SEEMA MUSTAFA | 13 JULY, 2017

China Turns Push to Shove: Offers to Mediate In Kashmir

THE CITIZEN BUREAU


NEW DELHI: China has offered to mediate in Kashmir. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said very categorically, that Beijing was ready to play a constructive role, as the conflict along the Line of Control was detrimental for the South Asian region.

“The situation in Kashmir has attracted a lot of global attention,” Geng said. And added very deliberately, “"We hope relevant sides can do more things that are conducive to peace and stability in the region and avoid escalating tensions."

He further told reporters in Beijing, “"the conflict occurred near the Line of Control of Kashmir. This will not only harm the peace and stability of the two countries but also the peace and tranquillity of the region.We hope the relevant sides can do more things that are conducive for peace and stability in the region and avoiding escalating the tensions and China is willing to play constructive role in improving relations between India and Pakistan.”

This offer comes within 24 hours of a tentative peace overture by Indian Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar who said that he was positive that the two countries could resolve their differences over Doklam, as they had similar differences in the past. Beijing made it clear that it did not see any such comparison maintaining that the situation was “entirely different” this time.

Geng who introduced the issue of mediation in Kashmir in the same briefing said in what is a diplomatic rebuff to India, "This is different from the frictions that happened in the undefined sections of the border region” He added, “"China has pointed out many times that the illegal trespass into China's territory across a mutually recognized borderline is different in nature to frictions that happened in undefined sections of the boundary. This is totally different from the undefined boundary in eastern, middle and western sectors."

India seems to be now searching for a solution to the face off, with China showing no sign of blinking. Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has called an all Opposition parties meet on the issue of the current stand off with China. A senior retired diplomat said that the Chinese take their time to respond, but this time around it is clear that they have drawn up an alternative plan, and are working to it insofar as India is concerned. He expressed some dismay that the efforts started by late National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra to start a dialogue on the intransigent border issues seem to have been entirely negated by the Modi government in its insistence to make a “public spectacle’ of its hostility to China.

Intererstingly, as sources pointed out, China had been at Doklam constructing a road for over two weeks with no public statement from Bhutan. It was supposedly under New Delhi’s insistence that Bhutan issued a demarch to the Chinese mission. However, while India in its long statement justifying its decision to move troops in the area to protect and support Bhutan per se, China has kept the Himalayan kingdom out of the current controversy. Instead it has preferred to train its guns directly at India, and steadfastly refused to bring Bhutan in as the aggrieved or otherwise third party that New Delhi has referred to more than once as the reason for the current face off.

Beijing has hardened its position, making it apparent that it would not talk until and unless New Delhi withdrew its troops from Doklam. The recent offer to mediate in Kashmir is yet another escalation of this approach, touching a raw nerve insofar as India is concerned. And also making a point to remind---in case anyone might have chosen to forget---that it is in control of a portion of Kashmir and very visible on that side of the map as well.

China has also issued a travel advisory to its citizens in India, an indicator that it expects the bilateral situation to worse. It has accused India of ‘ulterior motives’ and of being in violation of international law.

In fact the boundary issue that the Vajpayee and later the Manmohan Singh governments had tried to keep inside the bottle, seems to have burst out with India flexing its specific anti-China muscles in the public space, and Beijing upping the ante. In the border talks both sides had started working on the possibility of China dropping its claim on Arunachal Pradesh for India allowing it to retain Aksai Chin. This was far from settled, but the talks that both sides had developed the diplomatic patience for did hover around such options, keeping both sides involved and to that extent tranquil.

In April China, responding to India’s decision to allow the Dalai Lama political space as it were, “standardised” names of six Arunachal towns as part of its claim over what it regards as South Tibet. Till then the Chinese foreign ministry used the “it is routine” fig leaf for the record, but allowed a Chinese scholar to state that this was a reaffirmation of “Chinese sovereignty”.

Despite the macho positions being taken by the political leadership and the media, a military conflict with China at this point will take the form of a two front war if it comes to that. The sudden shift from Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh to include Kashmir is a clear indication that China will keep both the borders hot for the Indian military. And this is further reinforced by an article in the Global Times from a Chinese scholar emphasing the possibility of a “third country” entering Kashmir at Pakistan’s request.

Beijing is categorical that it will not accept any Indian offer for talks, until the troops are withdrawn. Sources here said, that it is highly unlikely that China will shift from this stated position and has thought out--- and prepared for the consequences. It is difficult to say the same for India at this stage that appears to have moved into a direct confrontation with China as per its muscular diplomatic policy, with the belief that it would have ample wriggle room to get out of a messy situation. The problem is that Beijing has left New Delhi with no such room, with the push becoming a decisive shove with the reference to Kashmir now.

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