Dragon diplomacy

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As India and Pakistan keep fighting their hot and cold wars – physical and diplomatic – over Kashmir, China is often considered the silent occupier. Recent incidents, however, suggest a pro-active Beijing stamping its foot in. A Kashmir Life report.

In Kashmir, Beijing is in the news again. This time it is its “changed” visa regime as a result of which many students and the businessmen are in a swoop.

The Chinese embassy in Delhi has been issuing visas by stamping the passports of the applicants in India. However, for residents of Arunachal Pradesh, that Beijing claims to be its part, it has been issuing the separate paper visas which are stapled with the passport. All of a sudden, Beijing’s Arunachal practice was extended to the J&K and it took almost a year for immigration to detect it.

Last month, some students who were on their maiden journey to China after admissions in various universities, could not take off as the loose-sheet stapled visas were rejected by the Immigration officials at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Interestingly, a few carrying Delhi addresses on their passports were not only permitted but had routinely stamped visas in their passports.

MEA officials say this policy was introduced in May but Beijing diplomats in Delhi have told reporters that it is in vogue for around a year and they have already issued around 100 such loose-paper visas. Chinese say it is perfectly valid but the Home Ministry officials insist the system is fraught with security risks. Unattached visas, they say did not leave any trail and do not fully reflect the travel record of the passport holder.

The issue has been taken up by the MEA officials with the Chinese embassy. “It is our considered view and position that there should be no discrimination against visa applicants of Indian nationality on the grounds of domicile or ethnicity,” MEA spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said adding that New Delhi has already conveyed “our well-justified concern”.

The “deviation” has the potential to harm the interests of a number of people who are either studying in China or have business interests.

The changed visa regime came at the peak of reports of Chinese incursions in Ladakh. Denial by the government notwithstanding, reports from Leh suggest that massive mobilization of troops took place and the army has actually restored many advanced landing sites near the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) that divides J&K from Western Tibet. Smuggling that was a significant contributor to the desert economy has completely been contained and sources told Kashmir Life that a number of professional smugglers are currently stranded on the other side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). “They had gone for getting fresh supplies but well before they could return the borders were sealed by the two armies,” civilian officials said. “Police must be in the know of it,” they maintained without elaborating.

The latest development on this front was the statement issued by Hu Zhengyue, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs, In charge of the Asian region on September 28. “Kashmir is an issue that has been longstanding left from history. This issue touches the bilateral relations between the relevant countries,” Hu told visiting reporters. Responding to a Pakistani reporter’s question, Hu said Beijing can play a “constructive role” in resolving the “bilateral issue”.

In Srinagar, this has sent many people talking in terms of China’s “changed” Kashmir policy. In fact, some of the separatists have also shot their welcome reaction. But has there been a Kashmir Policy in Beijing? There are no responses available in Kashmir’s mushroom of “experts”. Even the diplomatic scholarship in the mainland mostly surrounds issues from Aksai Chin to Arunachal.

Initially, Beijing had a Kashmir policy very supportive of Islamabad. Driven by Sino-Indian hostilities, and Sino-Russian rift and eventually the Delhi-Moscow friendship, Beijing found an ‘all-weather ally’ in Islamabad. Sino-Pakistan Joint Communiqu? of May 1962, as well as the Boundary Agreement of March 1963, recognizes Kashmir’s ‘disputed’ status. Then, Beijing would support Kashmir’s right to self-determination and openly support Islamabad’s policy.

There was, however, a policy shift later in the 1980s as Beijing started crawling into global attention as an emerging power. As Sino-Indian relations started warming, the radical policy was given up by skipping references to UN resolutions on Kashmir and the right of self-determination. The new policy looked more neutral as Kashmir became a bilateral issue. It stuck to the same “neutrality” as India and Pakistan became nuclear powers. In December 1993, China and Iran played a crucial role in making Islamabad withdraw a resolution in the Human Rights Commission’s Conference in Geneva which was a huge diplomatic boost to New Delhi. During Kargil, Beijing did not support anybody but called for maintaining the sanctity of the LoC, a position that Bill Clinton had taken.

Apart from the economic dividend, Beijing is apprehensive of nuclear war and a possible spillover of the unrest to Xingjian if Kashmir continued lingering in balance. Is this worry forcing Beijing to become pro-active? Who knows?

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