Talks on Western Sector of Border: China Seeks to Bring in Pakistan as an Interested Party


In an article of August 28,2010, titled “Dealing with Chinese Machinations on J & K” (, I had stated as follows: “By questioning the legitimacy of India’s sovereignty over J&K, the Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning India’s locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of the Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past. They could use this option in future if their relations with India deteriorate.” The text of the article is annexed for easy reference.

Since January, 2010, there have been references by Chinese officials and media to the length of the Sino-Indian border as about 2000 kms. The People’s Daily had reported on January 7: “China and India share a nearly 2,000-km border and disputed areas cover about 125,000 sq km on both sides.”The “2000-km-long” boundary was mentioned in the “China Daily” in August 2009 in a report on the 13th round of boundary talks between the two sides. After the 14th round of the border talks held at Beijing on November 29 and 30,2010, by Shiv Shankar Menon, India’s National Security Adviser, and Dai Bingguo, the Chinese State Councillor,there were three important commentaries on the talks in the Chinese media—-by the Party-controlled “Global Times”, by Zhou Gang, a former Chinese Ambassador to India, in the “Beijing Review” and by Cheng Ruisheng, another former Chinese Ambassador to India, in an interview to the Chinese TV (CCTV).

“The Global Times” commentary said that the Chinese Government’s position was that both countries “will take into consideration each other’s concerns, and work toward an equitable and justified settlement of border issues that is acceptable to both sides.” However, it quoted Zhao Gancheng, a leading Chinese strategist, as saying “Indian activities near the border” and “remarks made by senior Indian officials who played up the China threat” had “harmed the chances” of reaching a quick resolution. It did not make any reference to the length of the Sino-Indian border.

However, the comments of the two former Chinese Ambassadors to India made specific references to the length of the border. Zhou Gang was quoted as saying: “The Sino-Indian border stretches for about 2,000 km, and the two countries have never officially mapped it out. For a long time, the two sides abided by a traditional customary line based on their respective administrative regions.” Cheng Ruisheng was quoted as saying: “China and India share roughly a 2,000 kilometer border which has never been formally delineated.”

In subsequent reports as curtain raisers to the just concluded visit of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to New Delhi from December 15 to 17, 2010, sections of the Chinese media specified the approximate length of the Sino-Indian border as about 2000 kms. A Xinhua report from Beijing disseminated before the departure of Wen to India described the Sino-Indian border as nearly 2,000-km long. Xinhua’s reference was reportedly based on an official briefing by the Assistant Foreign Minister of China, Hu Zhengyue to the Beijing press corps on December 13. On December 14, in an interview with the Indian Ambassador to China, S. Jaishankar, the “Global Times” asked about the reported tensions on the border. In response, Jaishankar said, “The reality contradicts any alarmist depiction of the situation on the border, whether in India or in China. We have a long common border of 3,488 km.” In publishing the interview the “Global Times” chose to add the following comments: “There is no settled length of the common border. The Chinese Government often refers to the border length as being ‘about 2,000 km.”

India has always been estimating the approximate length of the Sino-Indian border as about 3,500 kms in all the three sectors—Eastern, middle and Western— taken together. While it is about 2000 kms in the Eastern and the middle sectors taken together, it is another about 1500 kms long in the Western sector in Jammu & Kashmir. China, which had never openly questioned the Indian estimate of the length of the common border before, is now unilaterally seeking to exclude from consideration during the border talks the dispute between India and China over the Chinese occupation of a large territory in the Ladakh sector of J&K. In fact, it is seeking to question India’s locus standi to discuss with China the border in the J&K area in view of Pakistan’s claims to this area. It is trying to bring in Pakistan as an interested party in so far as the border talks regarding the Western sector are concerned. It wants to change the format of the border talks in order to keep it confined bilaterally to the Eastern and middle sectors and expand it to a trilateral issue involving India, China and Pakistan in the Western sector. The exclusion of the border in the J&K sector from its estimate of the total length of the border is another indication that it does not recognize India’s claims of sovereignty over J&K.

This has come in the wake of its decision to stop issuing regular visas to Indian citizens residing in J&K and to issue them only stapled visas. It is apparent that this is part of a well thought-out policy of unilaterally changing the ground rules of the border talks. It had earlier allegedly changed the ground rules in the Eastern sector by going back on a prior understanding with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the border should be demarcated in such a manner as not to affect populated areas. It is now going back on its previous stand in the Western sector by seeking to challenge India’s locus standi in view of its dispute with Pakistan.

Even at the risk of a further delay in the exercise to solve the border dispute, India should not agree to any change in the ground rules which would restrict the border talks only to the Eastern and middle sectors and exclude the Western sector on the ground that India has a dispute over this area with Pakistan.



Dealing with Chinese Machinations on J & K
By B. Raman

The international community treats Jammu & Kashmir as a de facto—-but not de jure — part of India. Similarly, it treats Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as de facto—- but not de jure—parts of Pakistan. In pursuance of this policy, other countries honour the Indian passports held by the residents of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and issue them normal visas on those passports when they want to travel. Similarly, they honour the Pakistani passports held by the residents of POK and GB and issue them visas on those passports.

