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Solving the Sino-Indian Boundary Problem:China-Russia Border Agreement Could be a Model, feel Chines

Latest state-controlled media articles in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) indicate a hardening of Beijing’s position on the Sino-Indian border issue; it can be a sign towards possible adoption of a corresponding tough line on the issue at government levels in China, having implications for future state to state relations between the two sides. The significance of what has been conveyed by Beijing through the articles, deserve full attention of the analysts and policy makers in India for obvious reasons. Such fresh media attention by all indications seem to be in response to the very recent trends noticed by China in India concerning the boundary problem – firm stand being taken by leaders, for e.g ruling out a compromise on India’s sovereignty over its borders by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh (9 June 2009), plans to reinforce military and equipment in the border, e.g SU-30 MK 1 aircraft and additional 60000 Indian troops to the border and the rise in the level of allegations on the increase in Chinese border intrusions.

First catching attention is a rather strongly worded article in the Global Times, affiliated to the Party organ People’s Daily. Referring to India’s dispatch of around 60000 troops to the Sino-Indian border ‘in last few days’, it asserted (People’s Daily Online, English, 11 June 2009) that such ‘tough posture’ by the new government of Dr Manmohan Singh, cannot make China to ‘cave in’. Describing the expectations of the Indian politicians that the PRC would defer to their country on territorial disputes in return for India’s not joining US and Japan in encircling China, as a ‘wishful thinking’, the article asserted that China would not make any compromises in its border issues with India. Sounding a note of warning, it remarked that India could not afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China.

Comments on the border issue in the latest Chinese language media are also noteworthy for certain influential opinions and recommendations contained in them. Referring to the issue, Professor Li Wei of the International Relations Institute of Fudan University in Shanghai, has found (Global Times, Chinese, 10 June 2009, quoting ‘Beijing Zhen Bao) that in China’s foreign relations, ties with India remain the ‘most complicated’ one and that there is maximum potential for the ‘eruption of a clash’ between the two nations. He has added that ‘McMahon line’, rejected by the Chinese, has been a key factor responsible for the unsuccessful several rounds of Sino-Indian border talks. Striking a different note, Professor Wang Weihua of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies has ruled out (China broadcasting net, Chinese, 10 July 2009) a Sino-Indian border war by saying that a war option is not under the PRC’s consideration as it is not prepared to solve the boundary issue through use of force. This contrasts with an earlier assessment in China on a ‘partial war’ with India on the boundary question( Reference Chennai Centre for China Studies, www.c3sindia.org, C3S Paper No.230 dated 24 November 2008 ).

Professor Zhou Shixin of the Shanghai International Studies University, along with Professor Wang Weihua feel (China broadcasting net, Chinese, 10 July 2009) that the issue of ‘Southern Tibet’ (as the Chinese call Arunachal) can be solved through “Heixiazi’ formula which settled the Sino-Russian border. (It may be recalled that China and Russia reached an agreement in July 2008, after about 40 years of border talks, under which the latter returned to China two territories stretching 174 sq kms, located at the confluence of the rivers, Ussuri in Russia and Heilong in China, and occupied by it since 1929 – Tarabarov island, called Yinlong by the Chinese and half of Bolshoy Ussuriysky island, called Heixiazi by the Chinese). While it is to be checked whether or not such a recommendation has been seen before, India needs to closely examine the same from the point of view of its desirable stance in future negotiations with China. A question arises – do the Chinese expect India to return Tawang to them, as Russians did in the case of Heixizi?

Certain other themes in the latest coverage by the Chinese media, though old, are deserve attention due to their reiteration. They include past Chinese allegations that Tawang is under Indian occupation since 1951 and that a lot of Indian migrants had moved to China’s “Southern Tibet” since then as well as their remarks that talks on the boundary issue will continue for a long time. On the last point mentioned, the coverage has something to say in addition. Plan to dispatch 60000 more troops to the border, are India’s strategic moves belying any Chinese hope to solve the boundary issue within a short time, says a comment (China broadcasting net, 10 June 2009). It has quoted Prof Zhou Shixin as saying that India does not have the will to return ‘Southern Tibet’ to China and the latter is also not thinking about abandoning its claim on that territory. As such, Sino-Indian border talks will go on, but India will feel greater political pressure from China even though the former enjoys the temporary advantage of occupying ‘Southern Tibet’. Such a pressure will affect India’s position in South Asia, Professor Zhou has observed further.

Addressing the question as to why India keeps its ties with China ‘sour’, a lengthy evaluation (Qing Cankao, Chinese- Reference for Youth- 10 June 2009), traces four contributing factors – the continuing influence of the half century old Sino-Indian war on Indians who are unable accept their country’s defeat, China’s economic superiority with its GDP three times more than that of India, provocation by the West which wants to prevent the rise of China by encouraging India to oppose China and lastly, China-Pakistan relations in which case the Indians believe that without China’s help, it would not have been possible for Pakistan to oppose India for a long time and possess nuclear weapons and advanced military equipment. It at the same time compliments the Indian government for its stand in last few years in favour of having more cooperation with China.

It is difficult to say whether the Chinese media pronouncements on the border issue, are only a posture or convey a deeper meaning in terms of China’s policy towards India at this juncture. Any Chinese move to reinforce their military in its border with India, in retaliation of the latter’s additional troop induction into the area, will definitely have consequences for both the sides. New Delhi and Beijing need to work towards cooling the emerging unfriendly atmosphere; that would demand diplomacy at each side, more vigorous than before, capable of reducing any border tension.

(The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, and India.Email: dsrajan@gmail.com)

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