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China: 'Swap' Proposal With Regard to Sino-Indian Border Dispute- Some Thoughts

(Remarks of Mr D.S.Rajan, Director, CCCS: The writer, a former top official of the Government of India who had been closely involved in China study, stresses the need for creating a comprehensive database which can help in filling the existing information gaps on the subject of Sino-Indian border issue. According to him, the ‘swap’ proposal now coming to light may indicate internal discussions in China on relative merits of its claims over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh (called ‘Southern Tibet’ by China). Regarding the point raised by the writer on the origin and timing of the Chinese term ‘Southern Tibet’ (“Zangnan” in Chinese) the CCCS wishes to say that the term was first noticed in the Chinese language media articles appeared in end 2006(South Asia Analysis Group paper No.2039 dated 27 November2006,www.southasiaanalysis.org,writer–Mr D.S.Rajan) . Gradually, the usage of the term spread to official levels in China).

1.This connects to the interesting translation of a Chinese language web-article by Prof. B.R.Deepak of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, comparing the relative “strategic” advantages to China between Aksai Chin and “Southern Tibet” including Tawang, implying, minimally, the existence of a debate in China on the issue (Reference C3S Paper No.739 dated 21 February 2011, www.c3sindia.org )

2.Mr. D.S.Rajan’s perceptive introductory comments are all valid to the extent they go. It is proposed to probe the significance of this article a little farther and peg on it some basic points for action by all “Stakeholders”.

3.Inevitably, the multifaceted, important issues flowing out of this interesting piece will be of an inchoate, speculative nature, in view of the existing gaps in information and understanding of China’s stand and pronouncements on the border question, in its various manifestations, e.g. Government statements (oral or written), authorised commentaries in official publications, statements by officials (military, political, diplomatic), academic articles, news coverage quoting third parties, Xinhua’s own news reports and now in the IT era , articles/ comments on websites , blogs etc .

4.Each of these sources has its own differing weightage and value at any given point of time, assignable according to circumstances as well as the depth of perception and background knowledge of the individual experts (this breed, used to be called “China watchers”, is better known in the IT era as “China geek” or “China-Nerd”!)

5.Any such analysis presupposes the availability of an exhaustive/comprehensive database of all such information, meticulously trolled on a 24×7 basis, (in this case starting from 1954, if not earlier from 1914 when McMahon drew his momentous Line!), and segmented according to the source/origin as detailed above and evaluated.

6.Availability of such a comprehensive and up-to-date knowledge base is absolutely essential to perspective the latest piece of information, assess its full import and discern nuances, changes, direction of drift etc., in order to facilitate systematic/scientific analytics and understand the ongoing processes in China in this vital niche of bilateral relations; finally this facilitates fashioning response and action, if any, called for, by different ‘ stakeholders’.

7.This instant blog, obviously, is not official in the strictest sense. But, as applicable to all expressions in Chinese media available in public domain on important subjects like India- China border dispute, this will not have seen the light of day, if it was deemed “not in national interest “, to say the least on its significance.

8.Over and above this bottom line value assignment to the article on the scale of official blessing, one needs the background database built up on the lines indicated above, to project against and assess its full import.

9.All active students of India -China border dispute worth the salt (this should cover all persons dealing with China in the Government of India – GOI, even tangentially, in all departments – Intelligence Agencies, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, National Security Council, Joint Intelligence Committee and et al adjuncts, or in any Institution supported by GOI, like Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, United Services Institution, at all levels) should be sensitive to this arcane art , equipped to apply their mind, kept informed and have free access to the database so as to contribute/blog their assessments . The country thereby will have a vast national reservoir of active talent on China – Nerds/Geeks, and their assessments, available on click to the decision makers.

10. Even under the circumstance of a layperson, with admittedly limited, perfunctory, exposure to the Chinese media, mainly through Chennai Centre for China Studies, one is seeing this type of treatment of the border question for the first time from a Chinese source.

