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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 01:40 GMT 02:40 UK
China and the Kashmir crisis
Indian soldier in Kashmir
India and China have long been mistrustful


China has long been involved in a triangular relationship with Pakistan and India, and is now a reluctant and silent third party to the dispute over Kashmir.

Enlarge image Enlarge map
Beijing has traditionally supported Pakistan against India, but now in the post-Cold War era the Chinese have distanced themselves somewhat from Pakistan in order to cultivate better relations with India.

Nevertheless China has a strategic interest in the survival of Pakistan and it will not want to see it drawn into a war which it cannot win, nor will it want to see its government humiliated.

The Chinese approach is determined by three broad considerations; border issues, geopolitics and international strategy.

Borders

China has contained India by cultivating its neighbours and by blocking Indian aspirations to be the dominant power in the southern reaches of the Himalayas

There is a contested border with India, and India has not forgotten its defeat by China in a border row in 1962.

China also borders Kashmir and the Indians do not recognise the border agreement the Chinese reached with Pakistan over the section of Kashmir under Pakistani control.

Although the Chinese and Indian sides have been unable to resolve their border dispute, they have nevertheless agreed in recent years to take various measures to reduce tension and the possibility for conflict along the lines of control that separate their two forces.

Geopolitics

From a geopolitical point of view, China has consistently sought to constrain Indian power and confine it essentially to the region of South Asia.

Nuclear capable Shaheen-1 missile
if there is a Pakistani nuclear strike, China will be blamed for supplying the technology
In addition to the strategic interest in not having to confront a single powerful neighbour to the south of the Himalayas, China is also concerned by the residual Indian interest in Tibet.

After all India still harbours the Dalai Lama and his unofficial government in exile.

China has contained India by cultivating its neighbours and by blocking Indian aspirations to be the dominant power in the southern reaches of the Himalayas.

Thus China continues to refuse to recognise India's claims to Sikkim, it encourages Bangladesh to stand up to India and above all China has supported India's arch-rival Pakistan.

In the 1965 Indo-Pak war China went so far as to threaten to open a second front against India.

But its main support has been expressed through the supply of arms.

Once Pakistan was confined to its western sector in 1971 it became no match for Indian power.

The Chinese have sought to redress the balance by helping Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons and missile technology.

Despite repeated Chinese denials the evidence supplied by the Americans is overwhelming on this score.

International strategy

From a wider international perspective, India and China were rivals in the Cold War era.

From the 1970s this was reflected in American support for China and the Soviet alliance with India.

China is anxious to avoid trouble with the US

Since the end of the Cold War, however, India and China have scaled down their enmity and have found reason to co-operate, more especially in managing relations with the sole superpower, the United States.

But after 11 September matters became more complicated.

Both China and India have drawn closer to the US - India perhaps more so than China.

Indeed India and the US held joint military exercises for the first time in May.

But China is anxious to avoid trouble with the US at a time of leadership succession, and at a time when it has to adjust to the terms of entry to the World Trade Organisation.

Moreover, China has benefited to an extent from the "war on terror", which has enabled it to suppress resistance to its rule in its Central Asian province of Xinjiang.

Nevertheless the Chinese eye warily the American military presence in Central Asia.

Nuclear fall-out

Thus from a Chinese point of view the crisis in Kashmir has come at a most difficult time, and it is clear that the Chinese are not best pleased with their Pakistani friends for provoking it.

The Chinese are very much opposed to the possible use of nuclear weapons

The Chinese opposed the Pakistani incursion into Kargil 18 months ago, and on this occasion it is clear that the Chinese have withheld support from Pakistan.

They have not joined Islamabad in calling for an international settlement of the Kashmiri issue, but have implicitly sided with New Delhi in calling for dialogue between the two.

Although they have not said so publicly, the Chinese are very much opposed to the possible use of nuclear weapons.

It is they who will be blamed for having supplied Pakistan, and they too have much to fear if the psychological barrier to their use were to be broken.

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