China’s role vital in sensitive South Asia

By Zhao Gancheng Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/9 21:03:40

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L), Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (C) and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani attend the 3rd China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, Sept 7, 2019. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi kicked off a visit to Pakistan on Saturday and also attended the third China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue in Islamabad. Wang's visit has come amid rising India-Pakistan tensions. 

Pakistan Federal Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said on Saturday that Pakistan rejected the use of its airspace to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind for his flight to Iceland late in September due to what he called continued aggression and oppression of Kashmiris in India. Some observers say Wang may act as mediator in the Kashmir dispute in Islamabad during his trip there. However, I don't agree with this.

As long as India and Pakistan don't head for an armed conflict, China would not play an active role in reconciling ties between the nuclear-armed neighbors. 

Mediation has to be approved from both sides. New Delhi will not accept Beijing's mediation over relations with Islamabad. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on August 26 that all issues between India and Pakistan are bilateral and rejected any scope for third-party mediation between the two countries. Furthermore, because of close China-Pakistan ties, India may not trust China's mediation. 

Pakistan-India tensions have been a complicated issue and China may try to avoid meddling. But as a neighbor, it would be tough for China to stay out. 

Pakistan's strategic trust in China is relatively high. The two countries are "iron brothers" who have forged time-tested friendship and have established all-weather strategic cooperative partnership. The new row with India over the status of Kashmir poses a great challenge for Pakistan, which may try to seek China's support and discuss the current situation and its ideas on Kashmir with China. Beijing would provide some advice and assistance from the perspective of regional security.

The current situation is a bit delicate. Indian media outlets have reported that the second informal summit between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled in India from October 11 to 13. Amid strained Pakistan-India tensions, how will Islamabad interpret the upcoming meeting? Wang may have addressed Pakistan's concerns on Xi's trip to India.

New Delhi may have expected Islamabad's disappointment over Indian media reports of Xi's visit to New Delhi, but meanwhile, it may hope for the success of Wang's Pakistan trip. China has asked both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint. A statement issued by Pakistani Foreign Office said China and Pakistan had an in-depth exchange of views on the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and regional matters, particularly the situation in Kashmir during Wang's meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. The more successful Wang's trip is, the more restrained Islamabad will be over the Kashmir issue - this is what India hopes to see. When the Kashmir issue is under control, India can devote more resources to dealing with its domestic problems.

Attending the third China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers' Dialogue was another point on Wang's agenda. China firmly supports the Afghan reconciliation and reconstruction process and has been a significant participant. Peace in Afghanistan is consistent with China's interests as it is pivotal to the implementation of the China-initiated Belt and Road Initiative in the region.

Washington is also a crucial stakeholder in the Afghan peace process. However, US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that he halted peace talks with Afghanistan's Taliban leaders as Trump believed "in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great soldiers, and 11 other people." The incident is confusing. It is supposed that there may be some forces behind it to undermine peace talks between the US and Taliban, but it remains unknown where the forces come from.

But China's role will become more prominent with Trump suspending Afghan peace talks. China will continue to contribute to maintaining regional peace and security.

The author is a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.


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