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China’s High Risk India Gamble

Dr. Sujit Dutta is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi. Presently he is on lien from IDSA and Professor at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 03, 2010

    China loves to keep the pot boiling with countries it perceives as a potential rival. That much ought to be clear from the way it has dealt with India in recent years. On the whole this can be said to be the tenor of the relationship since the PRC’s formation in 1949. The turbulence is a statement by Beijing that all is not well and India must not assume that it is.

    The visa denial to Lt. General B. S. Jaswal, head of the Northern Command, is a sign that China can find an ever new theme to further complicate the already complex web of India-China differences where even the first knot is yet to be opened in three decades of talks. The game is being played at multiple levels with Jammu and Kashmir -- deemed by China as an area of `international dispute’ in the manner of Arunachal -- a relatively recent diplomatic gambit. It is a gambit that is not new, however, and was first introduced some years ago when the mutually planned visit to Ladakh by the PLA Commander of the Lanzhou Military Region that covers Xinjiang opposite J&K was cancelled at the last moment by China on the ground that Pakistan had protested claiming that the territory is disputed. It was followed soon after by visa denial to an official of the state on similar grounds. Thereafter the Chinese embassy invented the new method of giving stapled visas. Meanwhile, through the 1990s, the official weekly Beijing Review continued to show in its maps J&K as being outside India. Simultaneously, the PLA enhanced its road and rail building work in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with little hint that China considered the area disputed and that such activities were grossly illegitimate given India’s legal sovereignty.

    All this has been well known to the decision-makers in New Delhi. They played down the problems for the past decade in the expectation that deepening engagement would influence attitudes at the top level in China and thereby enable hardened positions to soften. This has unfortunately not happened. If the liberals in the political class believed that since trade ties have flourished and has touched $ 60 billion -- with the bulk of it in Chinese exports – or that since its construction, power and telecom companies have had another $ 25-30 billion in business contracts, a modicum of moderation in Chinese posture on critical issues would follow, they would be hugely disappointed. There has been no moderation on the territorial and other differences that continue to dog the relationship. It is also a message for those in the political class handling international trade and environmental issues who believed that a basis has been found in `a united front’ that would bring gains in bilateral relations.

    China has a long list of demands. It wants Arunachal to be handed over -- at least Tawang and a few more areas; it wants the Dalai Lama to be sent back to Beijing where his struggle for the rights of the Tibetan people and Tibetan autonomy will be silenced; it wants to retain most of what it has forcibly occupied in Ladakh extending well beyond even its official claim line of 1956; it wants Nepal’s neutrality; it wants India not to have close ties with the United States; it wants to further open India’s market for its companies; and so on and so forth. It is unhappy that India is not doing enough. It thus keeps the pressure on. It opposes India’s entry into the Security Council as a permanent member, opposes World Bank and IMF project loans for development programmes in Arunachal and may soon do the same with J&K, it wants India out of the East Asia regional process, it dismisses India’s legal sovereignty in PoK, it steadily builds military pressure points in Tibet, and sustains strategic pressures through its alliance with Pakistan. This is hard-nosed realpolitik. It is also similarly engaged with Japan in the Pacific and the Southeast Asian states in the South China Sea.

    India has made two unilateral concessions to China already. It recognized Taiwan as a part of China and then accepted Tibet to be part of China without seeking any reciprocity on its own territorial integrity. Since China sees them as no concessions at all, there has been no diplomatic gain from such a gesture. India did not insist that China recognize its own territorial order in return, and treat J&K and NEFA (Arunachal) as part of India. India’s repeated reiteration that Tibet is a part of China has not helped to clinch the territorial bargain. There has neither been corresponding reciprocity from China nor has it helped in building trust.

    India thus needs to nuance its current strategy. Given the importance of the relationship both engagement and balancing remain crucial for bilateral and regional stability. India also needs to indicate what its core interests are. The cancelling of military exchanges is to be expected. But wider steps may be needed to ensure that a comprehensive dialogue on a series of intertwined disputes takes place and leads to a resolution. India needs to adhere to strict reciprocity on all diplomatic issues with China. Unilateral concessions do not help. Two, it needs to raise the level of ties with Taiwan and invite a Ministerial team for talks on trade and investments. Three, it would be useful to open discussions on increasing Chinese assertive behaviour across Asia with select Southeast Asian states such as Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and with Japan and the United States. These are all concerned about the growing gulf between Chinese peace and harmony rhetoric and its actions. Finally, India should stop saying Tibet Autonomous Region is part of China till Beijing accepts Arunachal and J&K as integral parts of India.

    It is important for India and Asia that India-China relations are taken forward and long-term stability is maintained. But China needs to feel the same way.