tibet was yet to be liberated.''

Taking a cue from the Pakistanis, who have long
described Kashmir as the "unfinished business of
the 1947 partition,'' Chinese strategists now
call Arunachal Pradesh, or more specifically,
Tawang, the "unfinished business of the 1962
war." China also sought to internationalize its
bilateral territorial dispute with India by
opposing an Asian Development Bank loan in 2009,
part of which was earmarked for a watershed project in Arunachal Pradesh.

Chinese strategic writings indicate that as China
becomes more economically and militarily
powerful, Beijing is devising new stratagems to
keep its southern rival in check. Some Chinese
economists calculate that within a decade or so,
India could come close to "spoiling Beijing's
party of the century" by outpacing China in
economic growth. From Beijing's perspective,
India's rise as an economic and military power
would prolong American hegemony in Asia, and
thereby hinder the establishment of a
post-American, Sino-centric hierarchical order in the Asia-Pacific region.

The past decade has, therefore, seen the Chinese
military bolstering its strength all along the
disputed borders from Kashmir to Burma (aka
Myanmar). Beijing also prefers a powerful and
well-armed Pakistani military, as that helps it
mount pressure, by proxy, on India. China
continues to shower its "all-weather" friend with
military and civilian assistance ranging from
ballistic missiles and JF-17 fighter aircraft to
nuclear power plants and infrastructure.

Having "fathered" Pakistan's nuclear-weapons
program, China is now set to "grandfather"
Pakistan's civilian nuclear-energy program as
well. Chinese and Pakistani strategists gloat
over how Beijing is building naval bases around
India that will enhance the Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

However, the best-laid plans might come unstuck
if Pakistan fails to pacify Balochistan province,
where Gwadar is located. The growing Balochi
independence movement, which has repeatedly
targeted Chinese engineers since 2004, makes the
Chinese nervous about implementing their
proposals for investment in the construction of a
petrochemical complex, a pipeline and a railway line.

Mutual suspicions, geopolitical tensions and a
zero-sum mentality add to a very competitive
dynamic in the China-Pakistan-India triangular
relationship. Beijing and Islamabad are concerned
over the growing talk in Washington's policy
circles of India emerging as a counterweight to
China on the one hand and the fragile, radical
Islamic states of Southwest Asia on the other,
viewing a potential US-Indian alignment with horror.

The US military bases in Afghanistan and
Pakistan, and India's growing footprint in
Afghanistan cause alarm in Beijing and Islamabad.
Some Chinese strategists worry about the
destabilizing consequences of a prolonged US
military presence in "Af-Pak" for the future of
Sino-Pakistani ties, as well as on Pakistan's
domestic stability. While the remarkable upturn
in Indian-American security ties has exacerbated
the security dilemma, the post-9/11 US military
presence in Pakistan has sharpened the divide
within the Pakistani military into pro-West and pro-Beijing factions.

A geopolitical crisis of Himalayan proportions
may well be in the making from Afghanistan to
Myanmar. Chinese state-run media have begun to
attack India for supposedly hegemonic designs,
with some hinting at the merits of a
confrontation. Beijing perceives India as the
weakest link in an evolving anti-China coalition
of maritime powers (the
US-Japan-Vietnam-Australia-India) inimical to
China's growth. The real irony is that China and
India could stumble into another war in the
future for exactly the same reasons that led them
to a border war half-a-century ago in 1962.

New railroad-infrastructure projects in
Pakistani-held Kashmir and Tibet are aimed at
bolstering China's military strength and
intervention options against India in the event
of another war between the sub-continental rivals
or between China and India. Most war-gaming
exercises on the next India-Pakistan war end
either in a nuclear exchange or in a Chinese
military intervention to prevent the collapse of
Beijing's "all-weather ally" in Asia.

Although the probability of an all-out conflict
seems low, the China-Pakistan duo and India will
employ strategic maneuvers to checkmate each
other from gaining advantage or expanding spheres
of influence. According to one Chinese analyst,
Dai Bing: "While a hot war is out of the
question, a cold war between the two countries is increasingly likely."

Beijing's nemesis: Islam and Buddhism

Having said that, Beijing's new Kashmir activism
goes beyond the strategic imperative to contain
India. China's relationship with Pakistan is also
aimed at countering the separatist threats in its
western, Muslim-majority Xinjiang province. Much
like Tibetan Buddhism, Beijing views radical
Islam as a strategic threat to China's national
integrity, particularly in Xinjiang (formerly
East Turkestan), where the East Turkestan Islamic
Movement has been fighting for an independent
homeland for several decades. Frequent
disturbances and protests in Xinjiang and Tibet
make the issue more acute, insofar as they show
how vulnerable the Chinese hold is over its western region.

