By Prashant Kumar Singh
Last week the Indian media reported that China had denied a visa to Lt. General B. S. Jaswal, General Officer Commanding Chief, Northern Area Command of the Indian Army, who was to go to China to participate in a high-level official meting. The reason cited for this visa denial is that he heads the command which comprises the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir: a disputed territory according to China.1 In the Chinese perception, granting visa to him would have amounted to, by implication, recognition of India’s claim over the state. This incident has offended Indian sentiments. But the need of hour is to maintain composure and make a cold assessment of the situation and act accordingly.
This is not the first time that China has indulged in such a brash diplomatic trick. The last decade has been replete with similar diplomatic manoeuvrings on China’s part. In 2005, Song Deheng, Chinese General Consul in Mumbai, confronted the then Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukharjee in the Q&A session at a defence workshop in Mumbai after the Defence Minister had said in his speech that China invaded India in 1962.2 The Chinese General Consul excitedly argued that China never invaded India! Later, on the eve of President Hu Jintao’s visit to India in November 2006, the Chinese ambassador Sun Yuxi caused another diplomatic row by making a public claim that Arunachal Pradesh was a part of China.3
In April 2009, China opposed a US $ 2.9 billion loan by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to India because this money would be used in Arunachal Pradesh, which, according to China, was not Indian territory but Chinese.4 Nevertheless, India received this loan in June 2009 with the help of the US and Japan.5
India has also not forgotten how China created a high decibel diplomatic commotion on the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s election campaign visit to Arunachal Pradesh in October 2009 and later on about the Dalai Lama’s visit to the state in November 2009. On the issue of Dr. Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, China almost issued veiled military threats to which the Government of India had to respond saying that the Indian military was prepared to defend its territory. Also, on the issue of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), the decibel level of China’s diplomatic uproar was so high that it successfully attracted the attention of the international media.6 Speculations were rife at that time that the Government of India might withdraw permission for the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang. However, during both episodes, the Government of India demonstrated a laudable equanimity and firmness and did not buckle under the Chinese pressure.7
Then came the issue of China not granting properly stamped visas inside passports to Indian citizens domiciled in J&K. China has earlier been creating problems in issuing visas to Indian citizens hailing from Arunachal Pradesh. But creating this sort of a problem to Indian citizens of J&K domicile was probably new and certainly without any provocation on India’s part. A Chinese Delegation to the IDSA argued that China could not grant a properly stamped visa to Indian citizens of J&K domicile as this would recognize India’s claim over the whole of J&K, whereas China also had a claim over a substantial part of the state. Simply speaking, the Indian state of J&K is a ‘disputed territory’ for China; therefore, a properly stamped visa cannot be granted to its residents. The delegation also argued that public opinion/nationalism in China did not allow its government to do so. Now, all the arguments given in justification of not granting a properly stamped visa to the residents of J&K have got extended to the denial of visa to Lt. General Jaswal as well.
The Chinese reasoning behind visa denial to Lt. General Jaswal or visa manipulation in case of the residents of J&K does not hold water. First of all, the shield of public opinion/nationalism is a lame excuse because acts like issuance of visa are routine office work. The public at large is hardly aware of or interested in such official routine. Moreover, no Chinese media report has stated that China has taken these steps under any sort of public pressure. China appears to be using public opinion/nationalism only as a pretext. Besides, the same Lt. General Jaswal had visited China when he was corps commander of the Tezpur-based 4 Corps in the equally ‘sensitive’ eastern sector in 2008. Lt. Gen. S. K. Singh, 14 Corps Commander at Leh, which again falls very much in the ‘disputed’ Northern Command, also visited China including Lhasa as part of a defence delegation along with then Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. V. K. Singh.8 And as far as ‘the disputed nature’ of J&K is concerned, why this sudden raking up of the issue in 2009-10! And what about Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)! Pakistan’s possession of Kashmiri territory is also disputed. Reports indicate that China issues a properly stamped visa to the residents of PoK. The point is that China is not revising its visa policy towards the residents of J&K out of any sudden national awakening. It is, indeed, a studied political move.
All these deliberate diplomatic spats should be seen in the more substantive context of increased Chinese incursions into Indian territory, and China almost retracting its implied recognition of Sikkim as a part of India and the mutually agreed principle of not disturbing settled populations in the demarcation of the boundary arrived at in 2005.
In the post-Pokhran II phase and particularly after the India-US Defence Agreement (2005) period, China is viewing India in a different light. Now, it can only pretend to ignore India, but it is a matter of fact that it cannot really ignore India. The threat perceptions are mutual to a great extent.9 Although India lags behind China particularly in the hardcore military realm and generally on the overall level of national strength, the situation is not that much painfully asymmetric. India is a nuclear-weapon state. Its economy is growing promisingly and is well-integrated with the international economy. Besides, it has acquired considerable politico-military and strategic clout in the international comity. In the words of K. Subrahmanyam, the international scenario is generally favourable to India. Its closeness with the US is warily watched by China. All these factors together compensate for its military inadequacy in the face of Chinese conventional military superiority and makes India a considerable strategic concern which China cannot overlook. China is aware of all these developments. As many commentators have alluded, China perceives India as a country which can come forward to shoulder America’s military responsibility in times to come.10 Thus, as a result, in this phase, China is seen hardening its attitude towards India.
