“(by abrogating Article 370) On the Chinese side, India “opened up new territory on the map,” incorporated part of the areas under the local jurisdiction of Xinjiang and Tibet into its Ladakh union territory, and placed Pakistani-administered Kashmir within its so-called union territories of Jammu and Kashmir. This forced China into the Kashmir dispute. India’s unilateral move to change the status quo of Kashmir constitutes a serious threat to regional peace and stability.”
-Dr. Wang Shida, Deputy Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) on June 11, 2020.
“The entire Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession. India once again has asked Pakistan to immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation.”
-Ravish Kumar, MEA Spokesperson on issuing a demarche to a senior Pakistani diplomat in India on May 4, 2020.
China’s creeping incursions into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is not new. What is new, however, is the current belligerency of the Red PLA in its failed attempts to occupy the entire Galwan valley in Ladakh that saw the bloody grapple with Indian soldiers on June 15, 2020, where China got a deadly bloody nose. Today, as China has deployed many divisions of the PLA matched equally by India with men and war machines along almost the entire 3,488 km stretches of the LAC, one question that naturally comes to our minds is – why is Beijing suddenly upping the ante against India over the un-demarcated LAC since May 2020 onwards till now?
Strategic Fallout of Changing ‘status quo’ of India’s J&K Region
The answer to this question lies in India’s changing the status quo of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, by abrogating the anachronistic ‘temporary’ Article 370 ending its ‘special status’ by bifurcating the state into two Union Territories (UTs) of J&K and Ladakh. One may recall how China, more than Pakistan, was rattled by this historic ‘righting the wrong’ by the Modi 2.0 regime, calling it an attack on its ‘territorial sovereignty’. What acted as the proverbial ‘salt in the festering wounds’ of the Sino-Pak nefarious axis is India’s diplomatic demarche to Pakistan asking it to vacate its ‘illegal occupation’ of the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) in May 2020.
Since China has invested heavily in building vital infrastructures (roads, dams, airstrips, etc) in the GB region as part of its now fledgling Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), obviously Beijing saw India’s warning to Pakistan as the endgame for its ‘colonial occupation designs’ in PoJK. Post the surgical strikes by India by crossing the Line of Control (LoC) in 2016 and Balakot airstrikes deep inside Pakistan in February 2019 – Red China is terrified by the imminent spectre of losing both the GB region in PoJK and the Aksai Chin region in the China Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (CoJK). It will surely be the end game for its initially grandiose but now embattled CPEC cum BRI project that runs through GB and Aksai Chin regions and Beijing can never allow it to happen. Or else, Red China’s President for life, Xi Jinping’s ‘the great Chinese dream’ will turn into his proverbial ‘wet dream’!
Hence, Beijing wants New Delhi to resist any move in further changing the existing status quo there, which is greatly advantageous for Communist China at present. Therefore, China is upping the ante against India along the LAC with India to somehow compel it to agree to its long-cherished proposal to ‘delist’ both PoJK and CoJK issues from the ‘agenda items’ of the protracted but unresolved India-China Boundary Talks since 1981 onwards, which is but a clever ploy by Beijing to distract New Delhi while continuing its piecemeal territorial encroachments alongside the LAC cum occupation plan of strategically vital Ladakh region from India. But China has realised from the hard-hitting lessons post-Doklam in 2017 and Galwan in June 2020 that its plan can never be executed under the valiant eyes of the formidable Indian Armed Forces, who are given ‘free hand’ in operational decision making by the Modi regime. Both Beijing and its ‘client State’ Pakistan is today getting rattled by India’s fast road-rail-tunnel-airstrips building projects across the LoC-LAC in bridging the vital military-strategic gap.
