China’s ‘Forward Policy’ on Kashmir

Presentation: Jabin T. Jacob, “Interpreting China’s ‘Forward Policy’ on Kashmir,” Conference on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir: Internal Dynamics and Externalities, Department of Strategic and Regional Studies, University of Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, 28 March 2011.

Summary: While Pakistan remains a vital cog of China’s South Asia policy it is important to note that the superlative is not applicable in Sino-Pak relations; rather, a range of factors influence Chinese policy including India, the United States and now the progress and consequences of the American drawdown in Afghanistan. Kashmir is but one factor in the larger Chinese calculus.

Further, as important as China’s geopolitical interests in the region are, it has other wider interests globally on which India, more than Pakistan, is an important actor. Thus, whether on climate change or global trade negotiations and in a variety of multilateral organizations ranging from the Kunming Initiative to the Russia-India-China trilateral and the BRICS grouping, India is a key player that China has to engage with. Against such a backdrop, China tries both to prevent India from truly rising to challenge China as well as to ensure that it can work together with India when necessary. Given Indian sensitivities over Kashmir, China’s Kashmir policy forms a useful leverage with India. But there is a fine balance that China needs to achieve which will be increasingly difficult as India grows more powerful on the world stage and if Pakistan continues to remain unstable. China will therefore, have to make some important choices in this regard, in the future.

Meanwhile, India too can contribute to modifying China’s Kashmir policy in its interests. On the positive side of things, showing greater interest in border trade across the LAC with both Tibet and Xinjiang and through them with the rest of China is one way. But most measures will have to be non-Kashmir-specific in nature including greater openness of the Indian economy as a whole to Chinese investments and trade with China. In the more negative set of actions are of course, classic geopolitical games such as balancing with the US or a host of China’s smaller, neighbours fearful of its rise.

What methods China or India will adopt, however, remain to be seen.

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