Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the BRICS summit last year. Photo: AFP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the BRICS summit last year. Photo: AFP

An official statement by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Kashmir sparked off a diplomatic tussle with India 24 hours before President Xi Jingping arrives on Friday for the second “informal summit” with Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi.

The statement, which was issued at the conclusion of a state visit to China by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, has complicated a summit that was intended to ease tensions between New Delhi and Beijing on a range of issues. However, Beijing chose to ignore New Delhi’s sensitivity on Kashmir. “The Kashmir issue is a dispute left from history, and should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements. China opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation,” the statement said.

President Xi’s visit to India, planned in June this year, was in limbo because the Chinese government refused to confirm it for weeks, as reported in Asia Times.

New Delhi reacted immediately to the statement. “We reject the reference to Jammu & Kashmir in the joint statement issued by China and Pakistan after the recent visit of Chinese foreign minister. J&K is an integral part of India. On the other hand, India has consistently expressed concerns to both China and Pakistan on the projects in so-called “China Pakistan Economic Corridor,” which is in the territory of India that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947. India is resolutely opposed to any actions by other countries to change the status quo in Pakistan occupied J&K. We call on the parties concerned to cease such actions.”

Indian Foreign Ministry sources told Asia Times that New Delhi feels that the statement was deliberately timed by Beijing to set a more aggressive tone before Xi’s arrival. “They are keen to push for certain concessions. They are also aware that Prime Minister Modi and the government is personally invested in the decision to abrogate Article 370 in Kashmir. The Chinese believe that this can be leveraged to their advantage,” a senior diplomat said.

The current “informal summit” was supposed to be a sequel to the earlier meeting of the two Asian leaders in Wuhan in 2018. By all accounts that summit helped them establish a new bonhomie after the standoff between the Indian, Bhutanese and Chinese armies in 2017.

No concessions

However, India’s decision to change the status of Kashmir has now emerged as a major challenge to bilateral relations. While the decision to hold the second “informal summit” was taken in June, India changed Kashmir’s status on August 5. China issued an official statement rejecting the move and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the move “unacceptable” and urged New Delhi to abide by bilateral agreements and UN resolutions.

“Recently, India has continued to hurt Chinese sovereignty by unilaterally changing domestic law. This act is not acceptable and won’t be in any sense binding,” she said at the time.

Curiously, while the participation of Chinese telecom major Huwaei is high on Xi’s agenda, India has been holding back on a final decision for over a year. However, as a concession to China, India will allow Huwaei to hold a demonstration of its 5G capabilities when the Indian Mobile Congress, the country’s leading telecom conference, takes place on October 14-16.

New Delhi is also worried about a trade deficit with China in the region of US$57.86 billion. India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has warned that the ongoing negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with members of the Association of South East Asian Nations could lead to a widening trade deficit. New Delhi has also steadfastly opposed China’s Belt and Road Initiative and believes it hurts its claims in the parts of Jammu and Kashmir that have been under Pakistan’s control since the first India-Pakistan war in 1947.

Officials are now fairly confident that the two-day “informal summit” is likely to be a non-starter and unlikely to deliver anything concrete. “The government has major domestic compulsions and any concessions at this stage will be seen as weakness,” a senior Indian government official said. “Traditionally, India maintains a very careful stance on the bilateral with China. Our media is never encouraged to report or comment on it, unlike the bilateral with Pakistan. This allows both sides to be pushed into taking decisions that could be perceived negatively by domestic audiences. But the joint statement issued by China ahead of the visit has changed that,” the official said.

So far China has not pushed the Kashmir issue as much as anticipated by the Indians earlier. The annual round of talks between the two special representatives to resolve outstanding border disputes has also not been held for the first time since 1998.

Also read: Kashmir must not overshadow India-Turkey ties

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