Today, as a part of the multi-billion flagship BRI project i.e. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) rail-road project connecting Pakistan’s Gwadar port via GB region in PoJK to Xinjiang in China, virtually China is the de-facto owner of the entire PoJK region. CPEC sans GB can never materialise. So, the strategic importance of the GB region is far more for China than Pakistan. Vacating the GB region by Pakistan or its takeover by India means the end of the CPEC project worth over $6 billion invested by China. It is but obvious that both Pakistan and China are getting nightmares even in their daydreams of losing this pivotal region, after India’s ruling Modi Government 2.0 taking the bold moves in fully restoring India’s J&K by scrapping Article 370. So, the reason behind China’s current LAC belligerency lies in Kashmir or the ‘K’ factor whose changed status threatens its very CPEC cum BRI dream!
Geo-strategic Importance of Gilgit-Baltistan forSino-Pak Axis
India’s J&K UT, most particularly the GB region, bears great strategic significance for China’s grand Asian geo-strategy and bears even far greater geo-strategic importance for China than that of its ‘satellite State’ i.e. Pakistan. Not only does it give it access to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan’s Gwadar port via ongoing CPEC but also via Aksai Chin in Ladakh connects the capital of its restive Tibet region with equally restive Xinjiang province via the Western Highway. Also, the Karakoram Highway that connects Islamabad of Pakistan with Kashgar in Xinjiang of China goes via the GB region. It is noteworthy to remember and remind ourselves that the Ladakh UT region is also an integral part of the founding father of Red China, Chairman Mao’s infamous ‘Palm and Five Fingers’ territorial aggrandizing cum annexation policy enunciated after the forcible, illegal occupation of Tibet in 1959. “When Tibet was occupied, Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders said, ‘Tibet is the palm which we must occupy, then we will go after the five fingers’. The first finger is Ladakh. The other four are Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh,” as said by Lobsang Sangay, President of the Central Tibet Administration, while speaking to CNN-News18 in June 2020.
After the abrogation of Article 370 and converting Ladakh as UT by PM Modi Government deeply terrifies Beijing of India’s imminent takeover of the Aksai Chin plan which it has been forcibly occupying ever since 1962 Sino-Indian War. Hence, Red China is playing a brain game, short of war with India along the LAC now to put psychological pressure on New Delhi not to ever alter the present status quo in J&K in the future. That’s why Red China can be seen in engaging in attempted and badly backfired misadventures of territorial encroachments, incursions, etc from time to time at the LAC to somehow put pressure on India to maintain the existing status-quo ante along the both LoC and LAC in India’s J&K region. That’s China’s ploy!
J&K is not a ‘bilateral’ but a ‘trilateral’ issue
Most of us in India always parrot this line that J&K is a ‘bilateral issue’ between India and Pakistan. Even all the UN Resolutions on J&K, Simla Pact of 1972, PM level Summits, etc called it a ‘bilateral dispute’. But in reality, J&K is a ‘trilateral issue’ amongst India, Pakistan, and China since not just CoJK in Aksai Chin, China is also in ‘illegal possession’ of Shaksgam Valley in PoJK ceded to it by Pakistan under Karachi Agreement in 1963 via which today China built the strategic ‘Trans-Karakoram’ highway linking it with Pakistan, very close to India’s Siachen glacier. By virtue of two unanimously passed Resolutions in the Indian Parliament in 1963 and 1994, India is committed to the dotted lines that the entire J&K, including PoJK and CoJK, is an integral and indivisible part of the Union of India and to date, 24 seats in the J&K Assembly are reserved for GB region under PoJK. India in August 2019 and in May 2020 asked Pakistan to vacate its ‘illegal occupation’ of the GB region. In a loud signal to that India’s Meteorological (Met) Department started telecasting weather forecasts of many areas of PoJK viz Muzaffarabad, Skardu, etc which rattled Pakistan of India’s imminent takeover of the super-strategic GB region, sooner than later.
