Amid a few reports suggesting that there could finally be a resolution to the seven-month-long military stand-off between India and China at the LAC in Eastern Ladakh, Beijing might, in turn, meddle in India’s Kashmir affair.
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Even before the two neighbors got embroiled in June’s Galwan Valley skirmish which kicked off the current stand-off, their trade relations could not be improved because of the Kashmir issue.
Yesterday, India imposed a new ban on Chinese apps, the fourth time it has done so since the border standoff in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control. With this, the total number of Chinese-origin apps banned by India has gone up to 267.
“We firmly oppose the Indian side’s repeated use of ‘national security’ as an excuse to prohibit some mobile apps with a Chinese background,” said Chinese embassy spokesperson Ji Rong.
Ji called on India to withdraw the ban on the grounds that it went against the WTO’s rules. “We hope the Indian side provides a fair, impartial and non-discriminatory business environment for all market players from various countries, including China, and rectify the discriminatory practices violating WTO rules,” she said.
China Poking Its Nose In Kashmir?
While Beijing claims a part of the eastern region of Kashmir as its territory, it is the disputed region of northwest Kashmir which also is of interest to China despite having no involvement in it whatsoever.
In August 2019, Modi shook the political landscape by taking away its northern Jammu and Kashmir’s status as India’s only Muslim majority state by splitting it into two federally-controlled territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
Following the decision, neighbor Pakistan, which has claimed sovereignty over all of Kashmir along with India, declared the move illegal.
China, who have been Islamabad’s long-time ally, and often mentioned together as the “Iron Brothers”, was quick to label New Delhi’s decision as unacceptable.
“We urge India to be cautious in its words and deeds on the border issue, strictly abide by the relevant agreements reached between the two sides, and avoid taking actions that further complicate the border issue,” said a statement published on the website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
In October of last year, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan himself paid a visit to Beijing to shore up support against India, after which Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “China supports Pakistan to safeguard its own legitimate rights and hopes that the relevant parties can solve their disputes through peaceful dialogue.”
However, according to Elizabeth Roche, writing for Livemint, China’s opinion on the matter is of no surprise to the Indian side.
“Beijing’s comments were not surprising given its close and strategic partnership with Pakistan. Besides, parts of the disputed Sino-India border in Aksai Chin lie in Ladakh.”
India’s decision to integrate Kashmir further into its own territory garnered interest from China, according to Anik Joshi, writing for Foreign Policy.
“That gave China a strong interest in the issue, too. China agreed with its ally both for diplomatic reasons and for domestic ones. Part of the new territory of Ladakh contains land that Pakistan gave to China in the agreement in 1963,”
“China sees both the abrogation of the Article (370) and the formation of the new state as a kind of aggressiveness, which is one reason for its own assertive moves on the Chinese-Indian border in the last few weeks.”
Amid the mass crackdown on the Kashmir region, people have seen the cutting of internet facilities as well as the arrest of local politicians, with Pakistan PM Khan denouncing such actions as the oppression of minorities living in the valley.
According to Joshi, China that itself has come under criticism from all over the world for its treatment of Uighur minorities in Xinjiang, is looking to shift the focus on Indian Kashmir.
“Xinjiang threatens to become a permanent stain on China’s image in the Muslim world. Adopting Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir and Article 370 is a cynical way to address these anti-Muslim claims, allowing China to, to an extent, deflect from its domestic misdeeds,”
“By pointing to issues within India and New Delhi’s mistreatment of Muslims, China is able to divert scrutiny from its own crackdown on religion, separation of children from their parents, forced labor, and mass internment of minorities. Its foothold in Kashmir issues has served as a useful distraction,” said Joshi.
Another expert who wished to stay anonymous said – Pakistan needs Chinese help in regards to its deteriorating ties with India and finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir dispute. Had China not created pressure on India in Ladakh, the chances of an armed conflict between India and Pakistan were very high.
India wants to disrupt the CPEC corridor which runs through Gilgit Baltistan and is a disputed region controlled by Pakistan and claimed by India. New Delhi would ideally like to create immense pressure on the CPEC corridor where China has invested billions of dollars and get Pakistan on the negotiating table.
With China’s money and pride at stake, Beijing could urge Islamabad to negotiate with New Delhi and ideally convert the Line of Control into a permanent border.