11.As such it can be hazarded that it certainly seems to warrant serious attention for the following implications, at a minimum:

i) That this is not an issue of general/common interest in China to form the subject of casual comment by an “aam aadmi”.

ii) That the blogger has shown expert knowledge of the subject and its geo-strategic significance, dealing with it as a professional, possibly answering a felt need to “educate” a not – so – well – informed audience at large. (To mentally prepare them for an eventuality?).

iii) Or, that it is aimed at a specific group (like the People’s Liberation Army?) who may have a contra appreciation in a debate.

iv) That there has been inside China an on-going discussion, if not a debate, for a while, probably inside the corridors of power, on the relative strategic importance of the two areas under dispute brought out herein, namely, the “Aksai Chin” and “Southern Tibet” including Tawang.

v) That this debate has covered/involved a proposal of a “swap ” between the two, as a possible solution, even at a hypothetical level,

vi) That this was sufficiently serious and ongoing (where, at what level, among whom, how long etc, needs to be researched in the manner indicated in paragraphs above), as to get aired in the media, in the manner it has been done in this article, weighing in favour of Aksai Chin and probably intended to apply the closure to the debate.

vii) That Chairman Mao’s hallowed name had to be invoked in this debate, after a lapse of decades, alleging that this was his reasoned/considered decision.

viii) That the debate, by implication, had been joined and decided when he was alive (prior to 1974?)

ix) That even if this be revisionist history, a need was felt to use this ultimate weapon to settle a reconstructed /recrudesced debate.

x) That probably the translation needs to be rechecked in that the “swap” proposition has been put in the past perfect tense, as if it is a ‘fait accompli’! (?). Whichever way, the correct import of this has to be thoroughly analysed and understood.

12. All these, and other deducible points that may be thought of, raise very interesting & important questions for which answers have to be searched at all costs, to evaluate & put our stand on the border dispute on an informed basis.

13.In case there is contra evidence available suggesting alternative possibilities, these need to be brought up to draw appropriate conclusions.

14.Over the years, there has been plenty of “loose” information doing the rounds in India on the “Swap” formula. What exactly had the Chinese said, when, where at what level of authority/ authenticity, and most importantly HOW?

15. These have to be authoritatively nailed down once and for all, on the scale enumerated in para 3 above, by marshalling all relevant documentation comprehensively, say in a follow up White Paper.

16.The very nomenclature “Southern Tibet” is of recent origin, probably late 2000. When, where, at what level did this come into vogue and used in exchanges on the border, at government and/or other levels from the Chinese side?

17.Unfortunately, really meaningful answers to all these questions may not be available in public domain. The main Stakeholder, the Government of India, only has the answers to these vital questions.

18.Sadly, that entity has hobbled itself and shut out all help from the rest of the country to make all the essential meaningful research and discovery of answers to these issues of vital national interest, a matter of national concern and endeavour, by shrouding all the talks on the border with the Chinese in self defeating secrecy, the burden of our grouse.

19.Nevertheless, it is incumbent on the other stake holders (i.e people in India) to do whatever discovery of Chinese semantics on the border dispute they can, under this burden of contrived/enforced opacity, in an inherently dark and blind alley which is ‘China watching’ still.

20.The country needs to know what efforts/ arrangements are extant to troll Chinese electronic media like the websites & blogs on a fail-safe 24×7 basis. Who are all doing it? Who has been charged to do this in the Government of India?

21. In the pre IT era, we used to depend, upto the 1980s anyway, on the Americans and the Brits to sweep the then available Chinese radio and print media output, and bring these out in such publications like Survey of China Mainland Press and reports of BBC/VOA Monitoring Services , which were subscribed to .

22.The Americans (National security Agency) may be doing something similar to sweep the Internet traffic in China. Have we got plugged into it, if for technical and resources reasons, we found (mistakenly) the task beyond our capacity in India?

23. Raising to a broader level, how well equipped we are, as a nation, to study the inscrutable Chinese sophistry to the extent demanded, over the entire spectrum of India-China relations, to match their (in an aseptic/clinical view) diabolic challenge?

24.By divine grace, we are, by and large for practical purposes, still below the horizon of the Chinese radar, in their globalised strategic ambitions and goals, with the U.S. and the Pacific mainly in their sights at present.

25.This may give us a breather of about 4 to 5 years at most, to gear ourselves up in all directions and make up the extant deficits, with an “emergency” plan of action (taking a leaf from Deng’s exhortation to his countrymen in the 80s) by carefully scripted” boot-strap-lift-up” efforts, a Herculean task.

Note by the writer: For a more detailed analysis of the India- China relations, specially the border dispute, the serious lacunae in our existing structure and handling of the crisis, including definition of the ‘Stakeholders’ and their role, please see the writer’s paper presented at a national seminar on “The Rise of China and Its Implications for Asian neighbours”, held at Chennai in December 2010 (C3S Paper No.708 dated 5 January 2011, www.c3sindia.org).

(The writer, Mr N.Narasimhan, is former Secretary, Cabinet secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi. While in the government, he was closely involved in China study, for over three decades, from early 1960’s. email:nnni35@yahoo.com)

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