China is not comfortable with sharing space with India in international politics. It has been evident in its attitude towards India’s entry into various international forums like East Asia Summit and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It very much longs for a multipolar world, though it also wants Asia to be unipolar under its leadership. Its ultimate policy goal towards India is to tie it down within South Asia. Hence, it is not interested in resolving the lingering border problem between the two countries. It can afford to delay the resolution of this problem as the status quo is in its favour. It wants to keep the territorial dispute alive and thereby India pre-occupied with these problems. Now, it has become inclined to revise its earlier stand of neutrality on Kashmir and wants to complicate the situation there for India.
All these diplomatic rows and even the border problem itself are a symptom of the larger problems that exist between the two countries. Earlier in the 1950s and 1960s, Tibet was really the bigger problem and which found an expression in the border dispute. Now, as a matter of fact, Tibet should be no problem between the two countries. The Government of India is simply unconcerned about Tibet. But China is not ready to forget the Tibet problem’s Indian connection of the 1950s since Tibet and the Dalai Lama provide a pretext to twist India’s arm (Now, Tibet, shall we say, has become a problem for India!). The real problems are coming from the larger geo-political context. At present, the competition for status, influence and power is a real source of tension between the two countries. Besides, the dynamics of US-China-India triangular relationship and the race for resources are shaping India-China relations. Add China’s renewed emphasis on its friendship with ‘the all-weather friend’ Pakistan to this context, and one can safely arrive at the conclusion that China is in no mood to accommodate a rising India. China recently concluded a nuclear agreement with Pakistan. Its changed stance on Kashmir is also aimed at helping Pakistan. In this overall scenario, Chinese diplomatic manipulations and manoeuvrings like not granting a visa to Lt. General Jaswal are only bound to increase. India therefore should not lower its political and military guard against China.
Let us not over-emphasize the role trade can play in smoothening the relationship between the two countries. Trade cannot be a solution to everything especially when problems basically lie on the strategic plane. In this situation, trade rivalry can easily spill over into the political realm. In the same way that China appears to be considering India’s rise detrimental to its own global ambitions, there is every possibility that global trade can become a new turf war between the two countries in future. The only policy prescription for India is that when China becomes restive against India, it should find India well-prepared.
1. Indrani Bagchi, “China denies visa to top general in charge of J&K,” Times of India, August 27, 2010, at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/China-denies-visa-to-top-general-in-JK/articleshow/6442437.cms.
2. “General Consul: China never invaded India,” People’s Daily (Online), 07 September 2005.
3. Seema Guha, “China claims Arunachal Pradesh as ‘Chinese territory’,” DNA, 13 November 2006, at http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200509/07/eng20050907_207149.html. http://www.dnaindia.com/world/report_china-claims-arunachal-pradesh-as-c…
4. Out of this loan, $ 60 million was to be spent on a flood control project in Arunachal Pradesh.
5. John Chan, “China-India border talks highlight rising tensions,” 15 August 2009, at http://www.wsws.org/articles/2009/aug2009/indi-a15.shtml.
6. Sanjoy Majumder, “Frontier town venerates Dalai Lama,” BBC News, 10 November 2009, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8351813.stm. In fact, Majumdar opined that India was showing, by allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang, that it was not averse to playing mind-games with China. His interpretation indicates how confident India was seen during this diplomatic tiff in the international media.
7. “Govt says Arunachal integral part of India after Chinese protest,” Times of India, 13 October 2009, at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Govt-says-Arunachal-integral-pa….
8. “As Tezpur Corps commander, Jaswal visited China in 2008,” Indian Express, 28 August 2010, at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/as-tezpur-corps-commander-jaswal-visit….
9. Manjeet S. Pardesi (2010), “Understanding (Changing) Chinese Strategic Perceptions of India,” Strategic Analysis, 34 (4): 562-578.
10. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan’s article “Understanding China’s Military Strategy” published in Strategic Analysis, 32 (6), November 2008 provides a very crisp analysis of Chinese military strategic understanding of India, the US and Japan. Manjeet S. Pardesi in his article “Understanding (Changing) Chinese Strategic Perceptions of India” analyses Chinese perceptions of “the so-called ‘quadrilateral alliance’ of Asia-Pacific democracies – the US, Japan, Australia and India.”
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/ChinasDenialofVisatotheIndianGeneralNotSoIncomprehensible_pksingh_300810