By Qurat-Ul-Ain Shabbir
China’s policy towards Kashmir is complex and multifaceted. One of the key factors that have influenced China’s stance on the issue is the security threats it perceives from India’s alignment with the Soviet Union during the early Cold War era. This historical context has had a lasting impact on China’s policies in South Asia.
Following the Sino-Indian border war in 1962, China abandoned its policy of neutrality and formed a military alliance with Pakistan against India. As part of this alliance, China openly endorsed Pakistan’s claims to the disputed territory of Kashmir. This marked a significant shift in China’s position on the issue and has had far-reaching implications for regional security dynamics.
Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping played a crucial role in shaping China’s modern foreign policy, which emphasized economic modernization and peaceful relations with its neighbors. One of Deng’s key features was maintaining impartiality on the issue of Kashmir. Under Deng’s leadership, China gradually reduced its support for Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, as part of efforts to restore relations with India.
During the 1980s, Deng’s stance was that the Kashmir dispute was a bilateral matter that India and Pakistan should resolve peacefully through negotiations. This was in line with one of the main principles of Beijing’s modern foreign policy, which emphasizes the importance of negotiations and talks as the primary means of resolving international issues.
China’s foreign policy strategy has been to prevent escalation during any Indo-Pak crisis, to the extent that it has not given much consideration to Pakistan’s interests in the Kashmir region. This was evident when China participated in international efforts to avert the possibility of war following the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. The attack had brought a million troops and Indian nuclear-capable missiles to the border, and there were fears of a wider conflict.
China played a significant role in organizing talks between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in collaboration with the United States and Russia. Additionally, Premier Zhu Rongji’s visit to India was part of a larger US-led strategy of sending world leaders to both India and Pakistan to deter them from any misadventures in the region.
China’s stance on the Kashmir issue has been consistent throughout the 1990s, with the view that it is a dispute between India and Pakistan that needs to be resolved through dialogue and negotiations. This is evident in China’s cautioning of Pakistan against calling a special UN session on Kashmir during the 1990s, and its lack of support for Pakistan’s repeated requests for the UN to follow long-standing resolutions and demilitarize Jammu and Kashmir.
However, China’s approach towards the Kashmir issue has changed significantly since the middle of the 2010s. China has invested heavily in infrastructure projects in Pakistan, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which passes through Pakistan-administered Kashmir. This has led to China’s economic interests in the region becoming a significant factor in its support for Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. Consequently, China has consistently declined to back India’s proposition to jointly condemn Pakistan’s alleged role in terrorism, viewing it as an attempt to isolate Pakistan strategically.
China’s actions have also included giving Kashmiris stapled visas while raising questions about India’s authority over Kashmir and declaring it a “disputed territory.” In 2010, General Baljit Singh Jaswal, the chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command in Jammu and Kashmir, was denied a visa, signaling a significant change in China’s foreign policy regarding Kashmir. Even when Foreign Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna visited China in April 2010 and highlighted India’s sensitivity to the Kashmir issue and the stapled visas issue, Beijing continued to snub New Delhi.
China’s Kashmir policy has more to do with its regional tug-of-war with India than to maintain its close partnership with Pakistan. China has used its partnership with Pakistan and the Kashmir dispute to contain India from emerging as a potential regional hegemon. China’s military and diplomatic cooperation with Pakistan is to serve its geopolitical interests in the region. This cooperation also impacts China’s Kashmir policy. Following the revocation of Article 370, China endorsed Pakistan’s position. At the UNSC, Beijing raised the Aksai Chin issue and reaffirmed its claim to regional sovereignty. Also, it sent India a warning about potential instability near the China-India border. As the state of Jammu and Kashmir was reorganized in August 2019, China’s Kashmir policy veered even more from its 90s position. China’s foreign policy statements once again made references of Kashmir Security Council resolutions, and Beijing engaged in diplomatic efforts to back Pakistan’s position. As a result, Sino-Indian relations have been seriously strained by China’s Kashmir stance. One of the most major disputes between China and India in recent years occurred on the India-China border in 2020. Both countries were involved in a military standoff in the Galwan Valley, located in the disputed Ladakh region, highlighting the persistent tensions in the disputed border area.
Thus, China’s Kashmir policy is influenced by a range of factors, including its relationship with Pakistan, its economic interests in the region, and its historical dispute with India. China’s Kashmir policy has major geopolitical implications, and India is concerned about China’s support for Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir problem. Chinese policy towards Kashmir is likely to be impacted by its regional strategic goals and interests, and it will continue to play a significant role in the evolving geopolitical dynamics of South Asia.
Qurat-Ul-Ain Shabbir is a research officer at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) AJK. Currently, she is pursuing her Ph.D. degree in DSS from Quaid-i-Azam University. Her areas of interest include comprehensive security and conflict analysis.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.