The September 2013 Chinese President unveiling of the continental Silk Road idea, construction of dual use infrastructure development projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, military exercises with Pakistan armed forces and domination efforts in the region have all contributed to frictions with India in the recent period. These Chinese activities are closer to the Indian controlled Siachen Glacier and suggest to the unfolding tensions between China and India in the coming future. Suggestions for the demilitarization of the Siachen Glacier came in the backdrop of the Chinese forays in the region often with military backup or even presence.

While historically, China is hardly connected to the region – except through trade in the traditional Silk Road, its activities recently have raised concerns. China’s first formal connection to the region dates back to March 2, 1963 when a frontier agreement between China and Pakistan was signed. While article 6 of the agreement clearly mentioned that at a future date this agreement could be revived in finding a solution to the Kashmir issue, recent Chinese statements and activities indicate to a different direction: that the frontier agreement signed in 1963 is final and hardly anyone could make amends to the agreement. Indeed, China not only made statements in this regard but also has recently consolidated its position in these areas by executing infrastructure projects connecting to areas ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963, to Xinjiang and others.

Pakistan and China both shared land belonged to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in 1963, a year after the India-China border clashes. While Pakistan, in its 1962 official Survey of Pakistan map, claimed jurisdiction till areas near Qizil Ribat, Konlik and other areas that were far north of the traditional international boundaries of the J&K and inclusive of vast tracts of Xinjiang, it settled in 1963 for far less- a difference of more than 12,000 square miles of claimed area which was ceded to China. It also appeared that Pakistan completely ignored, in the 1963 settlement, the fact that the Mirs of Hunza used to possess customary rights over the grazing lands in the region. Likewise, the Chinese official map of 1960 was pitched far south of the traditional international frontier that starts south of the Karakoram pass and included areas east till Sia Pass, Shimshal Pass up to Kilik Dawan. However, the traditional international frontiers ran eastwards from Karakoran Pass through Marpo Pass, Aghil Pass, Kunjerab Pass (between these two Passes well north of the Sakshgam River), Parpik Pass, Karchanai Pass, Mintaka Pass and eastwards. The Postal Maps of China published in 1917, reprinted in 1919 and 1933, confirm to most of this traditional frontier.

Prior to these claims and counterclaims by China and Pakistan, the local governments of the yore made treaties to indicate to the extent of land controlled. These treaties were between the kingdoms of Ladakh and Tibet in 1684 and with Kashmir in 1842. Subsequently, the imperial powers of Qing China, British India and Czarist Russia were making inroads and extending claims over extant frontiers. While traditional kingdoms of Ladakh considered the Himalayas as natural boundaries, British Indian compulsions of opposing Czarist inroads and security of the vast empire led to a possible “agreement” with Qing Chinese officials to limit the empire’s frontiers till the Kunlun ranges. The 1899 MacDonald’s proposal to China for defining frontiers is cited in this context. This has been the case with Chinese warlord Zhao Erfeng from Sichuan province in the Eastern sector who tried to incorporate all the five Himalayan states in Chinese jurisdiction from 1900s onwards. Earlier, Li Yuanping made inroads in the Western sector from the late 19th Century. Between 1890 and 1892, local Chinese officials intruded in areas south of the Karakoram Pass and claimed jurisdiction over these areas.

The process of settling and firming up the frontiers were influenced by several objectives on the part of both Pakistan and China. As elaborated by W. M. Dobell, in May 1961, the Pakistan foreign minister Manzur Qadir has declared that his country made certain proposals to China on the resolution of the border dispute. The Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, apparently, downplayed this factor in his interactions with Nehru a few months later. Nevertheless, with no concessions available from the Indian side during the three talks between India and China in New Delhi, Beijing and Rangoon in 1960, China decided to firm up border settlement with Pakistan and denied any Indian role west of the Karakoram pass.

From this time on, according to the Chinese view, Western sector with India commences from Karakoram Pass in the north down to the area in the south of the Nagari prefecture of Tibet, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. The Aksai Chin and other contiguous areas cover about 38,000 square kilometres. However, Xinjiang [meaning in Chinese, new frontier] itself has been incorporated by the Chinese imperial dynasties. This also contradicts with the high Chinese official Hong Dazhen’s map handed over to the British Indian officials at Kashgar in 1893 which depicted Aksai China and other contiguous areas as part of India. Thus, inconsistencies in the Chinese position on territorial claims in this region are obvious.

Despite the earlier tensions with China related to Taiwan, Tibet, SEATO pact and other issues, Pakistan was willing to concede Kashmir territories to China given the fast changing situation in the subcontinent with the US arms supplies to India in the wake of the 1962 war and given its own tensions with the US under the SEATO alliance system. By making adjustments with China, Pakistan could gain a long-term ally in China to counter India. Also, events related to the “all-weather” relations between China and Pakistan confirms such position.

