At around 27 degrees celsius, Beijing is a lot more comfortable than Delhi at 32 degrees (although not many in the Indian capital may complain given frequent downpours). But for Indian journalists participating in the High Level Media Forum in Beijing, this is an interesting time to be there given that the forum is meeting for the first time after the Doklam standoff in 2017.
Even more interesting are the recent moves on Kashmir by the Indian government and what many in India see as China’s studied effort to draw a distinction between its interests in Kashmir and those of Pakistan’s.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quoted as saying (after talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi) that “China believes unilateral actions that will complicate the situation should not be taken”. The reference to India’s action is unmistakable but Wang Yi then goes on to call for resolving differences over Kashmir by adhering to UN Security Council resolutions (which called on Pakistan to withdraw its forces) and bilateral agreements (meaning Shimla Agreement 1972, which India has no problem with).
The impression is that China wanted to keep its little “Iron Brother” happy while not wanting to upset the Indian apple cart: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is in Beijing for talks with Wang Yi and also to finalise the details of President Xi Jinping’s “informal summit” with Narendra Modi later this year in India.
There is a view in Indian diplomatic circles that China would have said nothing about India’s action on Kashmir if Union Home Minister Amit Shah had not declared in Parliament that Pak Occupied Kashmir and China-held Aksai Chin were part of India. But it is also argued that China’s occupation makes it a player in Kashmir and India needs to sensitize the nation to that. A settlement with China on the disputed border is not imminent since Beijing sees leverage in keeping it so. Nor is it likely that it will abandon Pakistan. But India and China are too big not to talk to each other and they also understand the need to talk at various levels.
EAM Jaishankar’s talks in Beijing will be an important barometer of how the relationship is faring, and not just because of Kashmir. India’s ballooning trade deficit with China (and the latter’s reluctance to address it substantively) is a major irritant; China’s reported warnings to India on excluding companies like Huawei in 5G presents opportunities and concerns; India’s wariness about Belt & Road keeps China out of a lucrative market.
In a word Jaishankar’s plate is full but China must be willing to share from that plate. Platitudes and slogans (which the Chinese are good at) will not do any more. India’s move on Kashmir is an indication (and warning?) that patience is no longer a virtue, and the country will continue to move the goal posts in other areas. The time to get on board is now.