India’s Ladakh Crisis & China’s grand plan to dominate Eurasia – II
by Ramtanu Maitra on 25 Nov 2020 2 Comments

China-Pakistan Collusion in Jammu and Kashmir?


China-Pakistan collusion to undermine stability in the India-governed part of Jammu and Kashmir is a future development that New Delhi cannot ignore. When India abrogated Article 370 in August 2019, making both Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh India’s Union Territories as of Oct. 31, 2019, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying issued a strongly worded response specifically related to Ladakh. “China is always opposed to India’s inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction. This firm and consistent position remains unchanged,” said Hua. “Recently India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law. Such practice is unacceptable and will not come into force.” (Article 370: On Day 2, India-China in Diplomatic Spat Over Ladakh: The Wire Staff: Aug. 6, 2019)


Beijing laid the groundwork for such a stance earlier. In the Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of March 2, 1963, China secured from Pakistan a part of the northern frontier of Pakistan-Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (PoK). Further, when China began its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan handed over de facto control of the Gilgit-Baltistan region of the PoK to China, which in turn gave it strategic, logistical, diplomatic and political depth to vie for power in Central Asia. (How to checkmate China and Pakistan, the legal way: Dr Aman Hingorani: The Sunday Guardian: June 27, 2020)


Pakistani officials like to describe China-Pakistan relations as “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel.” Yet Beijing’s control over Pakistan has reached a point where the latter is fast losing its sovereign status and turning into China’s vassal state. How much does China control Pakistan? Here is an anecdote that explains a lot. In his book, You will be Assimilated, American strategist David P. Goldman cites this dialogue he had in a Beijing hotel with a Chinese government official:


I asked a senior adviser to China’s Foreign Ministry whether China worried about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

“Pakistan doesn’t have nuclear weapons,” said my Chinese interlocutor, whose business card identified him as a South Asian expert at a foreign military think tank.

“Everybody knows Pakistan has nuclear weapons,” I protested.

“Pakistan doesn’t have nuclear weapons. The Pakistan Army has nuclear weapons. And we have the Pakistani Army,” the Chinese expert said, triumphantly.

“Pakistan is simple,” he continued. “Do not modernize! Keep them barefoot! Keep them illiterate! Make sure the Army Chief of Staff is the biggest landlord.”


With such control, Beijing may help the Pakistan Army step up its “Kashmir Card” against India. China could covertly endorse the army’s long-used plan to bleed India by encouraging and enabling terrorism inside the India-governed part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Media reports indicate that in recent years the Indian Army has recovered Chinese-made grenades, guns and ammunition from Pakistani militants and Chinese drones in the Kashmir valley. There were reports in 2016 of People’s Liberation Army troops at forward posts along the Line of Control (LoC) on the Pakistan side of Kashmir. The Indian army, the reports said, had spotted the presence of senior PLA officials at forward posts opposite the Nowgam sector in North Kashmir, and subsequent intercepts of Pakistani army officers  suggested that the Chinese troops were there to create some infrastructure along the LoC. (What is Chinese army doing at LoC in Pak-occupied Kashmir?: Mar 13, 2016)


Also noteworthy is the report that during his August 2020 visit to China, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi briefed Chinese leadership about a “new political map of Pakistan,” which includes the whole area of the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir but had no frontier defined in India’s Ladakh sector. The disputed territory is shown in green on the map, and the Line of Control demarcation has been connected with the Chinese border to assert Pakistan’s claim to the Siachen Glacier. The map also reflects Pakistan’s position on Sir Creek, a separate maritime boundary dispute with India. (Pakistan issues new political map highlighting Kashmir dispute: The Mainichi: Aug. 5, 2020)


Keeping India Engaged in the Hills


China’s grand plan to expand its economic interest, backed by necessary military presence, throughout Central Asia, the Middle East and South Asia (west of India) is well known. China has been investing heavily to make its westward economic presence felt in Pakistan and, further west, in Afghanistan. Its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project enters Pakistan from Xinjiang through Gilgit-Baltistan in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the entirety of which is claimed by India. China is hosting anti-India Taliban leaders who work hand-in-glove with the Pakistani military.


One primary objective of China’s investments in Pakistan is the development of Gwadar port on Pakistan’s Makran coast on the Arabian Sea. Having secured a lease of the port till 2057, China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) has developed it. Once developed, the port will give China a strong presence on its oil trade route. It is also likely that China will eventually convert Gwadar into a fully functional naval base. According to one PLA officer, the PLAN’s option to use Gwadar as a base is a fait accompli: “The food is already on the plate; we’ll eat it whenever we want to.” (China Maritime Report No. 7—Gwadar: China’s Potential Strategic Strongpoint in Pakistan: U.S. Naval War College.)


Already a major arms supplier to Pakistan, China is now helping to establish local shipbuilding. The Sea Guardian 2020 exercise between the Chinese and Pakistani navies took place last January. China deployed an air defense destroyer, a frigate and a replenishment ship, and satellite imagery shows that the Chinese ships docked at the container terminal at nearby Manora beach rather than at the Pakistani Marine base, PNS Qasim.


