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Answers to Questionnaire on China

The following are comments given by Mr.D.S.Rajan to questions emailed by Mr.Surajit Talukdar, correspondent of Sahara Time, New Delhi:

Question 1: Bharat Verma, editor of the Indian Defence Review, recently said, “China will launch an attack on India before 2012. There are multiple reasons for a desperate Beijing to teach India the final lesson, thereby ensuring Chinese supremacy in Asia in this century.” How do you assess the present complexities of the India-China relations regarding the ‘disputed’ territory of Arunachal Pradesh in the northeastern region of India? Do you think a low intensity war may break out in the near future between the two countries?

Answer 1: I do not think a war, even a low intensity one, may break out in near future between China and India. China should be aware that such a war would go against its strategic interests. Its top priority goal now is modernisation; by 2020, it wants to quadruplicate the GDP of 2000 and by 2050, it aims to become a medium-level advanced nation in the world. To achieve the goal, China has set for itself two preconditions – a stable international environment and a peaceful periphery. Beijing knows that a war with India would damage its ‘peaceful periphery’ pre-requisite; this, coupled with Beijing’s awareness of implications for the country’s international image if it launches a war against India, would compel China to move very carefully on the border issue with India, with no place for use of force.

On the complexities in Sino-Indian relations on the Arunachal issue, note needs to be taken about the diametrically opposite positions being taken by each side in support of their claims—Beijing firmly rejects the McMahon line while New Delhi finds a legitimate basis in the McMahon line for a border solution. With perceptions fundamentally differing, the settlement of the Sino-Indian border issue may take a long time. In the present stage, the continuing bilateral talks on finalisation of a framework to settle the issue on the basis of ‘political parameters’ agreement of 2005, without any tangible result so far, reflect the depth of Sino-Indian perceptional differences. At the same time, the willingness being shown by both the sides to develop bilateral relations looking beyond the border dispute augurs well for their current ties. ‘The Shared Vision’ Document signed jointly by India and China recently, is an example. The ongoing jump in the bilateral trade volume resulting in China becoming the biggest trade partner of India, holding joint military exercises etc are other positive points.

India’s recent dispatch of additional troops to and deployment of SU-37 fighter aircraft in the Eastern Sector, along with New Delhi’s efforts to upgrade the infrastructure in the border regions, are being looked upon with unconcealed hostility by the State-controlled media in China. Some strategic journals have even discussed the possibilities of a partial border war with India. Such ‘conservative’ and ‘nationalistic’ approaches by some constituencies in China, obviously in contrast to Beijing’s diplomatic warmth towards India, need to be understood properly. The fact is that both represent China’s voices; the difference may perhaps be that Beijing feels free and unburdened in firmly conveying to New Delhi through its strategic journals and media, its sensitivity on certain topics like the border, connected with China’s core interests of ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity’.

Question 2: We are all aware of the 1962 war when the Chinese troops advanced into territory in India’s north-east but retreated subsequently. Beijing continues to lay claim to around 90,000 square kilometers of territory in India. Indian military experts argue that control over Arunachal will enable China militarily overrun the northeastern India. Others have claimed that China seeks control over Arunachal and specifically Tawang to consolidate its hold over Tibet. In your opinion, what is the actual reason behind China’s claim over Arunachal when the former is well aware of the fact that Arunachal is an integral part of India and New Delhi will never succumb to the Chinese pressure and full scale war is also not a feasible option for both the countries to settle the dispute? What will China actually gain from such a demand? Or, what is China’s game plan?

Answer 2: Beijing’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh needs to be studied in the context of China’s traditional territorial position. The idea of ‘territory’ occupies no position in China’s tradition, which is based on the ‘Tianxia’ (All Under Heaven) concept. The concept provides that all the people and the areas, in which they live, belong to China’s Emperor, who is the Son of God. China’s past references to historical loss of territories centuries back as well as Mao’s “Five fingers” terminology (calling for liberation of Tibet and its five fingers of Nepal, Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA) appear to have been influenced by the concept. Beijing however now admits that it recognizes and accepts international principles giving up the ‘Tianxia’ concept and says that it does not lay claims to ‘historically lost’ territories. China’s changed stand is good, but what should be borne in mind is that under its strong traditional weight, China may not feel guilty in claiming territories of other nations.

Arunachal Pradesh, called Southern Tibet by Beijing, is not considered by China as a historically lost territory. As Beijing sees, it is a territory snatched away by the British regime in 1914, with India inheriting the British legacy. In making demands on Arunachal, China is neither gaining nor losing. It is only continuing its claims in order to keep the issue alive and solve it to its advantage at a suitable time in future. The case is similar to that of China’s disputes over islands in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. With the littoral nations in the latter, China is maintaining its territorial claims over the concerned islands, many in the resource-rich region. But its ‘harmonious world” international concept demands friendship with such nations and hence the formula of Beijing to “shelve the differences and work for joint development”. China appears to be applying the same formula towards India; it has said that a solution to its border issue with India may not be immediate and that in the meanwhile bilateral ties can be promoted.

