China is sending mixed signals vis-à-vis Kashmir, the conflict resolution thereof. The dragon is playing hot and cold, floating concerns through state sponsored media, however taking care to be diplomatically correct in official pronouncements. Talking of the state in Chinese context means a single party political construct dominated by Chinese Communist Party. The views of the party and its various affiliates having an international impact are mostly carried by 'Global Times'. In one of its recent issues, it published a column highlighting Beijing's "vested interest" in settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. The diplomatic finesse however followed, outlining that Beijing would continue to adhere to policy of non-interference in the issue. Chinese Kashmir specific concerns have more reasons than one. The main reason could be traced to Chinese trade arteries in offing passing through erstwhile JK State, in close proximity to bowl shaped northern Himalayan vale.
China is seemingly on a hitherto unknown drive, prompted by mounting worry to safeguard its geopolitical concerns. Historically an inward looking nation state, China seeks to spread its wings far and wide. With an expanding industrial base, and buoyed by 4 trillion dollar foreign exchange reserve, Chinese are on an overdrive to set up new global economic equations through one belt one road (OBOR) mega-plan, of which China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the vital limb. CPEC entails road and rail link across Karakorum to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) a strategic part of erstwhile JK State and onwards to Gwadar port in Balochistan province of Pakistan. The re-construct of ancient silk route with a 21st century maritime link is meant to provide a highly beneficent alternative to Chinese maritime link from South China Sea through Strait of Malacca. The strait links Pacific and Indian oceans. Trans-Karakorum trail linking Chinese north-western Xingjian province with port of Gwadar is expected to shorten the trans-Malacca Strait route by two thirds. The new arterial trade link is meant to markedly quicken the global exports and energy import from Gulf.
OBOR has assumed a new denomination—Belt Road Initiative (BRI) the emphasis being on a new initiative to sell the idea far and wide. China is hosting a mid-May Silk Route summit on a big scale. While the level of participation varies from country to country, more or less 30 heads of states/heads of governments are expected to attend. India stands invited, the invitation was extended to Indian External Affairs Secretary– Jaishankar, as he visited China for a strategic dialogue a month or two back. Jaishankar remained reserved on level of participation with a diplomatic note of dissent. India takes exception to CPEC on the plea of corridor passing through a territory (read: GB) over which the country claims sovereign rights.
India remains unbending on the regional initiative that CPEC, arguably the most important wing of BRI, entails. Even though the regional initiative has global dimensions, encompassing the Eurasian bloc—the Russia land mass grouped with Central Asian States and running onwards to European mainland, India remains unmoved, with marked reluctance to join. At the fag end of last week, Indian and Pakistan finance ministers, Arun Jaitley and Ishaq Dar were reported to share cold vibes on sides of Asian Development Bank's 50th annual meet in Yokohama, Japan. The finance ministers shared the dais, but remained on the opposing sides of emerging economic spectrum. Dar focused on improving regional connectivity, mentioning initiative like CPEC and Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) to link Pakistan, central Asian states, India and Iran, and he pleaded for inter-dependence as the way forward. As Dar backed OBOR/BRI, Jaitley said India has "serious reservations" on the proposal because of sovereignty issues. He was not inclined to elaborate, beyond stating that he has "no hesitation in saying that we have serious reservations about it (OBOR) because of sovereignty issues.''
Indian reservations are evident, given the slow pace of Bangladesh, Myanmar, India and China (BMIC) link-up, what is supposed to another planned wing of OBOR/BRI, like CPEC. In case it progresses, it is bound too boost BRI. Irrespective of the Indian stance, and in spite of it, China is going ahead with Silk Route summit and the mega-plan. However, China seems to be keen to secure its massive investment in CPEC. Initially reported to be 46 million dollar investment, it is hiking to be close to 60 million dollars. The concern was expressed explicitly in Global Times. The column noted that while China had always "adhered to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, it can no long turn a deaf ear to the demands of Chinese enterprises in protecting their overseas investments." Chinese foreign ministry statement emailed to news agency IANS followed, it said: "China's position on the issue of Kashmir is clear and consistent. It is an issue left over from history between India and Pakistan and shall be properly addressed by India and Pakistan through consultation and negotiation."
How the Chinese push shall be responded to, depends on march of the times? If the economic push attains the pitch of affecting geostrategic equations on regional and global level, a situation might arise, where Indian reluctance melts to the extent of meeting new realities, entailing addressing the Kashmir dispute in politico-economic premise. Until then, the fingers of peaceniks seeking conflict resolution remain crossed.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]
(The author is doctor in medicine, a social activist, and a senior columnist email@example.com )