(To be read with Chennai Centre for China Studies, www.c3sindia.org paper No.285 dated 11 June 2009)
Beijing’s official response to the Indian Prime Minister’s statement on Arunachal (9 June 2009) and India’s reported moves to dispatch additional troops to the Sino-Indian border, remains so far muted without meaning any provocation to New Delhi. In contrast, the comments on the subject appearing in the country’s state-controlled media have been sarcastic with a rather threatening tone, towards India.
The PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Qin Gang (11 June 2009), while reiterating that the Sino-Indian border has never been formally demarcated, has stated that China wants a ‘just and rational’ solution to the border issue through talks with India. He has hoped that both sides would follow the consensus and principles agreed upon and protect together the stability and security of the border region.
The authoritative Global Times, affiliated to the Party organ People’s Daily, has on the other hand, been choosing a hard-hitting line towards India. Following its article, “India’s Unwise Military Moves” (People’s Daily Online, English, 11 June 2009), it has published a highly provocative comment (Global Times, Chinese, 12 June 2009) entitled “ India is a paper tiger and its use of force will be trounced, say experts”, which needs a close examination. The comment has alleged that Indian politicians have always been seen adopting a contradictory stand on China – advocating cooperation on one side and creating incidents on the other as well as declaring support to ‘one-China policy’ on one side and supporting the Dalai Lama “clique” for more than half a century on the other. It singled out the actions of Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh in this connection by referring to his visit to the disputed territory in the Eastern sector of the Sino-Indian border soon after his visit to China and his statement on 9 June 2009, that India would not compromise on the border question.
Declaring that China is not ‘afraid’ of the dispatch of 60,000 additional troops to the border, the Global Times write-up has listed India’s real motives for its provoking China – raise the bogey of ‘security threat’ to the border for diverting the attention of Indians from the daily sharpening internal clashes in the country, maintain India’s big brother status in the region and tell the US and other powers that it can play an important role in their attempts to ‘contain’ China. Reiterating China’s stand that it does not recognise the McMahon line, and that it wants to solve the border problem through peaceful and friendly talks, the article has said that India’s actions in the border like sending additional troops, improving firepower and building airfields only hint at New Delhi’s efforts to ‘legalise its territorial occupation’. It has concluded by saying that it is laughable for Mr Manmohan Singh to talk about preparedness to deal with the ‘security threat’ from China, while simultaneously calling for strengthening of relations with China in the international arena.
The ‘paper tiger’ language takes one to the past, when Mao termed the ‘imperialists’ as a paper tiger, to which Khrushchev responded by saying that ‘paper tiger has a nuclear teeth’. This exchange had then ideological and policy connotations. Is it the same situation now? Has Beijing started to reassess India’s role in policy terms? It is anybody’s guess, but to say the least, the epithets in the Global Times look very unfriendly to India, not to mention their criticisms against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by name.
How to interpret the apparent mixed signals emanating from China? Beijing’s official caution would only mean that it wants no escalation of tensions with India on the border issue. Qin Gang’s press comments above, illustrate this point. On the other hand, China has strategic concerns and hence its use of the state-controlled media to convey the same to India. Such a methodology is not unknown to other nations including India. Of immediate concern to India, would be any signal, which may point to the Chinese military moves in the border in retaliation to steps being taken by it. The fact, however, is that China has already strengthened its military and logistic system in the borders and India’s latest steps are only in response to that. Caught in a circle, both India and China should now jointly work towards diffusing any border tension, in the overall interest of bilateral relations. The good atmosphere, marked by trade jump and the ‘shared vision for the 21st century’, should not be allowed to get eroded through any radical step by each side.
(The writer, D.S.Rajan, is the Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai,India.Email:email@example.com)