China and the Kashmir Issue

Muhammad Ijaz Butt

China has maintained an overall tilt towards Pakistan’s standpoint on Kashmir. Rejecting New Delhi’s claim that Kashmir is an integral part of India, China views Kashmir as a dispute between Pakistan and India. However, the details of China’s Kashmir policy have varied over time. Its emphasis on various methods for resolving the dispute has also shifted from time to time, mainly because of the changes in its South Asian policy and interaction with the West.

In the fifties, Pakistan received some limited support from China. Unlike the Soveit Union, China did not concede that Kashmir belonged to India. But beyond this it adopted a neutral position, favoring neither India nor Pakistan as both were Asian status and neighbours. The Chinese leaders maintained their neutrality even when Pakistan moved close to the West followed by participation in United States’ sponsored alliance system, though the Chinese had strong reservations about Pakistan’s policy of alignment with the West, they showed a lot of restraint in their dealings with Pakistan. However, they cautioned Pakistan and India not to involve the West and specially the United Nations in the settlement of Kashmir problem, but should evolve a solution through their own efforts. This approach could be traced back to 1953 when the Chinese leaders expressed satisfaction at the talks which Prime Ministers Muhammad Ali Bogra and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru conducted in August 1953 outside the ambit of the UN and its organs and declared that this friendly approach to the settlement of disputes through consultations is indispensable to the peaceful settlement of all international issues.

According to the People’s Daily the official newspaper of the Chinese communist party ‘the United Nations during its five years of handling the matter, had only aggravated the Kashmir dispute. The U.N.O was a mere instrumentality of the U.S.A., who wanted to convert Kashmir into a colony and a military base and wished to send her own troops in the valley through manipulations of the Security Council. The People’s Daily endorsed the right of the People of Kashmir alone to determine their own fate and future. It needs to be noted that it was the time when India had not backed out of its commitment to let the people of Kashmir exercise their right of self-determination. During his press conference in Calcutta in December 1956, just before he visited Pakistan, the Chinese Premier Chow En Lai said:

“The Kashmir question is an outstanding question between India and Pakistan. We hope that this question will’ be settled satisfactorily. India and Pakistan are sister countries. There is no dispute between these two countries which cannot be settled. Prime Minister Chou En Lai maintained during his visit to Pakistan in December 1956 that like other disputes among the Afro-Asian Nations Kashmir could also be settled amicably, and that the “colonists” who had originally created this problem should be kept out of it and must not be allowed to meddle with it. “Similar view were expressed during his visit to Ceylon) Sri Lanka in 1957. He did not favour taking this dispute to the United Nations.

In a press conference he said that no good result could be achieved by referring the dispute to the UNO. In his opinion, the West was trying to exploit the Kashmir question in order to disrupt Asian unity. The press in Pakistan criticized this statement and termed this suggestion as the Communist and neutralist line. Later, Mao Zedong declared that China would maintain a neutral position on Kashmir. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister welcomed Mao’s statement and hoped that the Soviet Union would also adopt a similar position.

For a short period of time, Sino-Pakistan relations reached the lowest ebb. A group of nationalist Chinese Muslims pilgrims (from Taiwan) on way to Saudi Arabia for Haj stopped over in Karachi and called on Pakistan’s Foreign Minister. This meeting and their statements were well publicized in Pakistani Press which evoked a strong Chinese protest. Pakistan’s policy on China’s representation in the UNO was also inconsistent. In 1952 Pakistan abstained from voting on the question and in 1959, it had cast a negative vote on China’s proposal for Indo-Pakistan collaboration for defending the sub-continent against a threat from the north which created an unfavorable reaction in china.

When Ayub Khan’s regime came across a Chinese map in October 1959 showing a fairly area in the extreme northern region of Pakistan as Chinese territory, of the frontier with the Chinese government on 23rd October 1959 but there was no response from the Chinese authorities until January 1961. The negotiations moved at a very slow pace in initial stage. Apparently it seemed that China was refusing the discusse this border with Pakistan because of the disputed nature of Kashmir territory. She at that time did not want to get involved in any further conflict with India. Sino-Indian relations had already been strained over Tibet and McMohan line issue. This attitude changed when Pakistan explained to them that it was asking for identification of the line of divide, and that the areas to the north of the demarcated line would be Chinese while the status of the area to the south of the line ‘did not have to determined’. Furthermore, the defense of this area. Pakistan maintained, would be responsibility of Pakistan. This explanation facilitated the dialogue. Additional impetus came from the outbreak of hostilities on the Sino-Indian border in 1962. China’s cautious attitude on Kashmir issue was evident from the text of Pakistan China Border Agreement 2 March 1963, which was signed as a provisional agreement. Article 6 provided that the two parties had agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, the sovereign authority concerned would reopon negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China on this boundary to reconfirm it. A cautious sympathy for Pakistan on Kashmir was manifested in the joint communiqué issued after the signing of this agreement as the Chinese government lauded Pakistan’s efforts for seeking an amicable settlement of the Kashmir dispute. However, an overall position of neutrality on Kashmir was asserted by Chou En lai in an interview with the Associated Press of Pakistan later in the same month. He said:

