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India-China: Hype & Reality-Part III & Last

As appeared in www.saag.org

In Part I of my analysis on the visit of the Chinese President Mr. Hu Jintao to India from November 20 to 23, 2006, I had discussed the positive aspect of the outcome of the visit relating to bilateral economic relations. In Part II, I had discussed the hopefully positive aspect relating to the likelihood of Chinese support for the removal of restrictions on the supply of civilian nuclear technology and equipment to India when the matter comes up formally before the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) at the instance of the US. This last Part is devoted to the disturbingly negative aspect of the outcome relating to the unyielding Chinese stand on the future of Arunachal Pradesh, which India considers an integral part of India and which China considers as rightfully belonging to the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China.

2. In his interview to Shri Karan Thapar of the IBN-CNN TV Channel telecast on November 26, 2006, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, India’s Minister for External Affairs, described the totality of the outcome of the visit as reasonably satisfactory. The use of guarded language by him could be interpreted as indicating that the outcome was not as satisfactory as the Government of India would have liked it to be. This lack of a feeling of total satisfaction could be attributed to the indications, which were forthcoming on the eve of and during the visit, that Beijing was not yet prepared to extend the pragmatism displayed by the Chinese on all other matters—-including apparent support for India’s civilian nuclear aspirations— to the issue of the future of Arunachal Pradesh in India’s North-East.

3. The Chinese intimation during the visit of Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, former Prime Minister, to China in 2003 that they no longer contested Sikkim being an integral part of India was warmly welcomed by governmental and non-governmental analysts in India as an indicator of Chinese pragmatism on the border issue. It had given rise to hopes in India of a similar Chinese pragmatism on the future of India’s Arunachal Pradesh, leading to a dropping of the Chinese claims to this area. These hopes have been belied so far. The indications till now are that the Chinese are as unyielding as ever on their claim to Arunachal Pradesh.

4. Two developments before Mr. Hu’s visit indicated firm Chinese adherence to their traditional position on Arunachal Pradesh. The first was the postponement—reportedly at the Chinese instance–of a planned meeting between the special representatives of the Prime Ministers of the two countries, who have been periodically meeting to discuss the long-pending border dispute. The second was an interview given to the IBN-CNN TV channel by Mr. Sun Yuxi , the Chinese Ambassador to India, in which he bluntly indicated that China claimed not only Tawang, but the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang, as its territory.

5. This has been the Chinese position. As such, the Ambassador’s re-stating it did not add any new element to the public expectations from the border talks between the two countries. And yet, his interview caused surprise and concern for two reasons. First, the bluntness of his language and the timing of his statement just before Mr. Hu’s visit. This gave rise to a belief that he could not have made the statement without the approval of Beijing—if not at its instance. A subsequent attempt by the Chinese Foreign Office spokesperson to tone down the bluntness of his remarks did not succeed in removing the surprise and concern in the public mind.

6. The second reason was that in the absence of transparency on the progress of the border talks from either New Delhi or Beijing, there had been speculation for some time that the differences between the countries had been narrowed down to the question of the future of the town of Tawang only near the border — with the differences no longer applying to the entire Arunachal Pradesh. This speculation was proved incorrect by the Ambassador’s interview.

7. Past Chinese claims to Tawang rested on three arguments—one of the previous Dalai Lamas was born in Tawang; historically, the Lhasa monastery had religious links with the monastery in Tawang; and it formed part of Tibet. Using these arguments, to extend the claim to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh was disturbing.

8. The real reason for the Chinese claim to Arunachal Pradesh is neither religion nor history, but the Chinese strategic interest in this region, which they see as the gateway to Tibet. In their perception, for their effective control over what now constitutes the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Chinese control over Arunachal Pradesh is necessary.

9. Coinciding with Mr. Hu’s visit, think-tanks of China and the Chinese language media and journals had been discussing, inter alia, the Chinese interest in Arunachal Pradesh. Shri D. S. Rajan, former Director, Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, who had been studying China for nearly three decades and who has been closely monitoring the Chinese language media, journals and web sites of think-tanks, has written a perceptive analysis on this subject under the title, “China: Latest assessments of strategic experts on Sino-Indian ties”.

10. Shri Rajan says in his article: “The Chinese media is now increasingly using the term “Southern Tibet” as their substitute to the name of Arunachal Pradesh given by India. This has no precedence and would seem to have definite implications in future for the Arunachal issue; the analysts are even speaking now in terms of China’s recovery of “Southern Tibet”, i.e Arunachal Pradesh. Also, some PRC analysts while examining their country’s threat perceptions have visualised a future Indian military attack on the PRC. Why such an alarmist view when both nations are on a course of ‘strategic partnership’, is a moot question. The apparent divergences in China between official opinions and the viewpoints of strategists should not confuse any body. Beijing per force needs to show a benign face to the outside world particularly at times of high-level exchanges of visits. For obvious reasons, strategic thoughts do not find a place on such occasions. On the other hand, strategic experts in the PRC are given certain space by the authorities, to make critical evaluations reflecting long-term interests of the country, which ultimately influence policymaking. Herein lies the importance of the latest assessments.”

11. In the past, the Chinese used to project the border dispute as a historic legacy to be rectified through negotiations—-meaning thereby that neither India nor China could be blamed for the border dispute, which was the outcome of the machinations of the British colonial administration. Now, reading between the lines, some Chinese analysts are viewing the dispute in the Arunachal Pradesh area as the outcome of Indian occupation of Chinese territory to be got vacated through negotiations. This evolution in analysis—though not yet articulated by official policy-makers— indicates a disinclination to extend the pragmatic approach to the differences in the Arunachal Pradesh area.

