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India-China: Events of Embarrassment

India has cancelled a confidence-building visit to China by a group of civil servants in an escalation of a diplomatic row. The 107 Indian Administrative Service officers were due to leave for Beijing and Shanghai for a mid-career training programme on 25 May 07 when they were directed to return to their home states. This move came after China granted only 106 visas to the proposed delegation, denying one to a civil servant from the Arunachal Pradesh, on the grounds that he was Chinese and therefore did not require one. Perhaps, the Chinese government expected that the denied individual should have applied for a Chinese passport and not a visa to enter China!

Beijing keeps claiming 90,000 sq km of land in Arunachal Pradesh, whereas China is occupying 38,000 sq km of our territory in Kashmir illegally ceded to it by Pakistan. It is not the first occasion on which China has sought to remind India of its continuing claim to Arunachal Pradesh. China’s envoy to India Sun Yuxi said the “entire state was a part of China” in November, 06 just a few days before Chinese president Hu Jintao’s maiden visit to India. Shockingly, this statement came not long after the official announcement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang which read: “With the improvement of relations between the two sides, this [the status of Sikkim] is not any more a question within our relations.”

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had one-on-one talks followed by delegation level talks, resulting in the two countries agreeing on a 10-pronged strategy to consolidate, enhance and deepen the relationship between the two nations. Except for a ceremonial Joint Communiqué, nothing concrete came out of the visit. Earlier, during Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s visit in 2005, India and China had agreed on broad principles to settle their decades-long border issue. Similarly, soon after their historic meeting of Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers at the Great Hall of the People in June,2003, the then Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha stated that the two sides had agreed that one bilateral issue – the unresolved border – could not hold hostage other areas where cooperation was possible. “The Chinese side stands for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the issue, a solution that can be found through bilateral talks in accordance with the principles of consultation on an equal footing, mutual understanding, mutual accommodation and mutual adjustment,” Wen Jiabao was quoted as saying in response.

China’s Concern:

  1. Relations between India and China, which had remained under strain since India-China war of 1962, went into further spin after India’s nuclear explosion in May 1998 and the then Indian Defense Minister, George Fernandez’s provocative statement specifically describing China as the potential enemy and number one security threat to India. The then Indian premier Vajpayee too in his messages to heads of foreign governments, including Bill Clinton, had named China as “the primary cause” of his government’s decision to weaponize its nuclear capability.

  2. Apart from its perennial contest with Pakistan, China feels that India seeks a dominant position in South Asia with its creation of Bangladesh(1971) and interventions in Sri Lanka (1985), and expansion of influence in the Himalayan states. India also appears to have sought a degree of primacy in the Indian Ocean and adjacent Southeast Asia. In short, India is looking to establish a role commensurate with its importance on the world stage.

  3. India’s missile program is a key determining factor shaping the U.S.-India-China triangle. India’s Agni III missile, which has a design range of 3,500 km, had a successful test recently. With precision and fine tuning, China has apprehension that it will bring all of China within range.

  4. India had imposed a levy of Rs. 300 per tonne on iron ore exported from March 1, 2007. Protesting over the move, major Chinese companies have decided not to buy iron ore from India, claiming that Indian iron ore is no more competitive compared to Australian and Brazilian iron ore.

  5. US President George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a far-reaching nuclear agreement in New Delhi, a deal which has caused a furore. In exchange for allowing international inspection of most of its nuclear reactors, India was assured by the US government of a steady supply of enriched uranium and other nuclear technology for its civilian nuclear programme.

  6. Since India’s conversion of Arunachal Pradesh from union territory to state, tensions between China and India escalated in the form of border skirmishes since 1986.

  7. Lastly, even though the Dalai Lama’s Middle Path approach involves resolving the issue of Tibet within the framework of the People’s Republic of China, it also embodies his deep concern for the survival of the Tibetan identity, culture, religion, and way of life. China has neither forgotten nor forgiven India for having given asylum to the Tibetan leader and his followers.

Advantage To China:

China is not a strong military power founded on a weak economy, but a powerful economy supporting a credible military force that is, nevertheless, backed by a nuclear arsenal. It has made exemplary strides in the industrial and economic fields recording annual growth rates of up to 12 percent since 1976. Its trade has expanded 17 times to more than $350 billion over the past two decades. Its goods reach 200 foreign lands. Their quality is high and price quite low. China is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) having access to world markets including those of India. China keeps playing its military, economic and diplomatic cards as and when it suits her both in the Asia-Pacific region as well as challenging and surviving the United States’ China-containment policy.

Conclusion

Under these circumstances, unless a firm message is given to the Chinese side by our Prime Minister who is scheduled to visit Beijing later this year, China is likely to keep embarrassing us from time to time.

(The writer, Mr.N.Raghupathy, is a former Director in the Cabinet Secretariat, Govt.of India. email: nraghupathy@yahoo.com)

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