2. China used to follow a similar policy till last year. It has now modified that policy in a significant manner. While it does not question the validity of the Indian passports held by the residents of J&K, it has stopped issuing visas on those passports.It has not debarred them from traveling to China, but they are allowed to travel only on the basis of a plain paper visa which is stapled to their Indian passport. The entry and exit stamps of the Chinese immigration are affixed on the plan paper visa and not on their Indian passport.

3. While doing so, Beijing has not changed its visa issue policy in respect of Pakistani residents of POK and GB. It is believed they are still issued visas on their Pakistani passports. Moreover, ignoring Indian protests, it is going ahead with its project to assist Pakistan in the upgradation of the Karakoram Highway which runs across GB and in the construction of hydel power and irrigation projects in GB. It has also agreed to participate in a feasibility study for the construction of a railway line to Xinjiang through GB. It has not yet agreed to assist Pakistan in the construction of an oil/gas pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang through GB.

4. The modifications in the Chinese policy have the following implications:

* Firstly, China has started treating POK and GB as de facto and de jure parts of Pakistan. It does not recognise Indian claims to these territories.
* Secondly, it has diluted its past acceptance of J&K as a de facto part of India. This would give satisfaction to Pakistan, which projects J&K as Pakistani territory under the illegal occupation of India. This would also lend support to the Pakistani contention that it has a political, diplomatic and moral right to support the so-called freedom struggle in J&K.
* Thirdly, by questioning the legitimacy of India’s sovereignty over J&K, the Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning India’s locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of the Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past. They could use this option in future if their relations with India deteriorate.\

5. The modification in the Chinese position on J & K and its active involvement in infrastructure and other development projects in POK and GB have coincided with indicators of active Pakistani assistance to China in quelling the revolt of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region which has a common border with GB. These indicators include an increase in the number of Chinese intelligence officers posted in Pakistan to keep a watch on the Uighur community living in Pakistan, Pakistani intensification of the surveillance of the members of the Uighur community and restrictions on their travel in Pakistan, rounding up of members of the Uighur community living in Pakistan who are accused by the Chinese of being members of the Eastern Turkestan lslamic Movement and their being handed over to the Chinese authorities without following the due process of law, intensification of the intelligence exchange and the recent joint counter-terrorism exercise, which was, in effect, a joint counter-Uighur exercise.

6. In the Chinese perception, their ability to pacify Xinjiang would depend on continued co-operation from Pakistan and strengthening Pakistan’s control over POK and GB. Their modification of their policy relating to J&K is as a quid pro quo to Pakistan playing the role of their frontline ally in the fight against the Uighur freedom fighters represented by the Munich-based World Uighur Congress and Uighur jihadis belonging to the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement. The Chinese decision to modify their policy even at the risk of its coming in the way of their developing relations with India is indicative of their serious concerns relating to Xinjiang. The need to pacify Xinjiang has assumed primacy in Chinese policy-making over the importance of misunderstanding-free relations with India.

7.India woke up to the changes in the Chinese policy last year when it noticed that the Chinese had stopped issuing regular visas to residents of J&K and have started issuing plain paper visas. There has been a further jolt to the Government of India in this matter by the reported disinclination of the Chinese to issue a visa to Lt. Gen. R. S. Jaswal, chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army, to make an official visit to China as part of the high-level military exchanges agreed to by the two countries. The reasons for which they expressed their disinclination are not clear. Some reports say that it was because the Northern Command is responsible for external security in the J&K area along the Line of Control and the international border and they consider J&K to be a disputed territory. Some other reports attribute the Chinese disinclination to the fact that Lt. Gen. Jaswal was perceived to be a hawk who believed that China posed a military threat to India. There are still other reports claiming that Lt. Gen. Jaswal is actually a Kashmiri native and hence the Chinese objection to him. One does not know whether this is factually correct.

8. Whatever be the reason, the Chinese disinclination to issue a visa to him has to be strongly opposed by the Government of India. New Delhi has done well to suspend military-military exchanges till this issue is settled to the satisfaction of India without allowing it to affect the other aspects of the developing relations with China and come in the way of the on-going border talks. India’s response has been limited to the military-military relationship.

9. The issue has tactical and strategic aspects. The tactical aspect relates to our response to the non-issue of a visa to Lt. Gen. Jaswal. We have reacted in adequate measure.

10. The strategic aspect relates to the following:

* How are we going to counter the Chinese attempts to question the legitimacy of our sovereignty over J&K and to re-open the entire issue?
* How are we going to counter the repeated Chinese actions in ignoring our protests and concerns relating to their involvement in the POK and GB?

11. Our response at the strategic level cannot remain confined to the suspension of military exchanges. It has to go beyond that. We had recognised Tibet as an integral part of China. We have shown good faith in adhering to that position. China has not shown good faith on the issue of J&K being an integral part of India. The time has come for us to re-examine our position in matters relating to Tibet. We have to make it clear to Beijing that our continued adherence to our present position on Tibet would depend on its respecting our sensitivities in matters relating to J&K, POK and GB. If it does not respect our core interests in relation to J &K, POK and GB, it cannot expect us to continue to respect its core interests relating to Tibet.

12. As a starter in the re-examination of our Tibetan policy, we should make evident the seriousness of our unhappiness with Beijing on this issue by immediately associating His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the project for the revival of the Nalanda University.

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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