“Even when we were on friendly terms with India, we took an attitude on non-involvement in the Kashmir issue. We have always cherished the hope that India and Pakistan would settle the Kashmir issue and other issues between them in a friendly way. We hope to see an independent and strong Pakistan, but we have not given up our desire for friendship with India.”

Earlier in December 1962, China welcomed the decision of Pakistan and India to hold foreign Minister level talks on Kashmir.

Change of Policy

As a result of two important developments in the early sixties, Sino Pakistan relations improved a lot and China began to show a major tilt towards. Pakistan vis-à-vis Kashmir issue. The first event was Sino-Indian clash on border dispute in 1962 which spoiled their relations to the maximum. Secondly, Pakistan realizing the futility of western support against India and their hypocritical attitude during the Sino-Indian war began to assert quite independent role in foreign policy matters. Pakistan now firmly supported Chinese position inside and outside the united Nations and completely discarded American sponsored to China’s policy.

When the Chinese Premier Chou en lai visitied Pakistan in February 1964, China also changed its previous position of neutrality on the Kashmir issue and expressed support for the solution of the Kashmir problem in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir as pledged to them by India and Pakistan. Similar views were expressed in the joint communiqué issued at the conclusion of Ayub Khan’s visit to China in March 1965. In September 1965, when India and Pakistan clashed first in Kashmir and later across the international frontier between the two countries, China gave Pakistan much needed political support. Chinese foreign Minister Marshal Chen Yi assured complete Chinese sympathy and support for the freedom fighters in Kashmir who were struggling to liberate valley from Indian domination. The Chinese media began to talk specifically about the exercise of the right of self-determination by the people of Kashmir. The statement of the Chinese government issued on 7 September 1965 containe inter alia:

“The Indian government has always been perfidious on the Kashmir question. It once pledged solemnly with Pakistan to grant the Kashmiri people the right of self-determination. But far from honouring its pledge, it has brazenly declared that Kashmir is a integral part of India and subjected the Kashmiri people to brutal national oppression.
Where there is oppression there will be resistance. It is entirely proper that the people in the Indian occupied Kashmir should rise in resistance. In order to cover up its sanguinary suppression of the Kashmiri people, the Indian government openly breached the ceasefire line in the disputed territory of Kashmir to intrude into the area under the control of Pakistan and carried could out military provocations and armed occupation. This of course could no but arouse Pakistan to counter attack in self defense. India has already committed aggression on Kashmir. Now it has openly launched a massive armed attack on Pakistan. This is still more serious act of aggression.

The Chinese note to Indian, dated 16th September 1965, stated inter alia:

The Chinese government has consistently held that the Kashmir question should be settled on the basis of respect for the Kashmiri people’s right of self-determination or to bury the Kashmir question will neither be countenanced by the Kashmiri people nor by the Pakistani people. The Chinese government and people firmly support the righteous stand of the Pakistan government and the just struggle of the Kashmiri people for their right of self-determination.

China expressed support for the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir in all high level exchanges with Pakistan in the late sixties. The Chinese became more vocal in their support in the early seventies, and talked repeatedly of two matters in an inter-related manner: support for Pakistan’s national independence’, state sovereignty and territorial integrity, and peaceful settlement of the Kashmir problem through the exercise of the right of self-determination by the people of Kashmir. The joint communiqué issued strong and specific references to these matters. The efforts for the realization of the right of self-determination were often described as a ‘just struggle’ of the Kashmiri people. The high ranking Chinese political and military leaders who visited Pakistan during 1972-77 publicly endorsed Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, including the right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

A subtle shift in China’s Kashmir policy took place in eighties when Chinese leaders avoided stress on the right of self-determination and emphasized more than ever the need for a negotiated settlement of this problem through peaceful and direct negotiations in the spirit of the Simla agreement between India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s official circles interpreted this changes as an indirect support to the peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue through the exercise of the right of self-determination, but later the Chinese reverted to the position of neutrality which characterized their policy on Kashmir prior to 1964, and began to call upon Pakistan and India to settle the Kashmir problem and other dispute through peaceful and direct negotiations.

