Is South Asia about to see the formation of a 'strategic tripartite alliance'?
Can China hold the keys to the future of South Asia after depriving the US of its geopolitical significance in the Middle East and forge a trilateral strategic alliance between Beijing, New Delhi, and Islamabad in the wake of waning American influence in South Asia, the Middle East, and Afghanistan?
Beijing has demonstrated its exceptional diplomatic prowess by initiating a series of reconciliations in the tumultuous Arab world and bringing two significant West Asian nations to the negotiating table. China's facilitation of the recent détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia has raised hopes that Beijing could serve as a mediator in resolving the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan, thereby fostering stability and a new regional paradigm in South Asia.
During the summer of 2018, Lijian Zhao, the deputy commander of the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, informed journalists that China was in talks with Indian authorities to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan.
Zhao justified China's support of the India-Pakistan reconciliation by asserting that both countries would gain significant benefits from halting their military expansion and collaborating on economic development initiatives.
Pakistan, for its part, also seeks a peaceful resolution to all disputes with India, including the Kashmir issue. Islamabad has repeatedly expressed its desire to return to dialogue and communication and welcomed any country's mediation efforts to bring the proverbial adversaries to the negotiating table.
During a weekly media briefing in late 2021, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesperson, Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, said disputes and problems with India, including the Kashmir issue, must be resolved through dialogue and communication, and Pakistan would appreciate the mediation of any country in such talks.
Pakistan, he said, wanted good relations with India and was not running away from negotiations. "We want to resolve all issues with India — Kashmir included — through talks. Our position on the Kashmir issue has not changed." Pakistan has never refused to negotiate with India. We believe the international community should hold talks given the existing conflict between the two countries," said Chaudhri. He added that countries continued to engage in talks even during war, and that problems could only be solved through dialogue. "We appreciate the mediation of any country, including the United States," the spokesman said.
Why does Beijing want reconciliation?
There are three main reasons for China's intention to arbitrate the seemingly unresolvable India-Pakistan dispute. India's objection to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the first thing the Chinese government seeks to minimize. Indian government representatives have frequently protested the CPEC's advancement since it goes through the Kashmir region, which is overseen by Pakistan. Chinese officials have engaged New Delhi diplomatically to moderate India's resistance to the CPEC.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, had been quoted by the media as saying that China was ready to speak with India about New Delhi's concerns regarding the use of Kashmir territory.
India has persisted in claiming that CPEC breaches its territorial integrity, despite Beijing's overtures. Dissatisfaction with CPEC played a significant role in Modi's declaration at the most recent SCO summit against China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Beijing has been persuaded to deal with the root of New Delhi's resistance to CPEC: the tense relationship between India and Pakistan, as the China-India dialogue has failed to allay New Delhi's worries over CPEC.
Second, China sees the mediation efforts between India and Pakistan as a chance to test its approach to utilizing economic integration as a vehicle for conflict settlement. Chinese officials have claimed that the BRI may facilitate conflict resolution and positively impact global security ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced it in 2013. China has worked to support the expansion of economic cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan to normalize relations between Kabul and Islamabad and prove the legitimacy of this rhetorical vow.
Third, Beijing's aim to become a more significant partner in Afghanistan explains China's heightened interest in mending relations between India and Pakistan. A combination of economic factors, such as Afghanistan's potential to be a location for Chinese infrastructure investments, and security factors related to Beijing's desire to stop the flow of Afghan militants into Xinjiang can be used to explain China's desire to form an inclusive political setup in Afghanistan.
China has urged Pakistan and India to reach an understanding of the necessity of bringing reforms to Afghanistan to boost the chance that Afghanistan will eventually become a stable nation and an appropriate location for Chinese investments. While China has vehemently defended ِAfghanistan against claims that the Taliban fosters terrorism in Afghanistan, it appears that Beijing has made an effort to allay Pakistan's worries over Indian involvement in Afghanistan by emphasizing New Delhi's willingness to aid in Afghanistan's rehabilitation.
What are the irritants?
Analysts assert that the China-India deadlock over an ill-defined, 3,440 km (2,100 mi) long disputed border in the Himalayan area is a major roadblock in Beijing's willingness to negotiate between New Delhi and Islamabad. A major battle between India and China took place in June 2020 when the two troops engaged in one of the first lethal encounters between the two sides since 1975 in the Galwan Valley, using sticks and clubs. At least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in the conflict.
Growing political friction, which has adversely affected relations between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, mirrors the military standoff. According to observers, given that both countries are embroiled in a border dispute that has the potential to lead to further tension, Beijing has little room to pursue reconciliation between India and Pakistan.
The fact that New Delhi officially revoked the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir's constitutional autonomy in 2019 and divided it into two federal territories to fully integrate it into India is another barrier to the rapid normalization of relations between the two South Asian countries.
While a three-decade-old armed rebellion rages, the prime minister's decision to alter Kashmir's status and tighten the government's control over the area has fanned anger and animosity. After decades of semi-autonomous governance in the Kashmir region, the state was formally divided into the regions of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh at midnight on Wednesday, 2019, and placed under direct federal jurisdiction.