Indian officials on Sunday were dismissive of Chinese claims that their position on the length of the disputed border with India – which China has recently described as 2,000 km and not 3,488 km as India does – remained consistent and unchanged.
Chinese analysts on Sunday refuted media reports which said China had recently disregarded a 1,500 km stretch of the border, between Jammu and Kashmir in India and Xinjiang and Tibet in China, in its references of the disputed border, suggesting new Chinese claims over Kashmir.
Hu Shisheng, a strategic analyst at the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), told The Hindu it had always been China's position that the length of the border was 2,000 km. It did not include the disputed western section and Indian claims on the entire region of Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). China's position was that the region is disputed and for India and Pakistan to settle, and hence could not be considered as part of the dispute with India.
“The so-called “4000 km” border length is calculated by the Indian side, which includes the curved Aksai Chin and Pakistan-administered Kashmir,” he said. “According to your map, Pakistan is not bordering with China, which is not accepted by both Pakistan and China.” China's position had been consistent since its 1963 treaty with Pakistan, holding that it would remap its border after India and Pakistan settled the Kashmir dispute, with whichever side eventually holds the territory.
But Indian officials say even though China had never accepted India's 3,488 km characterisation, it was only since late 2009 that references to a 2,000 km length began appearing in the Chinese official media.
“The 2000 km reference is of much more recent vintage,” a senior Indian official told The Hindu .
As for China's position that the western sections were for India to settle with Pakistan, officials said that only as recently as the 1990s, China was prepared to discuss the western section and exchange maps. The exchange was eventually refused by both sides. Chinese claims on the western section then surprised Indian officials by including regions in Kashmir beyond Aksai Chin, which China currently occupies, though there is no record of the maps.
Officials said the 2,000 km reference could signal a widening of China's claims as part of an ongoing negotiating strategy.
References began to appear in the Chinese media not long after the conclusion of the 13th round of border talks. The 14th round was held in Beijing last month. In 2009, the Indian officials also voiced objections to China issuing stapled visas to Indian citizens of Jammu and Kashmir, saying the move questioned Indian sovereignty.
“But China is right in saying it has been consistent in never accepting India's characterisation of 4,000 km,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “China has never recognised any dispute in the Aksai Chin area.” The 2,000 km, he noted, mainly referred to the disputed eastern section in Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as “southern Tibet.”
“The question that needs to be asked is how China classifies the length of the border with Pakistan,” added Zorawar Daulet Singh of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi, who co-authored a book on the border dispute. “If the 2,000 km length means entire Jammu and Kashmir is with Pakistan, or is treated as a sovereign state, in either case it is an outcome that is adverse to India.”
But Chinese analysts played down claims that China was changing its stance. “For China, Kashmir is a dispute between India and Pakistan, and this is a position that is unchanged,” said Rong Ying, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies. “What is important is the two sides continue talking, and when the time comes, they can agree on the length of the border.”