By Bhaskar Roy
China’s Special Envoy for boundary talks with India, Dai Bingguo is expected in New Delhi in the third week of January for the Special Representative (SR) level talks with his counterpart, Shivshankar Menon. The talks, earlier scheduled in November, were called off as the Chinese demanded cancellation of the World Buddhist Conclave to be addressed by the Dalai Lama in his religious capacity, and the two dates clashed. The issue has been resolved, clearing the path for continuity of the talks.
No one expects the India-China boundary issue to be resolved any time soon. It is not a simple demarcation of boundary between the two countries. This question is the fundamental basis for cooperative, stable and mutually supportive relations between the two countries, because that will be personification of “mutual trust”. Very fundamentally, the border question has been bedevilled by the difference of perception of the length and ambit of the border. India’s sovereign position is that the border is 4,117 kms starting from the India-China-Myanmar junction in the eastern sector to the north-western end of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), save for the border of Nepal and Bhutan with China.
The Chinese position is that the border is around 2000 odd kms long. China does not accept Arunachal, POK and Indian Jammu and Kashmir as sovereign Indian territory. Beijing claims the entire Arunachal Pradesh as its territory, and the entire Kashmir disputed territory between India and Pakistan. Till recently, China held Sikkim as an independent country under illegal occupation. But China’s position on Sikkim is said to have changed and they accept Sikkim as part of Indian territory. This writer still has some questions on Chinese sincerity on Sikkim, based on some factual indications from Beijing.
The SR level talks between India and China does not deal only with the boundary question The Joint Working Group (JWG) and the expert level talks are held to look at the hard issues on the ground. The SR level talk discusses bilateral relations, regional issues and international developments. These talks were started with the recognition that, despite China’s political spin that the two countries enjoyed peaceful relations for two thousand years, the reality was India and communist China held vastly different views about each other and did not know each other politically and strategically. The 2000 year relationship is a fallacy, and a Chinese propaganda to obfuscate the real issue and prolong it.
One learns from history. At the same time, it is futile to debate now whether the border issue could have been resolved in the 1950s. For far too long, the international community has allowed China to play what it calls unjust treaties forced upon a weak China by stronger powers and colonialists, and also misinterpret treaties.
It is time for India to insist that the Shimla Agreement of 1914 drawing the thick line to demarcate Tibet and India, called the McMahon Line, had nothing to do with China. It is an independent Tibet that signed the treaty with British India. China is responsible for only that part of the Shimla Agreement which demarcated the border between Tibet and China.
Next, China’s claim on Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh because the 6th Dalai Lama was born there, has no basis. The Dalai Lama can be born anywhere. The 3rd Dalai Lama was a Mongol Prince.
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China’s first communist leader Mao Zedong saw India would be a major competitor to China on Asia’s leadership. Despite Japan having emerged as a significant power in Asia under the US umbrella, it is India that matters most. Therefore, the aim has always been to keep India under pressure and make it fear China. In this they have largely succeeded. The 1962 war against India was well calculated. The Chinese army withdrew for strategic reasons. Not goodwill. They could not have held on to that territory, but what they could they still hold on to.
The current India-China scenario is very different from 1962. China has emerged as a major economic, political and military power. But India is not what it was in 1962. China realises that India has also emerged as a strong power and will continue to grow. It has acquired its status in G-8 and G-20 and, despite Beijing’s best efforts, it has broken out of the South Asia cage that China had tried to confine India to.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister for India (equivalent to the rank of Indian foreign ministry regional secretary) Liu Zhenmin told their official news agency Xinhua that China hoped for better and faster development of strategic and cooperative relations between the two countries. China’s top official think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS), advocated expanding the current strategic economic dialogue with India among other countries and regions in the context of dealing with the USA.
These reasonable statements or palliatives stand in stark contrast to the recent Chinese statements in regard to the unacceptable treatment to an Indian diplomat and two Indian businessmen over a business dispute in Yiwu in eastern China. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman indirectly alleged that Indian businessmen working in China were generally unethical, and the official Global Times accused the Indian foreign ministry’s stand on the issue as “narrow nationalism” and more. Such contradictory a position from China, therefore leads to confusion and questions. Beijing has always opposed and continues to, any international deal India enters into which can help develop India’s intrinsic strength. It opposed the India-US nuclear deal, it continues to oppose nuclear transfer to India, and has resented the Australian consensus to export uranium to India. It has exhibited similar concern over India-US high technology cooperation and India-US military exercises. It has indicated strong reservations over India’s Look East policy, and declared concern over India-Japan strategic cooperation and defence agreement.
On the other hand, it created a nuclear weapons Pakistan to counter India, expanded military relations with India’s neighbours, and made the “string of pearls” encirclement of India strategy, very visible.
China’s primary concern is with the US and its strategic policies. In the overall picture, it may be correct to say that the US is a declining power and China is a rising power It is correct to say that the US economic, political and military domination is no longer what it was. Is the overall picture accurate?
The US is cutting its military budget. But this reduction is not from its current budget but a reduction from earlier projections of its future budgets. It may be withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan where huge amounts of money and American lives were expended to no real avail. But President Barrack Obama has refocused on the Asia-Pacific region in terms of economic, political and military dimensions. Part of the money which will be saved from elsewhere will go to its allies and to its new friends in the region that China considers its natural backyard. So, the US retreat from other theatres increases pressure on China. China also has growing internal challenges and its general economic strength reduces substantially when seen in per capita terms and social developments.
US-China relation has a solid economic foundation, but there are sharp differences in military and political areas. Although first proposed by Barak Obama, China sees a G-2 kind of relations now as a ladder to climb over the rest.
The US has reached a static position for now, and China is growing. But India is not lagging behind very far. They perceive India’s Agni-V nuclear missile as eventually eroding China’s nuclear advantage over India.
In China’s perception, India coopted in the USA’s Asia Pacific policy as a powerful deterrent to China’s Asia domination ambition. India’s Look East policy is opening up India’s historical assets in South East Asia.
Unfortunately, China is yet to understand that India has its own independent foreign policy, it will never be a domino to any country, and India will not be there to douse fires started by the US or any other country.
At the same time, independent foreign policy does not mean India will stand with folded arms to challenges to its interest. And it interests are far beyond the east and west of South Asia. Non-alignment is not a passive concept any longer. It is dynamic and calls for reasonable action.
China wants to engage with the US and get the maximum from there. Yet, it does not want India to work similarly with the US. A preposterous policy, which does not work.
Both China and India must have forthright exchanges to clarify each other’s apprehensions. But if China wants to dominate in a free world, that will be regrettable and regressive. The boundary problem will remain captive to these concerns and mistrust. The ball is in China’s court.