The participating Chinese destroyer was the Type-052D Luyang-III class ship, Yinchuan. The 7,500-ton ship carries HHQ-9 long range surface to air missiles and cruise missiles and is equipped with large, phased-array radars like those on U.S. Navy AEGIS destroyers. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has eight Type-052Ds and is building more. China also deployed a submarine rescue ship. This could be significant because China is supplying the Pakistani Navy with eight Type 039B Yuan class submarines. Four of the submarines will be built in China and the other four in Pakistan. (Satellite Imagery Shows Chinese Navy in Pakistan: H I Sutton: Forbes Blog: April 8, 2020)


In addition, China has laid railroads across Xinjiang to connect with Kazakhstan to the west in Central Asia, and this has become an important land route for China’s trade with Europe. While moving further into the southern part of Central Asia, China is keen to shut off India’s land access to this area completely.


Further, there are reports of China’s increasing military and economic presence in parts of Central Asia. China has been steadily building up its military and economic influence in Tajikistan, in particular, especially in the remote, mountainous areas on its western borders where Dushanbe’s authority is weak. Last year Chinese troops held a joint drill in eastern Tajikistan involving 1,200 troops from both countries. The eight-day exercise was conducted in the sparsely populated autonomous Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region, situated in the Pamir hills, which borders China’s Xinjiang region and Afghanistan. (China increases its presence in Russia’s former Central Asian backyard: SCMP: Kinling Lo: Aug. 25, 2019)


And this year, in February, the Washington Post reported on the presence of about two dozen buildings and lookout towers built by the Chinese in Tajikistan overlooking the Tajikistan-Afghanistan China border. “We’ve been here three, four years,” a Chinese soldier who gave his surname as Ma said in a brief conversation with the reporter. (In Central Asia’s forbidding highlands, a quiet newcomer: Chinese troops: The Washington Post: Gerry Shih: Feb. 18, 2019)


Chinese interest in establishing a military base in the high Pamir region has been buttressed by a recent article by a historian, Cho Yau Lu, that appeared in the Chinese media in July, “Tajikistan Initiated the Transfer to China of Its Land and the Lost Mountains of the Pamir Were Returned to Their True Master.” Following the fall of the Qin Dynasty, Cho Yau Lu wrote, China started to recover the land lost, but some of it remained within the borders of other countries. “One of such very ancient regions is the Pamir, which was outside China 128 years due to the pressures of world powers [Great Britain and Russia],” he noted. (Chinese Historian Hints at Expansionist Agenda in Tajik Territory: Statecraft: Aug. 10, 2020) Tajik authorities have reportedly demanded that Beijing officially renounce the article and halt the publication of any with similar themes.


Beside the Pamirs, where it has established itself, China is waiting to set up a military base inside the Wakhan Corridor once the Americans leave Afghanistan. China has long been supplying arms to the Taliban and courting them to ensure its physical presence within the country after the American departure. The Wakhan Corridor, a narrow strip of land protruding out of Afghanistan like the handle of a cooking pot, has tremendous strategic significance.


Historically, Wakhjir Pass, at the northern end of the corridor, served as an important conduit on the ancient Silk Road. China decided recently to follow through on building a road through Wakhjir Pass, after signing a memorandum of understanding with Afghanistan to study the road’s construction in 2009. Given Afghanistan’s strategic location, the road through the Wakhjir Pass addresses two Chinese geopolitical goals: increasing commerce with Central Asia to the north and increasing connectivity with its newly developed port at Gwadar in Pakistan to the south. (The New Road to Conflict: Geopolitics of the Wakhan Corridor: HIR: 05.DEC.2019: Kendrick Foster)


Uyghur Worries


Beyond the economic benefit that China plans to reap from its land connections to Central Asia, Afghanistan and beyond, China is also concerned about the Uyghur minority that inhabits Xinjiang. The road and related military bases would constitute added security against the Uyghur problem. Uyghurs are Muslims of Turkic stock who have little love lost for China’s domineering Han ethnic group. China fears that disgruntled Uyghurs could join hands with the Central Asians, who are majority Muslim and some belong to the same Uyghur ethnic stock. One other Chinese worry is the likelihood of assistance to the Uyghurs coming in through Central Asia and Afghanistan.


China has kept the Uyghurs under permanent surveillance for years. In Xinjiang they are in close proximity to millions of Muslims who inhabit Central Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and beyond. These Muslim nations are also significant trading partners of China. Beijing is afraid that if a major uprising takes place inside Xinjiang, it will not be able to subdue such an uprising without coming down on the Uyghurs with a hammer, causing problems with the Islamic world. On the other hand, Beijing also worries that an unstable Xinjiang will not only cause some economic distress, but it could plant the seed of ending the Communist Party’s rule in China.


A primary objective of China is to prevent such a development. Beijing is aware that an unknown number of Uyghurs have left their homes in the Xinjiang region in the last five years or so to join the ranks of militant groups in the Middle East. Like some governments in Central Asia, China is also uneasy about the arguably implausible prospect of those fighters returning to their native land. (Tajikistan: Report confirms significant Chinese security presence in Pamirs: EurasiaNet: Feb. 19, 2019)


For these reasons alone, the setting up of two military bases, like two hammers in the Pamirs and in Wakhjir Pass, could provide respite, China believes. Whether China will succeed in achieving this goal depends on the Central Asian countries and Russia. However, India should realize that if those bases indeed get set up, India’s access to Central Asia and Afghanistan will require China’s approval.


(To be concluded…)

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