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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

India and China bristle over politics, purr over trade

October 23, 2009

Experts say the relationship is complex, but unlikely to produce
military conflict
Stephanie Nolen and Mark MacKinnon
The Globe and Mail
October 22, 2009

New Delhi and Beijing -- Relations between the world's two
fastest-rising superpowers are suddenly as chilly as their snowy
mountain border, with China and India trading blows in a high-stakes
verbal war.

Border tensions between the two nations are inflamed, the
disagreement over disputed territory that China calls "southern
Tibet" and which India governs as its state of Arunchal Pradesh. Each
country claims huge chunks of the other's territory along the
3,500-kilometre Himalayan boundary in a dispute that stems from their
brief war in 1962.

India reports a sharp rise in Chinese "incursions" into its territory
over the past 18 months, which has prompted new troop deployments and
upgrades to fortifications.

In Beijing, meanwhile, hostility to India has risen in the state-run
media in recent weeks, with the People's Daily calling India
"narrow-minded," accusing it of "provocations" and adding that "India
turned a blind eye to the concessions China had repeatedly made over
the disputed border issues, and refused to drop the pretentious airs
when dealing with neighbours like Pakistan."

"This level of harsh words between two sides has never happened in
the past," said Sun Shihai, dean of South Asian culture at the
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Beyond the border dispute, China's grievances centre on the shelter
India provides to Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and tens
of thousands of other Tibetan exiles in the town of Dharamsala.
Although India has gone so far as to recognize Tibet as part of
China, the platform the Dalai Lama has from his Indian base
infuriates Beijing, and China's verbal attacks on India have
escalated since violent riots last year in the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa, which Beijing claims were organized by Tibetan exiles based in

China also reacted angrily to an Oct. 3 visit by Indian Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh to Arunchal Pradesh, calling it a deliberate
snub. A proposed visit by the Dalai Lama to the area next month is
already attracting condemnation from Beijing.

But in Delhi, Beijing watchers believe there is an underlying cause
to this bellicosity: China is uneasy with India's increasingly
friendly relationship with the United States. The deterioration in
relations began, they say, when India inked a historic nuclear-power
deal with the United States in 2006, and shortly thereafter agreed to
a new defence framework.

"Since then, the mood changed in Beijing. There has been a pattern of
ratcheting up threats and going back on agreements," said Brahma
Chellaney, a security expert at the Center for Policy Research in New
Delhi. It's ironic, he added, since many in government in New Delhi
believe the U.S. administration is bending over backwards to make
nice with Beijing.

China first outraged India by initially opposing the removal of the
restrictions on civilian nuclear trade with India at the Nuclear
Suppliers' Group last September, although it did eventually let the
waiver go through. More recently, China fought to block a
$2.9-billion Asian Development Bank loan to India because some of the
money was earmarked for an irrigation project in Arunchal Pradesh.
India is also disturbed by Chinese plans for a massive dam along the
Yarlung Zangbo river in southern Tibet, a project some experts say
could turn a crucial Indian agricultural region into a dustbowl.

The most tangible signs of the dispute are the Chinese military
incursions by helicopters or ground troops, which India says jumped
to 280 in 2008 from 140 in 2007, and are at the same level this year.
A 28-year-old negotiations process aimed at resolving the border
dispute is effectively stalled.

The Cold War-style exchanges between the world's two most populous
countries are also fuelled by China's support for Pakistan in its
frequently violent dispute with India over Kashmir. China views
Pakistan as a strategic counterbalance to India's rising clout in the
region, and recently announced that it would upgrade a cross-border
highway into Pakistani-controlled Kashmir and would lend financial
aid to a hydroelectric plant in the same area.

Both investments drew protests from New Delhi, as did a move by
Beijing earlier this year to start issuing special visas to residents
of Indian-administered regions of Kashmir that are different from
those granted to other Indian citizens. India controls about 45 per
cent of historic Kashmir, while Pakistan holds roughly a third and
China the remainder.

China is also fostering close military relationships with Nepal, Sri
Lanka, Burma and Bangladesh -- every country around India, Prof.
Chellaney noted.

All of this, however, occurs against a backdrop of rapidly growing
economic ties -- China is India's largest trading partner, and trade
between the two may hit $100-billion (U.S.) this year. As Western
countries continue to struggle in the wake of the global financial
crisis, these two countries have roaring economies and increasingly
recognize each other as the best potential for trade.

Prime Minister Singh is to meet his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao,
on Saturday, on the sidelines of a regional summit in Thailand, in an
effort to smooth over the recent breakdown in relations.

Experts on both sides of the border say there is little risk of the
hostilities turning into full-on military conflict.

"There is no panic because of a possible outbreak of hostilities, but
there is concern that because this relationship appears to be
unravelling, all this effort of the past 10 years starts to look very
shaky, especially in public perception," said Alka Acharya, a
professor of Chinese studies in the Centre for East Asian Studies at
Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and adviser to the Indian
government on Chinese affairs.

"The last 10 years had brought it to a level where differences could
be maturely and soberly discussed, but the moment a problem comes up,
the whole thing looks like it's coming unstuck."

But while jingoistic media in both countries play up the drama, she
said, the reality is that political leadership in both Beijing and
New Delhi "have demonstrated a will to look at these large, rising
powers as inevitably competing in many areas" but as ultimately
better served by good relations.
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