The strategic advantage to China, coming from any realisation of its claim over Arunachal, can be another factor in the Chinese minds. Possession of Arunachal can in particular help China in guaranteeing its consolidation of hold over Tibet, a region which witnessed challenges to the same in March 2008 in the form of ethnic riots. Also, the argument that India’s North East will become vulnerable if China realizes its claims over Arunachal Pradesh, appears to be correct.

Question 3: India has decided to step up defence preparedness on its border with China. Four Sukhoi combat aircrafts have recently been sent to its base in Assam’s Tezpur and the Centre plans to increase this to squadron strength of 18, deploy two army divisions along Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh, and start other development works in the border areas of the state. Do you think India’s recent move in Arunachal will prove to be a deterrent to the Chinese aggression in the north-east given the fact that Beijing is militarily more capable than India?

Answer 3: Yes, India has taken right steps albeit with delay, to defend Arunachal. However it remains to be seen whether India can match the Chinese military strength already built up across the border. It may take some time, but the beginning is welcome.

Question 4:. Several issues remain unresolved in the India-China relations: Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile in India; China’s non-recognition of Sikkim’s merger with India; the nuclear tests by India in 1998; and India’s allegation that China is arming Pakistan and China was occupying about 33,000 square kilometres of its territory in the Aksai Chin region of Ladakh. This is a list of claims and counter claims. Is China performing diplomatically much better than India in convincing the world about its claims? Is India doing the same like China? Who has an upper edge in the game of diplomacy concerning the boundary dispute and why is it so?

Answer 4: China is a global player now. Its economic integration with the West particularly with the US remains strong but I do not think that China is taking the border issue with India to international levels now; that was seen in the aftermath of the 1962 war. There are also no reports about China’s taking up with the other countries specific cases like Indian additional troops to the border areas. As such, any visualisation of a diplomatic competition between India and China on the border issue may not be correct.

Question 5: There has been a lot of reports of Chinese intrusions in Arunachal Pradesh. But the government and security establishments always deny such reports. What is the truth? Who are actually intruding the Indian territory – Chinese soldiers or the grazers? How much serious are such intrusions and why? Do you have any data?

Answer 5: As the perceptions of China and India on the border differ, intrusions on either side can happen. The Indian government and security establishments have indeed noted such intrusions into the perceived Indian territory. The Chinese of course deny this. We had seen a pattern in the past revealing the Chinese use of intrusions as a mean to reiterate their territorial claims, particularly at the times of exchanges of visits by VVIPs of both the nations. As for available data from the Indian side, there have been 270 cases of “intrusions” by the Chinese during 2008, compared to the figure of 60 in 2007 (The Tribune, 7 July 2009).

Question 6: 46 years later, India has repaired its relationship with the Chinese to some extent, but those wounds have not been forgotten. Excuses have been thrown up for the military debacle, India was ill prepared, it believed in non-violence, it trusted the Chinese……….But few know the real story of what happened, what went wrong. Successive governments have refused to release the Henderson-Brooks report that investigated the lapses of 1962 India-China war. Do you think India was responsible for its own defeat in 1962 and losing influence in the eastern sector? What were India’s pitfalls? Has India regained its influence now?

Answer 6: From all records, it appears that India was unprepared for the 1962 war in which China claims to have acted in self-defence. Whether or not India faced a debacle is difficult to judge in the absence of any relevant Indian official open records. The Chinese withdrew from the border for their own reasons particularly due to international factors; since then, India has been gradually nurturing its military presence in the Eastern sector, though the process has picked up momentum only recently.

Question 7: China has long been covertly supporting Pakistan in destabilizing India. Is China helping some anti-India forces to foment trouble in the northeastern region of India and if yes, why is it doing so? Please, give an elaborate answer in this regard.

Answer 7: The China-Pakistan nexus at the cost of India is not a new thing. However, Beijing has been following a ‘balanced’ South Asia policy for quite some years now, in conformity with its changed foreign policy priorities. For e.g Beijing no longer calls for the self-determination of Kashmir and favours a solution to the issue through India-Pakistan talks; even on the Kargil conflict, its position had not been sympathetic to Pakistan. Despite this, China is continuing to develop a close political, economic and military relationship with Pakistan for the reason that the latter is the gateway for the oil-rich Central Asia. China has a unique friendship treaty with Pakistan which, among other things, binds both the nations to come to the help of each other at the time of crisis. New Delhi needs to carefully monitor the emerging Sino-Pakistan ties, for their strategic implications for India.

China had supported insurgency movements in India’s North East in the past. This situation no longer exists. There were some reports about Chinese training to ULFA etc but there is no concrete proof about a change in China’s policy towards the insurgents on the Indian side.

