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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Is the Red Dragon snarling again?

September 17, 2009

by Indrani Bagchi

TNN - 17 September 2009

The India-China theatre is a hotbed of activity. Chinese intrusions on the
border are on the rise, leading to protests by India. As China intensifies
its military buildup, India is huffing and puffing to catch up.

Separately, China is building strategic stakes in India's neighbourhood,
while India appears to be watching helplessly. Globally, the economic crisis
is catapulting China to the high table faster than India can say 'George
Bush' - see how China only has to say 'boo' for Barack Obama to keep Dalai
Lama out of the White House.

Meanwhile, the boundary dispute remains unresolved because China has been
repeatedly intransigent. On the other hand, India and China are on the same
page on global issues, and on trade they are dancing their way to the bank.

Through all this, India maintains a strange policy of appeasing the dragon.
India allows the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal in the teeth of Chinese
howls, but pretends that intrusions by China have happened for years and the
definition of peace and tranquillity is the absence of violence.

It all boils down to a failure to resolve the boundary dispute. While
officials say they are moving 'slowly but surely', strategists across the
board say China's policy of low-level intrusions serves to keep India
offguard. It's also a signal to India's other neighbours that India
continues to fall short in being a 'balancing power'.

Ultimately, it has to do with Tibet, Tawang and the Dalai Lama. Tawang was
always sacred for Tibetans, but China has only recently upped its claims for
the state as it works through the Tibetan question, particularly giving
itself the power to appoint the next Dalai Lama. Earlier, China wanted to do
a swap of Aksai Chin and Tawang, but that's off the table now.

But India is slowly learning to deal with a superior strategic competitor,
its skills rusted by years of Pakistan-centric foreign policy. Speaking
Punjabi works wonders in Pakistan, but knowing Mandarin doesn't always help
in Beijing. It's the hard-nosed approach that does, and India is only now
swallowing this unpalatable fact.

For the first time, the Indian envoy in Beijing was chosen for his
professional skills rather than his language proficiency. During the most
recent round of border talks, India told China it would insist on Chinese
commitment to the 2005 Guiding Principles where it agreed that while
demarcating the boundary, interests of settled populations would be taken
into account.

Extrapolated, it meant that Arunachal would stay with India. The Chinese
subsequently went back on that commitment, and India's let them. Until now.
In the Indian Ocean, India is putting strategic stakes in Maldives and
Mauritius to assert its maritime power and is reasonably hopeful of courting
the Sri Lankans away from the Chinese.

There also appears to be some fresh thinking on developing the Andaman and
Nicobar Islands as a strategic post, as indicated by PM's special envoy
Shyam Saran, which would take care of the Chinese 'threat' in Myanmar.

On the Himalayan heights, however, the reality is very different. While some
of the 'incursions' on LAC are exaggerated by hyper-reporting, it's
undeniable that PLA has been guilty of intrusions and aggressive patrolling
for at least a year now. 'Violations' by Chinese forces resulted in 2,285
instances in 2008 as compared to 778 instances in 2007. While Arunachal has
been repeatedly hit in the eastern sector, China has even opened up the
resolved Sikkim border and the middle sector.

Militarily, China is streets ahead of India, with some 13 border defence
regiments and many brigades along the border, so if, in these heated days, a
conflict does indeed break out, India will be toast. China is certainly a
challenge, but India has to learn to face it openly rather than ducking
behind diplomatic platitudes. There needs to be a multi-hued China
engagement policy. For instance, unlike Pakistan, more engagement is always
better with China, because frankly, Indians don't 'understand" the Chinese.
Can India start a 'peace process' with China?

Brothers in Arms: Flip-flop in Relationship

- Dec 30, 1949: India recognizes China after communist take over and lobbies
hard for Beijing's UN membership. Soon Beijing adopts `hard-policy on
non-communist countries and views India as "appendage of Western

- Oct 30, 1950: China's Tibet invasion shocks India. New Delhi issues
strongly-worded statement in protest

- Nov 1950: India refuses to vote in favour of UN resolution branding China
as an aggressor in Korea

- Jan 26, 1951: Chairman Mao Tse-tung participates in Republic Day
celebration at Indian embassy in Beijing

- Sep 1952: India designates its mission in Lhasa as Consulate-General

- Dec 10, 1952: PM Jawaharlal Nehru instructs Indian Ambassador to China
that India's attitude to Chinese should be a combination of friendliness and

- Apr 29, 1954: India-China (Panchsheel) Agreement signed

- May 12, 1954: Nehru orders establishment of check-posts at all disputed

- Jun 25-27, 1954: PM Zhou En-lai visits New Delhi; reaffirms commitment to

- Oct 1954: Nehru visits China and discusses situation in South-East Asia;
doesn't raise the boundary issue

- April 1955: India supports China over Taiwan

- 1959: India grants political asylum to the Dalia Lama

- April 1960: Premier Zhou Enlai visits New Delhi to hold talks with Nehru,
no agreements reached due to India's insistence on its stand

- Oct 20, 1962: Chinese attack India

- Oct 24, 1962: India rejects Chinese offer to negotiate

- Nov 13, 1962: India counterattacks and capture northwest town of Walong

- Nov 21, 1962: Chinese dont advance farther; declare cease-fire

- Dec 19-23, 1988: In the first visit by an Indian PM to China in 34 years,
Rajiv Gandhi visits Beijing on Premier Li Peng's invitation. The two sides
agree to settle the boundary issue

- Dec 11, 1991: Peng visits Delhi and issues joint press communiqui with PM
P V Narasimha Roa

- May 18, 1992: President R Venkataraman visits China

- Sep 6, 1993: Rao visits China and concludes a historic agreement for peace
and tranquility on the borders

- Nov-Dec 1996: Chinese President Jiang Zemin visits India

- May-June 2000: President K R Narayanan visits China

- Jan 13, 2002: Premier Zhu Rongji visits India, meets PM Atal Bihari

- June 22, 2003: Vajpayee visits China, signs a declaration

- April 9, 2005: Premier Wen Jaibao visits India, issues joint statement

- Jan 15, 2008: PM Manmohan Singh visits China and signs a joint document to
"promote the building of a harmonious world'' with Jiabao
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