A few months ago, when China sent a diplomatic protest (demarche) to India regarding proposed oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea off Vietnam, India had refused to entertain it. Instead, in its reply, India told China that it should stop its activities in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK).
In fact, India has followed up its criticism with another strongly worded representation to China, issued a few weeks ago, asking it to stop its activities in PoK. India said Pakistan was in illegal occupation of that part of Kashmir and Chinese activities were in contravention of international norms. In Vietnam, India’s ONGC and Petro Vietnam are in a joint venture in oil exploration in the South China Sea. India bought BP’s assets in the project after it exited in 2006.
India has particular concerns on two infrastructure projects by China in PoK: the Diamer-Bhasha dam and upgradation of the Karakoram Highway. While China has insisted that these are all civilian in nature, India remains concerned that the Chinese presence here poses a security threat. In 2010, foreign minister SM Krishna told his Chinese counterpart that Kashmir was a “core” issue for India in the way that Tibet and Taiwan were “core” issues for China. This was in response to the stapled visas that China issues to Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir.
Answering questions in Rajya Sabha last month, the foreign ministry had said, “Government is aware that China is executing infrastructure projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Government has raised this issue with the Chinese side and has clearly conveyed India’s consistent position that Pakistan has been in illegal occupation of parts of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir since 1947. Government has conveyed its concerns to China about their activities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and asked them to cease such activities.”
During a recent visit to China by Pakistan president Asif Zardari, he took along the PM and other notables from PoK even to Xinjiang. This was accepted without question by the Chinese authorities. Given that China issues stapled visas to Indians from J&K on the grounds that it was “disputed”, the Chinese silence on the PoK presence in the Zardari delegation was interpreted as meaning that China considered PoK a legitimate part of Pakistan. This would be double standards, said Indian officials.
In April 2011, the Northern Army commander, Lt Gen KT Parnaik, had said at a seminar, “Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistan and the Northern Areas is increasing steadily… There are many people who are concerned about the fact that if there was to be hostility between us and Pakistan, what would be the complicity of Chinese. Not only they are in the neighbourhood but the fact is that they are actually present and stationed along the LoC.”
It’s unlikely that China will back off from its PoK presence, just as it will be difficult for India to do so in the South China Sea as well. China pushed matters there recently by harassing an Indian ship in the waters. This prompted India to clearly articulate its position that it considered South China Sea to be international waters and that India stood for freedom of navigation in these waters.