Question 8: India is supporting the Tibet cause. How does China see India’s support to Tibet? Does Delhi’s support to the Tibet cause cast an impact on the border negotiations between the two countries? What do you think?

Answer 8: India has made its position on the Dalai Lama clear – the spiritual leader and their followers will not be allowed to indulge in any anti-China activities from the Indian soil. Beijing remains satisfied with this position. On some occasions however, the Chinese media have criticised India’s “Right wing” politicians for their alleged sympathy for the Tibet cause. Beijing and Dharamsala are conducting their own negotiations, which are continuing. India can give indirect support to such negotiation process.

The Sino-Indian border issue and the Dalai Lama issue are different. The Chinese media have tried to link the two issues in their own way, for e.g. they criticised the statement of the Dalai Lama made during his visit to Arunachal Pradesh last year, acknowledging that Arunachal Pradesh is a part of India. The criticism specifically was that the Dalai Lama “sold out” Chinese territory to India.

Question 9: China has friendly and business relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The stated objectives of China include developing strategic missile and space based assets and rapidly advancing navy to conduct operations in distant waters. This will have an effect on India and Beijing will certainly influence these countries to gather their support in case of a conflict with India. What is Delhi practically doing in this present scenario when China is quite ‘friendly’ with our ‘unfriendly’ neighbours? Don’t you think India has a less influence than China in Asia – everybody fears China and nobody takes India’s threats seriously?

Answer 9: The Chinese policy towards India’s neighbourhood has been critically commented upon in length in India- as a Chinese attempt to strategically encircle India. The Chinese have officially denied the same. At the same time, China’s military and port facilities in countries like Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka need to be noted by India for their military potentials. These facilities of course seem to be perceived important by China from the point of view of its energy security, but Beijing needs to address India’s concerns in this regard. I think this issue can be tackled through friendly negotiations between China and India. India on its part is giving importance to improving relations with its neighbours. It is reaching out to Bangladesh and Myanmar. Its Look East Policy has paid good dividends to the country.

Question 10: How China sees the India-US current relations? Will it help India to an extent in the border negotiations? Please, give your view.

Answer 10: The Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, New Delhi-Washington defence relations and holding of the four nation joint military exercise (Japan, US, Australia and India) were all described by the Chinese media as efforts to contain China. India’s “wishes” to take part in such a containment has been especially noted in the People’s Daily. To what extent Beijing has taken up these issues officially with New Delhi is not known but China’s apprehensions have come out clear. At present, Beijing is developing its ties with Washington through holding economic and strategic dialogue. The huge dependence of the US on the Chinese financial investment has even made Washington to toe a soft line towards China on issues like Tibet and human rights. The growing Indo-US relations, in my opinion, is independent of the Sino-Indian border negotiations.

Question 11: Let’s talk about border economic diplomacy. It includes creation of intensive infrastructural links and establishment of trans-border sub-regional mechanism. India has lately woken up to China’s aggressive road building along the China-India border. Though India has now started building infrastructural links, do you think India’s measures are adequate if compared to the Chinese measures? How much is India’s current progress in this regard? Will only developing the border areas by India along its eastern sector put China on the back foot?

Answer 11: Building infrastructure by India in the Eastern border is a significant step towards improving the economic conditions in the concerned provinces. It also helps the economic integration of these regions including Arunachal Pradesh with the rest of India. Compared to this, the Chinese have been more successful given their success in linking Tibet with the mainland through rail, road and air network. China will continue to develop its border areas irrespective of what India does in its Eastern sector. There will be no ‘back foot’ by China.

Question 12: India has banned Chinese mobile sets, chocolates and milk products. Beijing has also threatened to ban import of seafood and other food products from India if New Delhi continues to restrict import of milk products from China. Do you think such trade embargos have some relations with the border dispute between the two Asian giants or these are just routine trading measures? Has the reopening of Nathula Pass linking Sikkim with Tibet and neighbouring areas of China brought any change in the India-China relation?

Answer 12: I think trade embargos by India have no relation to its border dispute with China. Both are different matters and in economic field, each country has to act in its self-interest. Opening of Nathula Pass is indeed a positive development, which signifies China’s de-facto recognition of Sikkim as part of India. Such programmes will help in promoting border trade, benefiting peoples in the boundary regions of both the nations.

Question 13: What should India do diplomatically to defeat China in the issue of border dispute? Give your opinion.

Answer 13: Both the governments of India and China have realised that a solution to the border issue is not going to be immediate; statements from top leaders from both sides have signaled their desire to develop bilateral relations looking beyond the border dispute. Twelve rounds of talks between the two special representatives have taken place so far on the border issue but a framework for a solution on the basis of political parameters agreed in 2005, is yet to be reached. Both China and India should continue their diplomatic efforts; there is no question of one ‘defeating’ other diplomatically.

(Courtesy – Sahara Time, New Delhi. Replies were given by Mr.D.S.Rajan, Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies. email:

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