By D. S. Rajan
Certain officials and analysts in China have promptly responded to the remarks made by General (Retired) J. J. Singh, Governor of India’s Arunachal Pradesh at a National Seminar held at Ita Nagar on 8-9 March 2012 that “some give and take is necessary for solving the India-China border dispute”. It cannot be denied that for the first time an Indian top official has come out with such categorical views which is being looked upon as a departure from official positions adopted by New Delhi so far against making any compromise on the boundary problem with China; in line with its stand, India had even appeared to be cautious on China’s “mutual accommodation” formulation which implicitly endorses a ‘give and take’ approach. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that the views coming from the government and some bloggers in China have by and large reacted positively to the remarks of the Indian official. The latter have especially perceived in them a ‘concession signal’ from India on the border issue. But, the fact that the official Chinese media are still silent on the remarks of the Governor Singh, may indicate that Beijing would like to further watch the situation prior to reaching firm conclusions.
At official levels, notable have been the reported welcome to Mr J. J. Singh’s views by the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi as well as the response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Liu Weimin. The latter, in response to a press question concerning the reference made by the Indian official to the need for New Delhi to ‘move away’ from its non-negotiable stand on the border issue, made no direct reply, but said (Beijing, 21 April 2012) that “ the two nations should seek a package solution to the border issue through negotiation based on the spirit of peace, friendship, equality-based consultation, mutual respect and mutual understanding”. The use of the term ‘package solution’ could be significant pointer to the Chinese thinking on what ‘give and take’ should be.
Noteworthy independent comments include a blog captioned “Reasons Behind India’s Concession with respect to Southern Tibet”, contributed by one ‘ Sincere Soldier’ which appeared on 19 April 2012. The article seemed to have some weight as it was carried in the Chinese language edition of the official People’s Daily (http://blog.people.com.cn/open/articleFine.do?articleId=1334802426…). The blogger, a frequent contributor, perhaps a military scholar, laid stress to the following five points relating to what he believed as India’s ‘concession’ – (i) India, a country with long history and civilization, does not lack personalities who know that the ‘McMahon line’ is illegal and has been used to commit aggression against China. With India’s national interests in their minds, such personalities may not openly express such feelings. But such knowledge is implicit in the observations of the Governor of the border region that some incongruities on the ground exist with regard to the McMahon line, (ii) India’s ‘ concession’ as signaled in the Mr J.J.Singh’s remarks can perhaps be India’s trial baloon intended to test the likely responses from both inside and outside the country. Facing the situation in which there has all along been no way to solve the border issue due to its long term persistence with an irrational territorial policy, India may have developed new strategic considerations. It can perhaps be an attempt by India to indulge in a delicate restructuring of its approach toward border negotiations with China, (iii) Nothing has come out of the demands felt so long by India to stubbornly persist with a line of irrational expansion. This may have prompted India to come out with signs now to change its approach; evidence is the statement of Mr J.J Singh calling upon India to give up its stand of considering the border non- negotiable. Analysts feel that it is a hint to India’s acceptance of some of China’s positions about the disputed territory, (iv) India’s ‘concession’ is a progressive and welcome change , opening up a direction which can benefit the final settlement of the disputed border. It vindicates China’s territorial positions. It is hoped that more and more such correct voices would emanate from India, reaching mainstream levels and that the ‘concession’ would more and more gain consensus in India and (v) if India-China dispute persists for a long time, the conditions would not be beneficial to India’s rise, India aims to become an influential power, even a super power capable of policing the world like the US. The costs of remaining in a long term conflict with China, would adversely affect India’s economic development.. This is the deepest reason behind India’s ‘concession’ with respect to Southern Tibet this time.
Needing a close scrutiny is also another Chinese language blog on the subject. An unsigned article entitled “India Suddenly Changes Face to China: Startling Turn Witnessed in Sino-Indian Border Conflict”, appeared on 20 April 2012, (blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_697084010102e31q.html?tj=1) quoted ‘analysts’ as saying that the views of Mr J. J. Singh who is the Governor of a disputed territory could be representative of what the Indian government thinks and that they may contain a hint at the possibility of India accepting some of Chinese border positions and changing its hard line territorial position hitherto adopted during future border talks. While saying that if India has ‘ really’ given a ‘concession’ signal, Sino-Indian ties which remain affected due to a long term standoff, can witness a new turn, the article contained a note of caution against rushing to any pre-mature conclusion, as the question whether Mr J. J. Singh’s remarks are a verbal mistake or personal is unclear, at present only a ‘signal’ is available and responses to it from the Indian Government and within the country are awaited. The article concluded by saying that in any case, the Sino-Indian border conflict is a historic colonial legacy and a source of much trouble to their bilateral ties. If the Indian Government completely recognizes that the border question brought misery to the two peoples and realizes that such situation should not be allowed to continue, it should not commit historical mistakes again and should sincerely interact with China. That will pave the way for opening a new window in order to peacefully solve the border question.
It is not certain that a ‘give and take’ approach will be officially adopted in India. Building of a broad consensus in that country on what to give and what to take will not be easy to achieve. There have already been voices in India both for and against what Mr J. J. Singh has said. A debate for a long term can be foreseen.
In China, the situation seems to be different. Calls for compromise on the border issue, though not necessarily from government levels, have already been prominent and are available in China’s public domain. For e.g, the former Chinese Ambassador to India, Cheng Ruisheng called upon China and India to do ‘some new thinking and find out a kind of compromise’ (Beijing, 12 February 2010). The tendency in China has been towards mentioning points on which India can compromise and not the vice-versa. Firstly, Chinese views want India to compromise on its position of treating the McMahon line as basis for border line (Professor Wu Yongnian, People’s Daily , 14 February 2012); “The Nehru government had taken an unilateral attitude towards implementing the 1954 Sino-Indian agreement on the border question and aimed at establishing superiority over China on the same question by legalizing its aggression and occupation of areas south of McMahon line” (“ The Unilateral Attitude of the Nehru Government in India Towards the Sino-Indian Agreement”, Yunnan University Scholars, 3 January 2012 ). Secondly, opinions in China are demanding India to make ‘practical concession’ in the Eastern sector (Professor Wang Hongwei of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). Tawang is being specifically named in this regard. “Tawang has been the focal point in the China –India border talks”, says a party document (Position paper captioned “China- India Border Dispute”, website of China History Research Centre, Beijing). Lastly, the Western Sector is also coming under the category of areas where India can compromise. “ India should not make demands in the Western sector”, observed Professor Wu Yongnian ( Liberation Daily/ People’s Daily, 14 February 2012).
Fifteen rounds of border talks between the Special Representatives of the two sides have so far taken place. New Delhi and Beijing are however yet to reveal information on whether there had been discussions during the talks on any ‘compromise’ proposal. Worth noting under such situation are signs of expectation in China, at least on the part of some, that India may change its hard line attitude of considering the border non-negotiable during the forthcoming border talks. In India, there is no euphoria on the subject as yet.
Both India and China consider the border issue ‘complex’, needing a long time to solve. They have agreed to promote bilateral ties looking beyond the border dispute. On its part, China is taking a stand in favour of ‘shelving the disputes and working for common development’. The two sides seem to attach priority at the moment to the task of keeping the border peaceful, though the border defence infrastructure build up by each is becoming a cause for bilateral friction. The overall picture points to no chances of a final border settlement very soon. The remarks of Mr J. J. Singh and the reaction to them from China can therefore be of symbolic importance only.
(The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies. Translation done by him.Email:[email protected])