12. A pragmatic approach would dictate the legalisation of the status quo and the conversion of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into the international border through negotiations. In the Indian perception, the status quo in the Ladakh sector favours the Chinese. In the Chinese perception, the status quo in the Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh sectors favours India. While the Chinese are prepared to come to terms with the reality in the Sikkim sector, they are not prepared to do so in the Arunachal Pradesh area.

13. In October 2003, the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr. Wen Jiabo, had told Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Indian Prime Minister, on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bali that China had removed Sikkim from the list of sovereign countries on its official website. At the ASEAN summit in Laos in 2004, the Chinese Prime Minister had told Dr. Manmohan Singh that Beijing had amended its geographical map by showing Sikkim as an Indian state.

14. Every time a joint statement is issued by the leaders of the two countries at the end of a high-level visit, the Chinese insist on the inclusion of a declaration in the statement that Tibet is an integral part of China. Reciprocally, India has not been insisting on the inclusion of a similar declaration that Sikkim is an integral part of India. The Indian hesitation to insist on the inclusion of such a declaration speaks volumes of our softness as a State.

15. Knowledgeable sources say that Mr.Hu is a man of patience, who believes that time is on China’s side and that China can afford to be patient in resolving its territorial claims—-whether relating to Taiwan or the South China Sea islands or the territory in dispute with India. The temperature has been considerably brought down with regard to all these claims. But like all Chinese leaders, he believes that these claims, without which China cannot be complete as one country, should be adhered to without compromise till the time is ripe for achieving the Chinese aims—-politically through negotiations, if possible, or militarily, if necessary.

16. The Chinese policy with regard to the territorial dispute with India is—avoid a military confrontation, but be prepared for a confrontation, if it becomes unavoidable. In pursuance of this policy, it has been developing and strengthening its military-related infrastructure in Tibet.

17. India’s policy seems to be: Avoid a military confrontation. At the same time, don’t prepare yourself for a military confrontation if it is forced on you because the preparation itself might lead to a confrontational situation. In pursuance of this policy, we have not done all that is needed to develop and strengthen military-related infrastructure in our North-East. This would increase our vulnerability to Chinese military pressure if Beijing decides one day on a policy of confrontation.

18. The joint declaration signed by Dr. Manmohan Singh, our Prime Minister, and Mr.Hu says on the border issue: “Both sides are committed to resolving outstanding differences, including on the boundary question, through peaceful means and in a fair, reasonable, mutually acceptable and proactive manner, while ensuring that such differences are not allowed to affect the positive development of bilateral relations. The Special Representatives of India and China on the boundary question have taken steps and shall continue to strive to arrive at a boundary settlement on the basis of the Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of India-China Boundary Question signed on 11 April 2005. An early settlement of the boundary question will advance the basic interests of the two countries and shall, therefore, be pursued as a strategic objective. The Special Representatives shall complete at an early date the task of finalising an appropriate framework for a final package settlement covering all sectors of the India-China boundary. Pending the resolution of the boundary question, both sides shall maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas in accordance with the agreements of 1993, 1996 and 2005.. Along with the talks between the Special Representatives, the Joint Working Group on the India-China Boundary Question shall expedite their work, including on the clarification and confirmation of the line of actual control and the implementation of confidence building measures. It was agreed to complete the process of exchanging maps indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the LAC on the basis of already agreed parameters as soon as possible.”

19. The two leaders have pledged themselves to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border while continuing the negotiations and not to allow the continuing differences to come in the way of the over-all development of bilateral relations. But so long as China’s policy of pragmatism is not made applicable to the Arunachal Pradesh issue and so long as it remains unrelenting in its claims to what India calls Arunachal Pradesh and what many in China look upon as Southern Tibet, there will be an element of uncertainty and unpredictability in the bilateral relations. We should not neglect preparing ourselves for a surprise if and when it comes about so that we are not overwhelmed by it.

20. Relevant extracts from Shri Pranab Mukherjee’s interview to Shri Karan Thapar are reproduced below.

Extracts From The Interview Of Shri Pranab Mukherjee To Shri Karan Thapar

Pranab Mukherjee “It was a reasonably satisfactory meeting. I must say that after ten years the Chinese President visited India. We have achieved certain positive achievements. For instance, the bilateral trade. The target has been fixed to reach 40 billion US dollars by 2010 It has been recognised, and repeatedly the Chinese President referred in his public utterances, that India-China friendship and close relationship is essential for global stabilisation and regional stabilisation.”

Karan Thapar “In which case why do you call it only reasonably satisfactory? Why that qualifying adjective?”

PM “I think reasonably satisfactory is quite a good word.”

Asked why the joint declaration repeated India’s recognition of Tibet as an integral part of China but did not similarly repeat Chinese recognition of Sikkim as an integral part of India, Mr. Mukherjee said: “It is not necessary”. Asked why one was necessary and not the other, Mr. Mukherjee replied: “Because for obvious reasons to do with the presence of the Dalai Lama here”. When asked further if this meant that India was sensitive to Chinese concerns but China was not similarly sensitive to Indian concerns, Mr. Mukherjee said: “I don’t agree”.

Asked if the Arunachal issue came up either in President Hu Jintao’s direct discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or in wider discussions with the Government, the Foreign Minister said : “The Prime Minister did not mention it (but) it has been referred to adequately.”

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: itschen36@gmail.com)

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