Beijing to pursue own agenda in Kashmir dispute

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 September, 2002, 12:00am

Beijing will keep its own strategic interests in mind when formulating policy on the Kashmir conflict, according to a Chinese expert on Sino-Indian relations.

'China will not side with Pakistan unconditionally on the Kashmir conflict. It will make its own independent judgment and give its own specific responses,' said Professor Zhang Li, research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University.

Speaking at a seminar on Sino-Indian relations sponsored by Hong Kong University's Centre of Asian Studies, Professor Zhang said China would no longer always support long-time ally Pakistan and would take a more pragmatic role in the disputed region.

India and Pakistan have remained close to confrontation this year over Kashmir after India accused Pakistan-backed Kashmiri separatists of launching terrorist attacks in India, including a deadly attack on the Indian parliament last December.

Professor Zhang said Beijing played a critical but low-key role in defusing the tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

'China used its special relationship with Pakistan to press President Pervez Musharraf to take concrete measures to relieve the situation,' Professor Zhang said.

According to the academic, Beijing encouraged General Musharraf to arrest Islamic militants and to offer a peaceful handshake to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee at the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation summit in Kathmandu in January.

While the reasons for Beijing's pressure on Pakistan to act against extremist groups were complicated, Professor Zhang said Beijing was mostly driven by the desire to build positive relations with New Delhi.

'China's thinking is more pragmatic. It must take into consideration the larger security and global trends. India is a nation China can establish bilateral ties with for its own security,' Professor Zhang said.

He said China's desire to work with India, with which it fought a brief border war in 1962, had been driven by the US war on terrorism which has led to the expansion of the US military presence in Central Asia.

By playing a positive role over Kashmir, he believed Beijing had improved relations with India, thereby alleviating a major strategic concern for Beijing.

'China and India can move forward on expanding economic co-operation which could lead to future co-operation on political and security issues,' Professor Zhang said.

However, he said Beijing remained wary of closer political and military ties between New Delhi and Washington.

In April, Washington sold eight long-range, weapon-locating radars to India.

'Closer relations with the US can cause strong pressure for both sides to react,' Professor Zhang said.