Events related to Sino-Pak frontier settlement were swift following the emergence of differences between China and India in 1962. By May 3, 1962 a provisional agreement on the border between the Chinese and Pakistan side was quickly cobbled up. S.K. Dehlavi, the Pakistan foreign secretary, was credited to have crafted the main points of this agreement with China. In the final agreement signed on March 2, 1963, Pakistan claimed to have received about 750 square miles of land from China (mainly for making salt at Shamshal and other grazing grounds), access, or in some cases part control, of some passes in the region. The agreement mentioned that this is based on traditional customary lines, but as the discussion above indicated the traditional international frontier was ignored by both sides as the basis of the settlement. That the agreement is not purely for demarcating borders between the two countries but had other strategic considerations is revealed by the preface of the agreement which cited that this “also help safeguard Asian and world peace”. In addition, the agreement was arrived at with “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation”- code words for ensuring security and swapping of territories. In the light of the statements of leaders of Pakistan and China in the wake of the signing of the agreement it can be safely surmised that an “all-weather” relationship is emerging between the two with India as the common adversary. The then Pakistan foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, for instance, told the National Assembly on July 17, 1963 that “An attack by India on Pakistan involves the territorial integrity and security of the largest state in Asia [China?] and, therefore, this new element and this new factor that has been brought in the situation is a very important element and a very important factor”. The then Chinese foreign minister Chen Yi, likewise, highlighted the “new stage” that the bilateral ties are A road sign on way to Khunjerab The China Pakistan road.poised to achieve as a result of the border negotiations between China and Pakistan.

India’s reaction to the Sino-Pak agreement was highly critical. It issued a lengthy statement on March 16. India also lodged a protest with the United Nations regarding this agreement as violating the late 1940s UN Security Council Resolutions. Prime Minster Nehru, while making a statement in the Indian Parliament said that by this agreement, China “is directly interfering in Indo-Pakistan relations.” As expected, for several decades to come, China- Pakistan relations flowered following the signing of the agreement and indicated that the “all-weather” relationship is at least partly directed against India. Subsequent events related to the Indo- Pak wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999 had elements ranging from active Chinese support to Pakistan to passive acknowledgment of the Pakistani positions on the Indian subcontinent to the detriment of India. This perhaps was the backdrop for the Indian military positions on Siachen Glacier through Operation Meghdoot. Certain Chinese military journals have observed that control over this Glacier provides Indian military forces advantage over not only Skardu airfield (under Pakistan’s control) but also has implications to the future battlefield in Xinjiang, specifically the Karakorum Highway as both of these are roughly about 100 km from either side of the Glacier. This is the context for the recent renewed efforts by the Chinese troops reportedly stationed in POK and their construction activities in the region. In other words, China is attempting to encircle India through the Xinjiang-Gilgit and Baltistan areas with the help of Pakistan, while on the Aksai China- Ladakh sector as well we have witnessed a stepped-up activity as witnessed in the Depsang Plains incident in April 15-May 6, 2013 incident China’s troops marched 19 km into the Indian claimed areas, besides constructing underground defence networks in the region.
China’s border consolidation efforts in the region have paid it rich dividends. For one, these have completely bifurcated and denied any Indian access to the region and contributed to the frequently cited phrase “all-weather” relationship. In 1967, China and Pakistan constructed a road from Xinjiang into Gilgit through the Mintaka pass. While this road was meant to further trade contacts between the two countries, in 1969 both of them began constructing another road for, among others, military purposes. The road from Mor Khun in northern Kashmir to Khunjerab pass on the Kashmir-Xinjiang border, was to provide easy access to the Chinese troops from north-east Kashmir and from Tibet to the Gilgit area. On August 22, 1982, China signed an agreement with Pakistan on the issue of opening of the Khunjerab pass connecting the Karakoram Highway built across the Pak Occupied Kashmir, with the Chinese road network linking Tibet with Xinjiang through Aksai Chin. The 650 km road along the Indus Valley linking Havalian in the Hazara district of the North West Frontier Province through Gilgit and Hunza across the Mintaka Pass connects the road system of Tibet and Xinjiang. This highway was extended through a 120 km long feeder road in the north-easterly direction so that access to Tibet could be cut short. Another consideration was that the northwesterly Mintaka Pass is more vulnerable to the then Soviet interdiction from Afghanistan.
These roads have been further consolidated and upgraded in the recent period, with plans to construct railway lines as well in the future connecting the Western Development Campaign areas of China and Northern Areas with the interior of Pakistan and thenceforth to Karachi and Gwadhar. But for the active opposition in Baluchistan and other areas, perhaps these efforts at consolidation could have gone unhindered. Still, recent reports indicate that China is serious- despite Indian opposition – in undertaking dual use facilities in the POK region.
Border consolidation and domination efforts are also facilitated by the armyarmy “friendship” exercises and air-to-air “Shaheen” exercises between China and Pakistan. Given the sensitivities of the Al Qaeda training Uighurs in Waziristan, both countries have conducted counterterrorism exercises in Taxkorgan area in Xinjiang in August 2004 and in December 2006 in Abbotabad in Pakistan and at Yinchuan in China. These activities suggest that the Chinese forces intend to stay not only in areas closer to the Siachen Glacier but consolidate their domination efforts.

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