The recent history of Asia presents two crucial events which were observed immediately after World War II. One of them is the People’s Republic of China foundation on October 1949, as a result of a terrible civil war, in which the Chinese Communists defeated the Kuomintang forces, forcing the retreat of the Chinese Nationalist army to the Taiwan Island. The other event, no less important, happened two years earlier, on August 1947, when the British Empire, weakened by the Second World War, agrees to grant independence to its largest colony, India. Then two countries were set forth, Pakistan and India, the first one designed to meet the Muslim community demands, and thus separated the two main religious communities which had a long history of disputes and serious difficulties of coexistence. Despite the huge human cost to make this split, which is estimated to have displaced 12 million people between the two countries, this measure was not enough to bring regional peace. The Kashmir region, a province located in northwestern India with a Muslim majority, chose to join the Indian federation, due to an arbitrary decision made by its ruler Maharaja Hari Singh, who belonged to the Hindu religion. Since then, several wars between the two countries have occurred as a result of endless disputes over Kashmir control, causing a territorial division of this territory. Despite the fact of these problems were not enough to complete the scenario of strife and regional instability, the Chinese army invaded Tibet and reached full control of the country in 1951, incorporating into the People’s Republic of China. Afterwards India and Pakistan have shared a long common border with China that was quick to claim ownership of several territories, not only in Kashmir, but also in other regions in the India northeast. For the Chinese view point the territories held by Indians had been taken from the Tibetans and transferred to the British during the colonial period, without their consent, at a time when Tibet had enjoyed a relative autonomy from the old Chinese empire, which had been weakened by confronting different invasions from colonial powers.
Disputed territories – The Kashmir
The territorial issue in Kashmir was settled by China when Aksai Chin territory was taken from India during the brief 1962 Sino-Indian war. China has considered this territory as an extension of the Xinjiang province. Aksai Chin is an inhospitable region, practically uninhabited, very cold, temperatures may reach 20 negative Celsius degrees and at an altitude of more than 4,000 meters. The Chinese army quickly took the region, surprising the Indians who had not expected this onslaught.
According to India the entire Kashmir region is an Indian territory, including Aksai Chin, being considered a Jammu and Kashmir state extension. The Indians took as reference the boundary lines set down by the former British Empire in the nineteenth century, when the British was engaged to hinder a possible Russian Empire’s advancement. These lines occasionally included Aksai Chin under British control and sometimes excluded, due to their convenience and interpretation in relation to external threats to the region. Finally, in 1940-1941, the British, fearful that the region could fall under Soviet control, changed the border once again and considered the territory as part of their empire, neither with any kind of prior agreement with Tibetan or Chinese authorities, nor with marking the border or occupying the territory. This situation had continued until Indian independence in 1947. Therefore, India still considers this area part of its country, based on this last border situation.
Pakistan is also not satisfied with the areas under its control and considers the entire Kashmir as part of its country, except for the territories controlled by the Chinese. Following the religious principle which led Pakistan creation, It considers unacceptable that territories inhabited mostly by Muslims are still under India control. Based on data analysis from sources in India and Pakistan, Kashmir has population around 17 million inhabitants. The Pakistani side of Kashmir has a Muslim majority of 99%. However, on the India side there is greater religious diversity, but with a Muslim majority of 95% in the most densely populated regions of Kashmir Valley. The Hindus are a majority only in Jammu, with 66% of Hindus versus 30% of Muslims, and 4% of other religious minorities. In Ladakh, the less populated region, Buddhists account for 50% of the population, versus 46% of Muslims and only 3% of other religious groups.
Disputed territories – The northeast region
In the northeastern India, the Chinese claim control of the Arunachal Pradesh Indian state, a region largely inhabited by people of Tibetan-Burmese origin, with more than 1.3 million inhabitants, which was transferred to the British by the Tibet government in 1914. This territorial agreement was never recognized by the Chinese government that considered Tibet part of the Chinese state. The region has also been the object of a military dispute in 1962, the Sino-Indian War; however it remained under Indian control. This territorial issue is still pending.
China considers India as the replacement of the British Empire in South Asia and hence, as a rival that adopts a colonialist behavior in regions which there is no Hindu majority. China also believes that India hinders the growth of the Chinese businesses in South Asia.