Shift in Policy

The first public expression of the revised Chinese approach to the Kashmir problem was made by Deng Xiaoping in his interview to an Indian Journal “Vikrant” in June 1980. The Chinese President described Kashmir as a bilateral problem between Pakistan and India which the two countries should settle amicably. The Chinese have generally played up the theme of reconciliation in South Asia. China’s Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang avoided a pointed reference to Kashmir during his visit to Pakistan in June 1981., although Pakistan’s President Zia-ul-Haq has raised the issue in his banquet speech. Zhao Ziyang emphasized the need for reconciliation of differences in South Asia, free from outside interference and through consultation on an equal footing.

Several reasons explain the shift in China’s Kashmir policy, especially the absence of any reference of the right of self-determination as a method of solution. First, China’s policy of improving relations with India led to toning down of its statements on Kashmir. Since the revival of diplomatic interaction between India and China in 1976, China worked towards improving its relations with India. China issued less strident statements on Kashmir after 1977-78. In 1981, the absence of an open expression of support to the right of self-determination during Zhao Ziyang’s visit to Pakistan was due to the fact that China’s foreign minister was to undertake a visit to India shortly after Zhao Ziyang’s trip to Pakistan. Therefore, it was not considered advisable to issue a statement on Kashmir that would offend India. Second, China felt that if it wanted the defuse tension in the region; it should avoid involvement in any dispute. This tendency became strong, as the process of normalization of relations between China and India gained some momentum in the eighties. The Chinese leader avoided critical comments on Indian policies towards other South Asian states, and they did not return to the idiom of the seventies of the Kashmir issue. They also urged the reduction of tension in South Asia and called upon the stats of this region to improve their relations. They progressively, adopted a non-partisan attitude towards inter-state disputes in South Asia. Third, the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 overshadowed all other considerations in the eighties so far as the Chinese were concerned. They persistently demand the withdrawal of Soviet troops, supported the resistance cause in Afghanistan and assured Pakistan of unwavering support to its independence and territorial integrity and its resolve to resist Soviet pressure. The Chinese were concerned about the development in Afghanistan after the overthrow of Sardar Daud in April 1978. China was also concerned over Afghanistan’s efforts to revive its irredentist claim on Pakistan’s territory. The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 convinced them that the Soviet-Afghan pressure on Pakistan were part of the Soviet strategy to expand its orbit of influence. Afghanistan figure prominently in Pakistan-China dialogues in the eighties and the two countries accelerated bilateral cooperation in all areas of mutual interest, although China retreated from its high profile support to Pakistan on Kashmir.

The high level diplomatic exchanges between Pakistan and China in 1980-82 focused mainly on the Afghanistan issue. They devoted their attention to finding ways and means for Soviet withdrawl, and China extended cooperation for strengthening Pakistan’s capability to withstand Svoiet pressure. The Kashmir issue during this period was pushed to the background. China’s public statements either avoided reference to the Kashmir issue or talked about its peaceful resolution through bilateral efforts. Pakistan has shown an understanding of china’s silence over the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir in view of the letter’s efforts to develop a functional interaction with India. This was viewed as a tactical change. Replying to questions on Kashmir, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo remarked in 1985 that there should be not doubt about Chinese support to Pakistan on the issue. What sustained this assumption was China’s continued support to Pakistan’s independence and territorial integrity. Bilateral cooperation expanded rapidly over the years in economic, industrial, scientific, technical, defence and cultural fields.

New Posture

After the end of cold war situation, the Chinese leadership had decided to review the whole range of its foreign policy choice. Since the newly emerged world order has changed the priorities of nations, and economic ascendancy took precedence over military muscles and armaments, its leadership decided to improve economic ties with all the countries including India which could provide them an incentive for a huge market to export goods.

Serious efforts began to be made in 1992-93 to improve relations with India. The demise of the Soviet Union had also come as a rude shock to India and forced it to reconsider its options in the new international scenario.

