How India and China’s behaviour in Kashmir and Hong Kong is undermining their global standing as responsible world powers and is destabilising South Asia.
India and China are undeniably superpowers, hailed as models of development in the postcolonial era yet their brutish behaviour in Kashmir and Hong Kong demonstrates how both nations are in danger of becoming oppressive overlords and destabilizing South Asia. By restricting the most elementary rights of Kashmiris and Hong Kongers, India and China are unnerving their neighbours, risking war, undermining their own global standing and affronting every democrat on Earth.
India gained independence in 1947 and integrated princely states swiftly. Kashmir, a Muslim majority state with a Hindu ruler, was to be a part of India(1). This caused three wars between India and Pakistan as both nations viewed Kashmir as vital for ideological purity and security. Following the 1962 Sino-Indian war(2), China also occupies a portion of Kashmir(3). A plebiscite was never held to determine whether Kashmiris wanted to be a part of a greater country and popular opinion(4) on Kashmir’s future was ignored(5,6). Yet, the secular Constitution of India granted it's portion of Kashmir the freedom to its own Constitution, flag and laws, limiting India’s control to foreign, military and communication affairs (as defined by Article 370)(7).
China emerged from a civil war in 1949 as a communist state under Mao's one party dictatorship(8). The Communist party had fought the war amidst the tumultuous Japanese occupation during the Second World War and beyond, defeating the nationalists and securing mainland China(9). However, two territories acquired by European empires remained under foreign administration, Macau under Portugal and Hong Kong (along with the New Territories) under Britain(10). Hong Kong had been infamously acquired during the 1842 Opium War with the New Territories formally ceded to Britain in 1898 (11).
By treaty, the New Territories had to be surrendered in 1997 and the Chinese President Deng Xiaoping expected Hong Kong to be acquiesced too(12). Britain obliged, on the condition that Hong Kong would be a semi-autonomous region, with a separate judiciary and government to mainland China, retaining existing freedoms of liberty,speech and the rule of law until 2047(13). China agreed to these terms and took control over Hong Kong(14).
In Hong Kong, protests were staged in 1967 in favour of reform(15). The British accelerated their plans for democratising the colony, but China regained control of the region before the process was complete(16). The result is that Hong Kong was passed from one great power to another, at the expense of its own liberty.
In both cases, Kashmir and Hong Kong were occupied by larger states under the provision that India and China respected their semi-autonomous status. For decades, this was largely adhered to, despite multiple wars involving India, China and Pakistan for supremacy in Kashmir and hostilities between China and US allies in the South China Sea. Indeed, the notion of “one country, two systems”(17) was common to both Indian occupied Kashmir and Hong Kong under China, which bequeathed locals their own autonomy.
The assertive Indian and Chinese states have now violated their agreements in Kashmir and Hong Kong with alarming results for every democrat. In India, in August 2019, the imperious BJP government cut off landlines, internet connections and communication(18) in Kashmir, sent in troops(19) and disavowed Article 370(20). Political leaders in Kashmir, even those sympathetic to India, were detained(21). This included former Chief Minister of Kashmir Omar Abdullah, whose grandfather had negotiated the terms of Kashmir’s integration in India(22). In Britain, this is comparable to the army storming into Scotland, arresting the First Minister, and detaining her in Bristol.
India, overnight, destroyed its legitimacy in an already contested region. China and Pakistan took notice, ceasing any hope of peaceful diplomatic relations(23) in what President Clinton called ‘the most dangerous place in the world(24). Clearly, the result is that Pakistan and the Kashmiri people shall have a renewed and vociferous voice against the Indian occupation. Given that India and Pakistan are both nuclear armed, this is a precarious flashpoint(25).
Meanwhile, in Chinese administered Hong Kong, a new security law will permit closed trials, the Beijing government to define the interpretation of the law and criminalise any act of sedition, subversion, terrorism or collusion. In essence, free speech itself will disappear(26).
As India and China share a 2,100 mile border(27), both nations monitor each other’s foreign policies with the utmost scrutiny and hawkish attitudes(28). India views China’s behaviour in Hong Kong and fears that the PLA, Chinese army, will storm across the de facto border to seize contested territory\(29). With comparable apprehension, Chinese strategists watch as India uses her colossal military to destroy Kashmir’s autonomy, in violation of its own Constitution, which causes them to militarise their own border(30). These behaviours symbiotically play a role in destabilizing South Asia as neither great power knows, in a poorly demarcated border region, if the other shall actually abide by its agreements. Hence, the fighting seen at the border in recent months(31).
At the root of these authoritarian policies is colonial heritage(32). The Indian government argues that Article 370 had to be abolished so that Kashmir was integrated within India which would help undo the indignity of Partition and British rule(33). It will also allow Kashmiri land to be appropriated by non Kashmiris(34), depriving the only Muslim majority state of India of its identity. As for China, fully reintegrating Hong Kong and Macau represents the final stage of a long march to glory. Conscious of its century of humiliation as a plaything of empires(35), China undertook a rapid path towards development. In fifty years, China transformed from a basket case into a breadbasket. Ultimately, the last step for China so that it may ascend to its throne in the pantheon of superpowers, is to fully reintegrate Hong Kong and Macau. This will,in perpetuity, undo the nation’s colonial heritage.
Additionally, the Indian and Chinese governments argue that Kashmir(36) and Hong Kong pose security issues. This is irrefutable. Yet, conflict with other states does not justify nations eroding and denigrating the human rights of their own citizens. Also, India and China’s behaviour exasperates security concerns, as Kashmiris and Hong Kongers shall only become more resentful of their rule as their own rights fade. An Al Jazeera poll(37) suggested that 90% of Kashmiri university students ‘wanted Indian forces to leave’, whilst a SCMP poll(38) suggested that perhaps 20% of Hong Kongers are not in favour of the “one country, two systems” model and may favour complete independence. Hardly surprising, when both occupying powers have been accused of using excessive force(39) and violence(40) to suppress popular movements.
Separated from mainland China for centuries, Hong Kong has its own identity in a similar way to Kashmir, a Muslim majority region in a mostly Hindu country. The totalitarian behaviour of both states in regard to Hong Kong and Kashmir are among the greatest injustices in today’s world. India and China, once brutalised by colonial empires(41), are now at risk of becoming brutalising colonial empires. If India, once hailed as the largest secular democracy in history, and China, revered for her peaceful development, wish to be treated as great powers and afforded seats at the highest table of global affairs, then they must demonstrate their ability to respect denizens' basic rights to liberty, a fair trial and freedom of speech. It is inconceivable that India seeks a place on the UNSC(42) and China aims to be the next superpower when both nations show such disdain for basic human rights. For how can a great power be trusted to defend the rights of other peoples, when it cannot guarantee the rights of its own?