Sino Indian relations appear to be heading for another trough with Indian media rife with stories how Beijing has snubbed New Delhi raising the issue of Jammu and Kashmir by refusing to grant visa to Lt Gen B S Jaswal, India’s front line army general commanding forces in that State bordering Pakistan. The cycle of acrimony is likely to resume after a period of high voltage diplomacy over the past year or so. Underlying the current stand off over the visa however is the larger conflict of relations between China, India and the United States with each state suspicious of the other two getting too cozy with each other for comfort. But first the episode of the visa.
The denial of visa to Lt General B S Jaswal is possibly one of a series of slights by China not just to the Indian government but the sovereignty of Jammu and Kashmir while never questioning illegal occupation and ceding of territory of the State by Pakistan. China has thus been issuing only stapled visas to the people hailing from Jammu and Kashmir calling it a disputed state, on the other hand it is selectively permitting some academics that possibly are seen in a favourable light to visit that country from the State unhindered. There were also attempts at denial of visa to citizens from Arunachal Pradesh including government officials however the Jammu and Kashmir issue has come up over the past two years only.
India has retaliated strongly suspending defence interaction. However a statement from the Chinese Ministry of Defence Press sent to Reuters news agency indicated that, “China has not suspended military exchanges with India, and nor has it received any notification from India of any such suspension. China takes seriously developing military ties with India, and we are confident that both sides will stay focused on the broader picture of bilateral ties between our two countries, acting in a spirit of consultation and unity to promote the healthy development of military ties.”
Chinese ambassador to India Zhang Yang who was reportedly summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi surprisingly feigned ignorance though his consular and visa section is responsible for issuing approvals and promised to come back with more information?
Indian officials too seem to want to play down the issue with Defence Minister A K Antony stating, "There may be some short-term problems, but they will not come in the way of the country's overall approach towards our neighbour." This would be indicative of the largely conciliatory approach adopted from time to time with Dr Man Mohan Singh and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao exuding warmth in personal relations.
The reports in the Chinese media most of which is official interpretation of the developing situation are not yet very clear, thus there is likely to be some time before the Chinese come up with an official version of the present stand off resulting in denial of visa to the General, mean while a lot of speculation in the Indian media in particular is anticipated.
China is also sensitive apart to the boundary issue and to India’s proximity with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, while India sees him as a cultural leader widely respected across the World and an inspiration not just to Tibetans but many Indians and people from other countries as well, China envisages him to be a political figure. Thus Indian acceptance of Tibet as an autonomous region of China has not been able to satisfy the Chinese who have recently complained of the meeting between Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh and the Dalai Lama.
Indians may be surprised as these differences have come against the backdrop of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s meeting his counterpart in April, President Pratibha Patil’s State visit to China in May and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon’s dialogue in Beijing in July. Indian Human Resources Development Minister Mr Kapil Sibal is due to visit China in September to attend the World Economic Forum and also finalize a bilateral exchange programme for students of the two countries.
The Pakistan factor may also be playing a major role in the present contestations, as China is not unwilling to play proxy on behalf of Islamabad. Noted columnist Selig Harrison, a South Asian specialist and one supposedly having information sources across some intelligence agencies and who is reported to have predicted the Indo Pakistani conflict in 1965 almost a year in advance has also written of presence of 11,000 troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistani occupation in the garb of expansion of the Karakoram Highway indicating strengthening of a larger Sino Pakistan axis from the all weather friendship which may lead to Indian concerns of Chinese presence in the region.
Placed in the larger context is the ongoing struggle for power globally. While the United States remains the primary state, its influence has been greatly circumscribed over the years due to financial crisis at home and military overreach abroad. Thus Washington is seeking partners to support the economy as well as influence regional politics to advantage. Two possible partners in this sphere are China and India the emerging economic power houses, as well as having the population and relative military clout to influence regional affairs.
China is extremely sensitive to India cozying up to the United States, while India of an emerging G 2 or a Sino American axis which will marginalize it economically as well as politically. These nuances are leading to a situation of mutual suspicion and adversely impacting a geographically natural Chindia or a China India alliance in the region. Thus paradoxically there appears to be a conflict between, Chindia versus Amendia against G2 and given the reality of global polity the contestations will continue in the days ahead.