The ambition of the Indian rulers to assume a big power role in the region was still intact but it was no more possible to play up one block against another in order to strengthen their position. In the changed international scenario, India needed to engage China in a friendly discourse till new opportunities to fulfil its dreams presented themselves. In spite of a number of rancorous issues the continued to remain unresolved, there was further improvement in the Sino-Indian relations during the period of 1992-1996. Consequently, there was a more visible change in the traditional Chinese stand regarding the Kashmir dispute; This had also resulted from some short-sighted policies. Fundamentalist group encouraging secessionism in the Chinese province of Xinjiang had received support and encouragement from inside Pakistan. Similar fundamentalist organizations were also reported by the western media and press to be active in Kashmir. While the Pakistan government did not care to allay the Chinese fears, the Indians made the two situations look alike. Pakistan acting like a fundamentalist state, they maintained, was trying to destablish both China and India by encouraging terrorist groups. This made the Chinese look at the struggle of the Kashmiri people in a totally different light. In January 1993, the Chinese officials were reported to have told a delegation led by the former Vice Chief of India Naval Staff that they had conveyed to Pakistan that it should resolved the Kashmir dispute with India peacefully and bilaterally.

In September 1993, Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao made a visit to China. The joint communiqué issued at the end of the visit contained: the two premiers agreed  that the best ways for developing countries was to resist outside pressure and hegemonism by increasing their economic strength through mutual cooperation. China also expressed support for India’s fight against foreign sponsored terrorism. When the Chinese President Jiang Zemin came to Pakistan in December 1996, he stressed upon the Pakistani leaders to shelve their dispute with India over Kashmir and make efforts for normalizing relations and mutual cooperations in different fields.


The Chinese leader did not realize at that time that drawing a border in uninhabited hills is one thing and deciding the fate of millions of people without consulting them in quite another. Furthermore, UN had never been involved in mediating between India and China and there was no Security Council resolution on Sino-Indian border dispute.

When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif went to China early this year he categorically said in a press conference in Beijing that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used against China and that the government was not backing any group or party to work with secessionist element in xinjiang province of China. This undertaking helped to remove Chinese misgivings and doubts in this matter, which ultimately resulted in the revival of traditional Chinese support to Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir issue, though assumption of power in India by the fundamentalists and their hostile approach towards China also paved the way for this development.


  1. Survey of China Mainland Press, no. 642, August 29 – Suptember 1, 1953, pp. 23-24.
  2. Anwar Hussain Syed, China and Pakistan; Diplomacy of an Entent Cordial, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 1974, p.70
  3. Ibid.
  4. S.M. Burke, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy ----- An Historical Analysis, Karachi, Oxford University Press, 1990, p.217
  5. Hafeez-ur-Rehman, “Pakistan Relations with the people’s Republic of China”, Pakistan Horizon, vol. 14, no. 3, 1961, p. 73.
  6. Dawn, Karachi, February 16, 1957. See also: K. Sarwar Hassan, China, India, Pakistan ed., Karachi, PHA, 1966, p. 364.
  7. Ibid., pp. 364-465.
  8. Latif Ahmad Sherwani, Pakistan, China and America, Karachi, Council for Pakistan Studies, 1980, p.34.
  9. Dawn, Karachi, October 10, 1959.
  10. Muhammad Ahsen Chaudhri, Pakistan and the Great Powers, Karachi, Council for Pakistan Studies, 1970, p.87
  11. Muhammad Ayub Khan, Friends not Masters, Karachi , Oxford University Press, 1967, p. 163
  12. K. Sarwar Hasan, op. cit., p. 382
  13. K. Arif, China Pakistan Relations 1947-80, (Documents), Lahore, Vanguard Books, 1984, p. 41.
  14. Anwar H. Sayed, “The politics of Sino-Pakistan Agreements”, Orbis, USA, no. 2, Fall 1967, p. 41.
  15. Latif Sherwani, op. cit., p. 148.
  16. Ibid., p., 151
  17. K. Sarwar Hasan, op. cit., pp. 429-430.
  18. K. Arif .op. cit., p. 86.
  19. K. Sarwar Hasan, op. cit., pp. 431-432.
  20. Sherwani, op. cit., pp. 216-223.
  21. R.K. Jain, ed. China-South Asian Relations 1947-88, vol. 1 New Delhi Radiant Publishers, 1981, p. 544 (Documents no. 492)
  22. Far Eastern Economic Review, June 12, 1981, p. 21.
  23. The Muslim, Islamabad, 24 November 1985.
  24. The Times of India, Calcutta, 19 December 1992.
  25. The Muslim, op. cit., 23 January, 1993.
  26. Beijing Review, October 6-13, p.9.
  27. Dawn, Lahore, 22 December 1996.
  28. The Nation, Lahore 13 February 1998.