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China-India: Non-Governmental Hostility Behind Facade of Governmental Cordiality

The following are my comments in reply to some questions E-mailed to me by a correspondent of the “Washington Post” in Beijing on August 14,2009:

1) It seems that China has gotten some criticism about the border issue talk recently in India. What do these criticisms focus on?

My comments:The Government of India has not criticised the Govt. of China on the border issue and vice versa. However, governmental sources in New Delhi have been expressing concern periodically over repeated Chinese troop intrusions into Indian territory in the Arunachal Pradesh area at a time when the border talks are going on. There has been a lot of criticism in India at the non-Governmental level of the sarcastic and disparaging comments about India carried by the “Global Times” and voiced by some Chinese academics after media reports that India was reinforcing its military deployment in the Arunachal Pradesh area as a measure of self-defence in response to Chinese military deployments in Tibet after the Lhasa uprising of March 2008 and the improvement of road and rail infrastructure in Tibet.

2) Chinese experts we’ve interviwed said China did not add any troops along the disputed border and Chinese media only talked about India added more troops along the disputed border. Did China send more troops along the disputed border?

My comments: Over the years, China has followed a policy of steadily strengthening its military-related infrastructure and troop deployments in Tibet for two reasons. Firstly, to suppress the supporters of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to strengthen its hold over Tibet. Secondly, to protect Tibet from India. China looks upon its actions in Tibet as justified because it looks upon Tibet as Chinese territory de facto and de jure. India avoided any defensive action in Arunachal Pradesh till four years ago since border talks are going on with China. After the construction of the railway line to Lhasa and because of reports of Chinese plans to eventually extend it to the Indian border, India decided to reverse its policy of not sending troop reinforcements to Arunachal Pradesh and not strengthening the military-related infrastucture. This decision was also influenced by the movement of additional Chinese troops to Tibet after March 2008 and coninued Chinese troop intrusions into Indian territory. China looks upon Indian actions with hostility because it sees Arunachal Pradesh as a disputed territory over which it has claims.

3) Chinese domestic media maintains that ‘China sticks to the principle of peaceful solution through talks’ and Chinese government reacted to the move India made regarding troops-employment in a reserved way. But is China speaking in two voices on Sino-Indian ties? How do you interprete the ‘kindeness’ Chinese side has shown?

My comments: The official comments on recent developments from Beijing have been polite, guarded and non-provocative, but comments from non-governmental circles such as the “Global Times”, some academics etc have been virulent and hostile. Since the Indian public believes that there is no such thing as genuine non-governmental opinion in China, it sees their comments as influenced, if not encouraged, by the Chinese Government. This phenomenon of non-governmental hostility behind a facade of governmental cordiality baffles and worries Indian public opinion and, I am sure, of the policy-makers too though they do not openly say so.

4) What are the negotication bottomeline or framework both sides have?

My comments:I do not have knowledge of the way the border talks have been going on. But from open source information, one gets the impression that the deadlock remains. The Chinese continue to insist that without Indian agreement to transfer at least the Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh if not the whole of it to China there can be no border settlement.They describe Arunachal Pradesh as “southern Tibet” and claim Tawang on the ground that historically the Tawang monastery, according to them, has had religious ties with the monastery in Lhasa and that one of the previous Dalai Lamas was born in Tawang. India’s consistent position has been that there can be no transfer of populated areas. Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang, is a populated area.

5) In the recent Chinese military exercise, Chengdu division did not participate. Chinese military analyst said ‘it showed China’s sincerity towards China-India border issue as it did not target India as the imaginary enemy.’ How would you like to comment on this?

My.comments:In my article on the Chinese military exercise, I have myself drawn attention to the non-participation of the Chengdu Military Region in the military exercise and speculated that this might have been due to a Chinese desire not to cause any undue alarm in India by having a huge exercise in Tibet.

6) How do you look at the future solution of this issue? Pessimistic or optimistic? Will that be possible that military resolution is the only one way as some Chinese strategist said?

My comments: I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but I have hopes that the expanding economic relations between the two countries will ultimately moderate the Chinese position and facilitate a mutually acceptable compromise.Last year, the value of the bilateral trade between India and China reached US $ 52 billion. For India, China has emerged as a more important trading partner than the US. India has become an important destination for Chinese construction companies, who are winning more lucrative contracts in India that anywhere else in Asia, including Pakistan. At the same time, while remaining hopeful of an ultimate moderation, one has to take note of the hostile comments in some sections of the so-called non-governmetal opinion in China, which even talk of a possible military conflict.

( The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.E-mail: )

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