NEW DELHI—The Chinese are allegedly building infrastructure for Pakistan on the disputed India–Pakistan border inside Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, a development that is likely to further complicate tensions in the region, over which India and Pakistan have fought multiple wars.
The Indian government is aware of the Chinese presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and said it might be contractors for infrastructure projects or just Chinese military personnel conducting surveys, a source in the government confirmed to The Epoch Times.
The source declined to elaborate. However, Indian media reports have said that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is surveying villages and military posts in the POK with an intention to strengthen Pakistan’s military apparatus.
The Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) cited anonymous sources who noted the presence of 40 PLA soldiers in groups of five to six in various villages, conducting surveys of the villages, Pakistan army posts, and “infiltration routes used by terrorists to reach the Kashmir Valley.”
“India has long been concerned about a two-front challenge: China and Pakistan working together and creating larger issues, and this is one example,” Aparna Pande, the director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times.
The landlocked region of Jammu and Kashmir is geopolitically extremely sensitive since it shares boundaries with Pakistan, the Indian mainland, and both the Xinjiang and Tibet Autonomous regions, which the Chinese Communist Party took over within a decade of India gaining independence from the British in 1947.
While India maintains that it took possession of Jammu and Kashmir by treaty in 1947, Pakistan calls it “India-occupied.” Since 1947, the region has been split into several parts: one controlled by Pakistan that India calls the POK; the easternmost area, called Aksai Chin, which is under Chinese control; and the rest, which remains with India.
The recent media reports state that PLA personnel, along with officers of the Pakistan army and Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency, visited the Kel, Jura, and Lapa sectors of the POK.
Those sectors all fall along the Line of Control—the disputed border between India and Pakistan that’s often the scene of cross-border shelling from either side. Incidentally, India and Pakistan have been observing a ceasefire along the LOC since Feb. 25, which has provided cover for speeding up construction on the border.
“I am not surprised by any news that China is building infrastructure of any kind, civilian or military, along the border or in lands as that is the PRC style: build and claim land,” Pande said.
Abhishek Darbey, a research associate at the New Delhi-based Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, told The Epoch Times that the PLA’s visit to the POK indicates that China is developing model villages that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
By helping Pakistan develop its infrastructure along the disputed border with India, he said, China “has found an area or card against India to put pressure on the Indian government and the military.”
In the 1950s, China built a road through Aksai Chin linking Xinjiang with Tibet, while Pakistan ceded the India-claimed Shaksgam Valley—also known as the trans-Karakoram tract—to the Chinese in 1963, when both countries signed an agreement to settle their borders in 1963.
The POK consists of Azad Kashmir, which shares a border with India’s territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and the region of Gilgit and Baltistan, which shares a border with India’s Ladakh. China and Pakistan are in the process of completing the multibillion-dollar China–Pakistan Corridor Project (CPEC) under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through Gilgit-Baltistan.
“China has security concerns for its US$62 billion CPEC, and some of the economic corridor projects are built in the POK,” said Darbey. “CPEC being an important leg of the Belt & Road Initiative, it is of prime concern for China to ensure security in the POK.
“It is also important because it will connect China to several parts of the world via sea and land.”
Priyanka Singh, an associate fellow with the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, wrote in a reply to a public query that China’s presence in the POK could be detrimental to India “in times of war and other contingencies.”
“In the broader context of India’s encirclement by China in the south Asian region, this kind of presence is disturbing since PoK is a territory which legally belongs to India. The need, therefore, is to ensure that the issue of Chinese presence in PoK figures predominantly in future bilateral exchanges between India and China,” she said.
Darbey said that this isn’t the first time the PLA has visited the POK; the Indian military began receiving reports of China helping to build Pakistani defense infrastructure in 2010.
The New York Times in August 2010 reported on an “influx” of 7,000 to 11,000 PLA soldiers in Gilgit-Baltistan.
“In 2010, a large-scale landslide occurred in northern Pakistan and there was no strategic Karakoram Highway that connects Pakistan and Xinjiang, China,” Darbey said. “Later, Pakistan asked China for help.”
Over the past few years, the Chinese regime has been providing weapons, infrastructure, and funds to the Pakistani army, while former Indian Army Chief of Staff Gen. V.K. Singh has pointed out that China has a regular army stationed in the POK.
Media reports have pointed to PLA troops stationed in the POK in 2010, 2011, and 2016. China was also helping Pakistan set up surface-to-air missiles in the POK, according to an October report by India Today.
Darbey says there’s a greater likelihood of the Chinese regime deploying more PLA soldiers once the CPEC is complete, to secure its economic interests.
“First of all, it’s a sovereignty issue for India because it has always claimed its sovereignty over the POK,” he said. “China has violated the sovereignty of India by building major infrastructures in the POK, and among them is Karakoram Highway that connects Pakistan with Xinjiang.”
Response to Allegations
Both China and Pakistan have denied reports of the PLA having a presence in the POK, citing China’s policy of noninterference in Kashmir. Experts say this shows China’s double standard.
“China always refutes that there are any Chinese soldiers in the POK because it has maintained that the POK is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, and that China will never interfere on this issue,” Darbey said.
Pande said that when India made constitutional changes to bifurcate the former state of Jammu and Kashmir into the two federally governed territories of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh, China was among the first countries to protest, because it lays claim to Ladakh.
“China isn’t interested in open war, it is simply interested in salami slicing and upping the ante along India’s borders so that India has to spend more money and resources on the land border and has less left for its maritime front and less for economic and social issues,” Pande said.
Singh said that, in the past, China has deliberately tried to emphasize Kashmir as “disputed” by issuing stapled visas to people from Jammu and Kashmir and by obstructing Indian army personnel deployed in the region from visiting China as part of a defense delegation.
“That it has willingly offered its assistance in infrastructure development in POK and possibly has stationed PLA soldiers there shows the duality in Chinese standards,” she said.
China and Pakistan will continue with what they are doing because “Pakistan’s policy is to use jihad and radicalism against India; China’s is to keep pressure on the border,” Pande said.