Indeed, the Indians were quick in 1973 to block a possible Chinese action. They interceded in the small kingdom of Sikkim, also in northeastern India, in favor of a Hindu minority’s rebellion against the local monarchy. This minority had demanded greater political representation. Thus, this country of more than 600,000 inhabitants, with a majority of Nepalese ethnic origin and with a Buddhism religion majority, was annexed to the Indian union on May 1975 as an additional state. Although the issue has been approved by popular referendum, the population was placed under the dilemma either accepting to be part of India or running a risk of being annexed by China. Had the Chinese taken control of this state, they might have accomplished an important foothold in the region and they could, in case of war with India, try to block the Indian access to its eastern states by cutting the road communications in West Bengal, in a thin strip of land by around 50 km wide, between Sikkim and Bangladesh. Thus, China could isolate the India army in the northeast region and could allow the Chinese army to take control of Arunachal Pradesh state by force.
India – Economical Siege in its area of influence
The Chinese have long approached of poor countries in the South Asia and East Africa to set up economic and military cooperation agreements. In South Asia, Chinese companies are investing in a strategic network of commercial ports in the India vicinity, besides establishing several projects and investments that will strengthen the Chinese influence, its military and economic ties for decades.
South Asia Map – Chinese activities
In Myanmar is operating the Kyaukpyu harbor which was built by a Chinese company, the Aisa World Company by investment of China National Petroleum Corporation. According to the IDSA – Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in an article published in January of this year by Shivananda H, the Chinese are building a 982 km (620 miles) oil pipeline from this port to Kunming, which is capital of the Yunnan province, and also a gas pipeline from the Shwe Gas off the Arakan coast up to the same city. A highway will be built along these pipelines connecting the port to inland China. The usage of these facilities will enable China to bypass the shipping through Strait of Malacca and cut the distance by around 1,200 km. Hence, this harbor is of considerable strategic importance and may allow a stronger economic integration with Myanmar.
In Bangladesh, according to an article published on June 2011 by the Australian organization Future Directions International, the Chinese have shown interest in modernizing the Chittagong port which moves 92% of country’s imports and exports, and which will become more important when the construction of the pipelines is finished, connecting China to this port. Moreover, the Chinese are cooperating to build a deep water Sonadia port, which will serve to support the region’s countries demands and to provide an important access point to the China southern region, which will be connected to a planned Kunming-Chittagong highway through of Myanmar, and to a projected railroad that will make the link with the China and the Myanmar railway systems. Bangladesh and China signed on March and June of 2010 several assistance and economic cooperation agreements, including the construction of a $1.5 billion nuclear power plant to meet the growing demands of energy. China is also an important first generation supplier of new military equipment, instead of the second hand weapons and outdated technology supplied by the Western powers.
In Sri Lanka, on July 2011, according to PortCalls Asia, a specialized company in news and a data provider for cargo transportation and logistics professionals, the first stage construction of Hambantota port was built by Harbour Engineering Company, a Chinese company, backed by a $425 million Chinese loan. Hambantota is one of four ports being built or upgraded, following the President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s plan to update the $42 billion country economy in accordance with its former and profitable trading hub role. According to The Japan Times online, the Chinese had also an important role in the supply of military equipment that were crucial in defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or “Tamil Tigers”, who fought for an independent homeland in northern and eastern of the island. Besides providing resources to defeat the insurgency, the Chinese also provided political support on international organizations to counter the pressure against the Sri Lanka government involved in assiduous complaints of human rights violations.
In Pakistan, according to the Financial Times in its electronic edition on May 2011, the Pakistani defense minister requested the Chinese to build a military base in the Gwadar Port. This message would have been transmitted to the Chinese government during the visit of Pakistani Prime Minister in May of that year, but there is no official confirmation about that. Although this kind of news seems sensationalist, it could also be true as this base would serve to the Pakistan’s goals to have a powerful ally involved in a military facility which could provide a strong deterrent effect in its disputes with India.