The spillover effects of a rabid Talibanization
of Pakistani society worry the Chinese. The past
few years have seen Chinese civilians working in
Pakistan kidnapped and killed by Islamic
militants, partly in retaliation against
Beijing's "strike hard" campaigns against Uyghur
Muslims and partly in protest against Beijing's
resource extraction and infrastructure
development projects in Pakistan's Wild West.

Beijing has repeatedly impressed on Islamabad the
importance of tightening control over its porous
border with China. Should Islamabad fail to stem
the radicalization and training of Uyghur
separatists on its territory, it risks
undermining the strategic relationship with
China. Significantly, Gilgit-Baltistan in
northern Kashmir is where the predominantly Sunni
Pakistan army is faced with a revolt from the local Shi'ite Muslims.

For its part, Pakistan has always been
extraordinarily sensitive to Chinese interests.
Islamabad essentially "carries the water" for
China in the Islamic world. Pakistan played a key
role in selling China's point of view on the July
2009 riots in Xinjiang, which resulted in 183 deaths.

Pakistan has ensured that the Organization of
Islamic Countries does not pass any resolution
condemning China's "strike hard" campaigns
(including curbs on the observance of the holy
Muslim month of Ramadan) against its Uyghur Muslim minority.

In return, China has repeatedly used its United
Nations Security Council seat to ensure that no
harm comes to Pakistan for sheltering anti-Indian
terrorist groups. Further, Islamabad offers
unequivocal support for Beijing's position on
every single issue in international forums, from
Tibet and Taiwan to trade and UN Security Council reforms.

Tightening embrace
A high degree of mistrust and conflicting
relations between India and its smaller South
Asian neighbors provide Beijing with enormous
strategic leverage vis-a-vis its southern rival.
China's strategic leverage thus prevents India
from achieving a peaceful periphery via
cross-border economic, resource and
transportation linkages vital for optimal economic growth.

Interestingly, Chinese strategic writings reveal
that Pakistan and Myanmar have now acquired the
same place in China's grand strategy in the 21st
century that was earlier occupied by Xinjiang
(meaning "New Territory") and Xizang (meaning
"Western treasure house," that is, Tibet) in the 20th century.

Stated simply, following the integration of the
outlying provinces of Xinjiang and Xizang (Tibet)
into China, Pakistan is now being perceived as
China's new Xinjiang (new territory) and Myanmar
as China's new Xizang (treasure house) in
economic, military and strategic terms. Beijing's
privileged access to markets, resources and bases
of South Asian countries has the additional
benefit of making a point on the limits of Indian power.

Both enmity and amity between India and Pakistan
have significant implications for China's grand
strategy. A hostile stance toward India reassures
the Pakistani establishment of China's unstinting
support in Islamabad's domestic and external
struggles. It also throws a spanner in the works
of any US-facilitated India-Pakistan accommodation over the Kashmir imbroglio.

In the triangular power-balance game, the
Sino-Pakistani military alliance (in particular,
the nuclear and missile nexus) is aimed at
ensuring that the South Asian military balance of
power remains pro-China. Nurturing the Pakistani
military's fears of Indian dominance helps
Beijing keep Islamabad within its orbit.

However, Pakistan today is facing a "perfect
storm" of crises, with its US-backed fight
against al-Qaeda and the Taliban faltering and
the country lurching toward bankruptcy. The
linchpin of Beijing's South Asia strategy is
potentially a "wild card" because Pakistan's
possible futures cover a wide spectrum: from the
emergence of a moderate, democratic state to a
radical Islamic republic to "Lebanonization."

If it does not implode or degenerate into another
Iran or Afghanistan (a radical Islamic and/or a
failed state) and gets its house in order,
Pakistan could emerge as a pivotal player in the
US-Chinese-Indian triangular relationship.
Despite Beijing's disenchantment with the current
state of its "time-tested ally," China remains
committed to supporting Pakistan. If anything,
Pakistan's transformation from being an ally to a
battleground in the US-led "war on terror" has
forced Islamabad into an ever-tighter embrace of China.

* Mohan Malik, PhD, is a professor at the
Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in
Honolulu. He is the author of China and India as
Global Powers: Back to the Future? (forthcoming),
Dragon on Terrorism, The Gulf War: Australia's
Role and Asian-Pacific Responses, co-editor of
Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia,
and editor of Australia's Security in the 21st
Century, The Future Battlefield, and Asian
Defense Policies. The views expressed here do not
reflect the official policy or position of the
Center or the US Department of Defense.

(This article first appeared in The Jamestown
Foundation. Used with permission.)
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