In Part 2, we looked at China's naval expansion in the direction of the Indian Ocean, and in Part 3, we looked at the growing threat China poses to the US Navy. Here, we begin to consider Chinese disputes with India.
First, we review The mystery of missing thousand miles in J&K by C. Raja Mohan, December 19, 2010:
As questions of territorial sovereignty return to the centrestage in Sino-Indian relations, Beijing has added a new twist to the long-running boundary dispute between the two countries by knocking off nearly 1,600 km from its definition of China's border with India.
A Xinhua report from Beijing earlier this week on the eve of premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India described the Sino-Indian border as nearly 2,000-km long. The Indian count of the operational border is a lot longer at nearly 3,500 km (not taking into account the line separating Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and China). The discrepancy is too large to be treated as an inadvertent error in Beijing.
So, where did the hundreds of kilometers disappear? China apparently no longer treats the line of nearly 1,600 km separating Jammu and Kashmir on the one hand and Xinjiang and Tibet on the other as a border with India.
That's it in a nutshell - China no longer considers the Jammu and Kashmir border as a border with India; therefore, China must consider this disputed area to belong to Pakistan.
China's recasting of the length of the border with India appears to be part of the Kashmir puzzle that Beijing has unveiled in recent years. The other pieces include the recent policy of issuing stapled visas to Indian citizens from J&K, the reluctance to host a visit by the Northern Commander of the Indian Army Lt. Gen. B.S. Jaswal, the dramatic expansion of the Chinese activity in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir that includes the modernisation of the Karakoram Highway and the plans to construct a new rail line and oil pipeline between Kashgar in Xinjiang and the Gwadar port on Pakistan's Makran coast.
A couple of years ago, a blogger pointed out the evidence of Pakistan's support for the Taliban in the mid-1990's as a means of stabilizing Afghanistan to open up Central Asia for trade via Pakistan, and specifically via the port facilities in Gwadar that China was helping Islamabad to develop:
All these warlords and their armies -- self-appointed toll-collectors -- are not good for any real business. To conduct business, there is a need for security along the highways, and for one understandable and consistent set of rules (and tolls, customs, taxes, etc.) by which to abide. That requires subduing all these warlords, and getting them to toe the line or back off.
Any group that wanted to undertake this task would have the support of the people, whose economy was hurting due to these armies of highwaymen, and of businesses -- not just local businesses, but any business that needed products to traverse Afghanistan.
In this light, it is interesting to note that one year earlier, Pakistan began feasibily studies for development of Gwadar. Gwadar was then planned to become, and is currently being developed as, a major seaport. From here, Central Asian products, especially oil and gas, could be shipped to world markets, and products from around the world could arrive for overland transshipment to the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.
All of this assumes, of course, an overland route to Central Asia that is secure.
There is no point in bringing goods through Pakistan and then sending them to nearby Iran, when Iran has port facilities in its southeast that could be developed, cutting a few kilometers off the trip, and when one does not in any case know what kind of deal one might get from Tehran. Not only would such an Iranian option not benefit Pakistani business interests, but it would also not be as palatable to Western governments and Western business interests.
So, the alternative is to go north through Afghanistan, which has always been a crossroads of greater Asia, and Kandahar is perhaps the first and perhaps the biggest hub along likely routes on the Afghanistan side of the border.
In 1993 the feasibility studies of improving Gwadar as a major seaport begin, and in 1994 the Taliban magically appear in Kandahar, riding shotgun on a Pakistani convoy with a Pakistani consul.
Would it be too paranoid of me to suggest that perhaps China is / was / has been somehow helping to support the Taliban - hoping at first to have the Taliban stabilize Afghanistan, and later hoping merely that the Taliban would bog the US down in another Vietnam-style conflict?
The same blogger also addressed the significance of Karakoram highway upgrades:
The Korakoram Highway is, in many ways, very symbolic.
Winding its way from Islamabad and Rawalpindi northward, the Korakoram Highway skirts areas subject to Indian control as it makes its way to the Chinese border. From there, it skirts the Afghan and Tajik borders as it winds towards China's interior.
As alluded to above in the news article about road upgrades in Tajikistan, the Korakoram Highway upgrade, significant by itself, is nevertheless part of a broader plan, reaching all the way to the development of new port facilities in Gwadar, as the Wikipedia article touches on:
China and Pakistan are also planning to link the Karakoram Highway to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends up to Rawalpindi.
Why is this highway symbolic?
The Korakoram Highway, built under Benazir Bhutto's father, seems to symbolize Pakistan's pragmatism, given the dynamics of international politics.
Now, we see China beginning to establish the legal framework to physically distance India, an enemy common to Beijing and Islamabad, from the important road being upgraded to connect China with Pakistan - a Pakistan which would be rejuvenated by increased trade from Central Asia via a friendly and stable Afghanistan, assuming the Taliban win.
And, even if the Taliban lose, the Indian frontier would still then be miles farther away from this important new line of communication connecting China to key ally Pakistan and all the way to the Persian Gulf - a line of communication the Chinese Army and Air Force could, with Pakistan's help, defend against both the US and Russia!
Stick around for Part 5!