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“Arunachal – Options for India”, Summary of proceedings at a Colloquium organised by the CCCS on Fe

Initiating the discussions, Mr.G.V.Ramakrishna IAS (Retd) and former Chairman, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), stated that China’s strategy is to cut India to size and that the border issue reflects a minor dimension of the same. Observing that encirclement of India is China’s goal, he said that such attitude has roots in the principle of encirclement governing the Chinese chess game of Weiji. He expressed apprehension that China may launch military intrusion (one or two companies) into the contentious Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh during October-November 2008, in an effort to show its flag. The Beijing Olympics will be over by that time and China’s intentions would be to exploit the then prevailing national and international atmosphere to put pressure on India – the impending General elections in India, the US Presidential elections and the Indo-US relations which have become lukewarm in the light of the controversy over civil nuclear cooperation agreement. China may also weigh the following other factors influencing the atmosphere

  1. China’s superiority over India in terms of border military strength and infrastructures.

  2. Gaining of strength by forces in India like the Maoists, who are sympathetic to China.

  3. Emerging close China-Burma relations, directed at diverting the attention of India’s military.

  4. Further strengthening of China-Pakistan nexus with the new government in Islamabad continuing the policy of maintaining close alliance with China and

  5. Changes in Nepal marked by the ascendancy of the Maoist leader Prachanda, close to China.

Reactions to what has been said above from other participants in the symposium, ruled out any chances of big Chinese intrusion into Arunachal Pradesh, particularly Tawang in October-November 2008. The argument has been that international image is important for China and Beijing would not choose to jeopardise the same by indulging in any provocative action in the border, which could be violative of agreements already in existence. Moreover, the burgeoning bilateral economic and trade ties will have a moderating influence on China’s military behaviour.

All participants wanted the Government of India to continue with its infrastructure-building projects in Arunachal Pradesh, even while continuing the border talks with China. Mr.B.Raman, former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, pointed out that India should at the same time, have an adequate military strategy to defend the projects being built in Arunachal Pradesh, if necessary by induction of more mountain divisions.

Mr R.Swaminathan, former Special Secretary and Director-General (Security), Government of India, suggested, as a measure pending a final border settlement, creation of a Sino-Indian administrative boundary in Arunachal Pradesh, on the basis of areas being administered by each side. He added that instead of a Line of Actual Control, there can be a Line of Administrative Control.

Most of the participants felt that China would like to keep the border issue alive, so as to put psychological pressure on India and in particular, prevent India from developing infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh. Mr B.Raman pointed out that as part of China’s strategic culture of looking far ahead, it is already visualising various scenarios and options relating to what can happen in Tibet in the post-Dalai Lama period. China nurses a suspicion that Tawang was the place from where the Khampa revolt in Tibet in the 1950s was orchestrated by the CIA.

Commodore R.S.Vasan, Additional Director, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Chennai Chapter, felt that India should leverage its growing ties with the US to counter China’s motives. With reference to India’s reported approval to a US search for American Air Force personnel missing in action in Arunachal Pradesh, Mr.B.Raman and Mr N.Sathiyamoorthy, Director, ORF, Chennai, felt that this was unwise since China would suspect that there was more than meets the eye in this approval.

Mr.B.S.Raghavan, IAS (Retd) and former adviser to UN, pointed out that Beijing genuinely believes India has done injustice to China on the issue of Arunachal Pradesh. He emphasised that India should not allow the border issue to persist for a long time as mistakes and accidents can happen. There was agreement with his view that the border issue cannot be solved through mechanisms like Joint Working Group (JWG) or talks between two special representatives or Experts group. It is high time that the matter is taken up at a direct political summit between the top leaders of the two countries to thrash it out and come to a quick settlement. This has a parallel with China-Vietnam border negotiations and the historic Sino-US rapprochement brought about by Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong in 1972.

Four options for India were put forth on the occasion:

(a) Maintaining the status quo and leaving the Arunachal Pradesh border as-is-where-is, with willingness for some adjustments.

(b) Countering the Chinese stubborn position on Tawang based on their religious and national sentiments, with Indian claims over the spiritually important Mansarovar and adjoining territory extending from Lipulekh Pass to Zhangmu in Tibet , to facilitate easy and unhindered approach to Kailash; in other words, Manasarovar can be a bargaining chip for India. This may however need a cautionary approach so as to avoid any impression that such barter is a sign of India’s weakness. Also, the barter needs parliamentary approval; in addition, the claim on Manasarovar could be seen as having non-secular overtones.

(c) Conceding Tawang to China. However, this is unlikely to receive national acceptance in India.

(d) Orienting Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) strategy, in such a way to indirectly warn China that New Delhi can use its maritime prowess in counter to Beijing’s persistence with its land claims on Arunachal Pradesh.

The overall consensus was that China’s interests may lie in prolonging the border issue, but India in the meanwhile should not hesitate to strengthen the infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh. The implementation of the infrastructure projects recently announced by the Prime Minister should be followed up vigorously.

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