According to The News International, an electronic newspaper of Pakistan, in May 2012, the Chinese would be negotiating with Singapore companies to take over the Gwadar port operation. According to this source, this port was built in 2007 with $500 million in Chinese investment, but it is not fully operational yet. In case of a successful negotiation, it will be an important step for the Chinese to set the regional development under its guidance and to complete a strategic ports network aligned with its main supply lines coming from the Middle East and Africa through the Indian Ocean, Malacca, Sunda and Lombok straits and throughout South China Sea. From a military standpoint this network of ports is the subject of an interesting article by the Indian writer Gurpreet S. Khurana entitled “String of Pearls” in reference to the ports position around India, a fact the Indians consider as a siege and which has provoked alarmist reactions in the Indian media. In this interesting article, strategic and military suppositions are made about the implications to the South Asia if these ports were used as a military support for the Chinese navy.
Aligned with these trade and military possibilities the Pakistani have expressed interest to invest in oil and gas pipelines from Gwadar to China, which would meet the needs of the Chinese fast-growing economy and would also provide transit fees, a new earning source to Pakistan, according to The Express Tribune Network an online Pakistani newspaper.
The close relationship Sino-Pakistani
The unfinished disputes between India and Pakistan led the Pakistanis to develop a close relationship with the Chinese to get military support, which also have been interesting for Beijing in view of its territorial issues with India. A strengthened and allied Pakistan is useful to put India in a defensive position in case of a conflict with China, because the Indians would be in a very difficult situation to deal with two countries at the same time in an extent and militarized border with thousands of kilometers. According to The Limits of the Pakistan-China alliance from Lisa Curtis and Derek Scissors, a relevant article published by Reuters digital edition in January 2012, China was an important supplier of technology and equipment to Pakistan, as well as provided scientific knowledge to the weapon nuclear program and ballistic missiles during 1980’s and 1990’s. In 1992, the Chinese were responsible to provide short-range ballistic missiles and for the construction of a facility to produce this type of weapon near the city of Rawalpindi. In 2004, the Chinese also helped Pakistan to build two nuclear reactors at the Chasma facility in Punjab province, and more recently they have plans to build two additional nuclear reactors in the same site.
Military and Economic scenario
China and India are the two major emerging Asian economies and have recorded economical high growth rates in recent years. Although they are opponents in military and territorial disputes, the countries do a lot of business in the economic area. According to the IMF – International Monetary Fund, China and India’s economic growth in 2011 was 9.2% and 7.1% respectively, and for 2012 the forecast is around 8% and 6.1% respectively. This reduction is directly connected to the current global economic crisis. The direct trade between the two countries is very favorable to China. According to data published in March of this year by Bloomberg Businessweek the bilateral trade between the two giants grew to $73 billion in 2011 up from $63 billion in 2010, but the growth of the trade deficit with China was around 27 billion dollars in 2011, and has become a source of distress in India political sectors. According to the digital edition of The Economist in June 2012 the deficit continues to grow reaching the milestone of $40 billion in March 2012.
The Indian political sectors observe with concern all these economic and military Chinese actions, considering many of them as a siege, and an attempt to keep India in a defensive position. In a quick summary: the close nuclear and military cooperation between China and Pakistan; the Chinese effort to be economically and militarily connected with countries near India, like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; the territorial Chinese claim related to Arunachal Pradesh; the endless dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir’s control and even its own claim over Aksai Chin, keeps the region in a permanent state of tension, where each movement, like in a chess game, may be a threat. There is no propitious scenario to deal with these several issues at the same time, so to change the difficult situation the Indians should put focus on solving their political and territorial issues with the Pakistanis, which could be considered the key question to mitigate the armed clashes risk, reducing the permanent tension that hinders the regional development and depriving the Chinese of an important ally. The very strategic Pakistan position blocks overland access to the Central Asian countries, Afghanistan and Iran, reducing Indian’s possibilities to have a more intense trade at lower cost. However, there is no solution in the political horizon; both on the Indian and Pakistani side, there are no actions to solve the issues. Instead, the situation has conducted India to seek military solutions with powerful deterrent effect, for instance, with the development and launching of its first long-range ballistic missile in April of 2012, which is able of carrying nuclear warheads and achieve targets located 5,000 km away in Asia, as well as targets anywhere in the Chinese territory. This launch puts India in the select group of countries that owns intercontinental ballistic long-range missiles like the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France, showing a clear message to its opponents that India is not willing to tolerate any kind of military aggression against its people and territory. In other words, we may be surrounded, pressed and threatened, but we cannot be easily defeated.
Let us see what is going to happen next.
Social and Political Scientist