Exposing China’s Hypocrisy on Sino-Indian International Boundary
Coming back to the Sino-Indian un-demarcated boundary question, Red China maintains an explicitly duplicitous, Hippocratic stand where it refuses to accept the McMohan Line as the international boundary between China and India by calling it as a ‘wrong colonial era’ line, whereas it accepts the same McMohan Line as the international boundary between China and Myanmar! Again in the Western Sector, China refuses to accept the ‘colonial era’ Johnson Line of 1865 that shows Aksai Chin as part of the Indian State of J&K but accepts another ‘colonial era’ McDonald Line of 1893 that placed Aksai Chin as part of Chinese territory!
Not only that, China from time to time resorted to ‘cartographic invasions’ by placing India’s inalienable territories of J&K, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh as parts of China in its maps. It continues to call India’s Arunachal Pradesh “Southern Tibet” and even briefly resorted to issuing ‘stapled visas’ to the Indian citizens from the state visiting China during 2009-10, which it later withdrew under India’s tit for tat response to the Chinese citizens from Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong visiting India.
Correcting the ‘Nehruvian’ Geo-strategic Blunders by PM Modi
On the J&K question, India is still paying the heavy price of the Nehruvian blunders with Pakistan and China. The truth is that full and unequivocal accession by the then princely state of J&K by its reigning King Raja Hari Singh with the Dominion of India under the British Government enacted ‘Indian Independence Act of 1947’ is already a universally accepted issue under international law and politics. It was PM Jawaharlal Nehru, ill-advised by Lord Mountbatten, the then Governor-General of a post-independent India who took the issue of J&K after it was being attacked by Pakistan sponsored marauding armed raiders in October 1947 first to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and later to the UN Security Council (UNSC) in 1949. This great strategic blunder by the then PM Nehru turned the already settled issue of J&K into a ‘dispute’, further complicating India’s position by ‘internationalising’ an internal issue, to the great benefit of the Sino-Pak axis.
It was also during PM Nehru’s tenure, prior to the 1962 Sino-Indian War, that Red China forcibly occupied around 38,000 square km of India’s Aksai Chin region of J&K in 1959. PM Nehru responded quite nonchalantly in the Indian Parliament to China’s take over it on August 28, 1959, signaling it as some kind of ‘useless, inhospitable area’ where, as he infamously said, “not even a blade of grass grows”. To speak the least, such as the ‘geo-strategic boundlessness’ of PM Nehru to this pivotally vital strategic region of India, long lost to the ideologically cum territorially aggrandizing Red China.
But PM Narendra Modi, who came to power on a landslide poll victory in May 2014 took the first step in ‘righting the Nehruvian wrong’ on J&K by instructing the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) set up in 1949 to vacate its New Delhi office given by the Government on July 7 that year citing Simla Pact of 1972 and ‘obsolete UN resolutions’ (as said by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan) on J&K. With the exit of the UNMOGIP from India since July 2014 – the Sino-Pak axis lost the last alibi they have been relentlessly using so far to internationalise a wholly internal issue of India, no more even a trilateral issue now, forget about even screaming it as an “unsettled dispute” by them now onwards! Thanks to PM Modi’s deft ‘Kashmir’ diplomacy countering the Sino-Pak axis on J&K global strategy.
With the scrapping of the ‘ultra-vires’ or unconstitutional Article 370 on 5th August 2019 – India’s aim to fully restore and integrate J&K in its pre-1947 territorial boundaries with the rest of India i.e. Bharat is completed now. What remains, however, is India’s will and pledge before ‘WE, the People of India’ to take back PoJK and CoJK at an appropriate time of India’s choosing from Red China and Islamic Pakistan’s ‘illegal cum forcible occupation’ under the nationalist regime of PM Modi in near future is on the reckoning. Time is running out for the Sino-Pak axis.
Let’s, therefore, never allow Red China’s periodical belligerency or bellicosity at the LAC, taking full advantage of the ‘Made-in-China’ Wuhan Virus led ongoing global pandemic, to out focus or distract a globally applauded ‘democratic’ India, proudly celebrating 75th years of her Independence, from the geostrategically pivotal ‘K’ factor. So, let’s always be focused on it.