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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."

China, India Stoke 21st-Century Rivalry

October 26, 2009

Peter Wonacott ( )
The Wall Street Journal
October 23, 2009

LEH, India -- In the brewing discord between two
giant, ambitious nations, even a remote meadow in
the Himalayas is worth fighting over.

Some two-dozen Chinese soldiers converged earlier
this year on a family of nomads who wouldn't
budge from a winter grazing ground that locals
say Indian herders had used for generations.
China claims the pasture is part of Tibet, not
northern India. The soldiers tore up the family's
tent and tried to push them back toward the
Indian border town of Demchok, Indian authorities say.

Increasing Friction

Chering Dorjay, the chairman of India's Ladakh
Autonomous Hill Development Council, says he
arrived on the scene with a new tent and Indian
intelligence officers and urged the herders to
stay put. "The Chinese, it seems, are gradually
taking our territory," he says. "We will feel
very insecure unless India strengthens its defenses."

Dueling territorial claims along this heavily
militarized mountain border, coupled with
economic tensions between the two nations, are
kindling a 21st-century rivalry. The budding
distrust has created a dilemma for the U.S. about
how to court one nation without angering the other.

China and India cooperate occasionally. But in
recent years, they have competed vigorously over
trade, energy investments, even a race to land a
man on the moon. Some Indians want their nation
to move closer to the U.S. as a hedge against a
rising China -- a strategic shift that's likely
to complicate ties among all three.

"China is trying to become No. 1," says Brajesh
Mishra, a former national-security adviser for
India. "This is the seed of conflict between China, India and the U.S."

Walk the Line

A sign in the village of Spangmik in the Indian
state of Jammu and Kashmir marks the last stop for tourists.

The prime ministers of India and China are
expected to meet this weekend at a summit of
Asian leaders in Bangkok, following several weeks
in which their nations traded barbs over trade
and disputed territory. "Both sides will exchange
views on issues of mutual concern," China's
assistant foreign minister, Hu Zhengyao, told reporters Wednesday.

Next month, after a planned visit to China,
President Barack Obama will host a U.S. visit by
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a meeting
meant to highlight what the White House says is a
"growing strategic partnership." Commercial and
military ties between the two countries have been
getting stronger. Last year, the U.S. loosened
restrictions to allow India to buy sensitive
technology and nuclear equipment for civilian
use. Soldiers from both countries are
participating this month in a joint defense exercise.

Indian defense analysts say India needs closer
U.S. ties to hedge against potential hostilities
with China. "If China's rise is peaceful, and it
integrates into the global economy, everything
should be fine," says retired Indian Brig. Gen.
Gurmeet Kanwal, director of the Center for Land
Warfare Studies, an army think tank. "Should
China implode, it's better to have a friend like the U.S."

In addition to the defense concerns, trade
friction is growing between India and China.
India leads all members of the World Trade
Organization in antidumping cases against China.
India has banned imports of Chinese toys, milk
and chocolate, citing safety concerns, and has
launched investigations into export surges of
Chinese truck tires and chemicals, among other products.

On Oct. 15, Indian heavy-industries minister
Vilasrao Deshmukh asked the finance ministry to
impose taxes on imports of inexpensive Chinese
power equipment. "We don't want India to be
turned into a dumping ground," he told reporters.

At the moment, the biggest threat to India-China
relations may be their competing claims for big
swaths of territory along their border. In recent
years, China has settled border disputes with a
host of nations, including Russia, as part of
what it calls its "good neighbor policy." But
China and India have made little progress,
despite 13 rounds of meetings since 2003.

China says the eastern Indian state of Arunachal
Pradesh is historically part of southern Tibet.
India wants China to hand back territory it calls
Aksai Chin, desolate high-altitude salt flats
that residents of Ladakh claim as part of its
ancient Buddhist kingdom. India's discovery of a
Chinese-built road in the region helped spark a border war in 1962.

Earlier this month, China objected to a visit by
Indian Prime Minister Singh to Arunachal Pradesh
to campaign for local elections, saying it was
disputed territory. "We request India to pay
great attention to China's solemn concerns, and
not stir up incidents in the areas of dispute,"
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters.

India's foreign minister countered that Arunachal
Pradesh is Indian territory, and demanded that
China stop investing in infrastructure-related
projects in the Pakistan-controlled part of
Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan claim the whole of Kashmir.

The 1962 border war, which India lost,
complicated the boundary between the two
countries. These days, Chinese and Indian forces
in some border areas have agreed to go out on
different days to patrol contested territory. "We
want to avoid an eyeball-to-eyeball conflict,"
says Gopal Pillai, India's secretary for the home
ministry, which oversees the border police.

India and China are intent on turning fast
economic growth into national strength. When
their interests have converged, they have proven
a powerful combination. On Wednesday, they
announced plans to cooperate at December's
climate-change talks in Copenhagen, a pact likely
to see both fighting carbon-emission caps
proposed by industrialized nations. During
global-trade talks, they both resisted Western pressure to open farm markets.

"China's economic and military growth is not a
threat to India. And India's shouldn't be a
threat to China," says Cheng Ruisheng, a former
Chinese ambassador to India. "We should be an opportunity to one another."

But many Chinese resent any comparison with
India, still a largely poor agrarian nation with
only about one-third of China's per-capita
income. And they're generally wary of India's warming ties with the U.S.

Indians, for their part, bristle over the flood
of Chinese imports and China's increasingly cozy
ties with India's neighbors, including Nepal, Sri
Lanka and arch-rival Pakistan. In a speech last
November, Indian Finance Minister Pranab
Mukherjee, then its foreign minister, identified
an expansionist China as one of India's top
challenges. "Today's China seeks to further her
interests more aggressively than in the past," he
told the National Defense College in New Delhi.

The Indian government has closely scrutinized
proposals by Chinese companies to invest in
India. It recently demanded that thousands of
Chinese citizens in India convert short-term
business visas into employment visas -- a move
that effectively boots unskilled Chinese workers from the country.

The Chinese government has objected to a proposed
Asian Development Bank program that India hoped
would help fund a water project in the disputed
territory of Arunachal Pradesh. This year, the
Chinese embassy began issuing visas to residents
of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir in a
manner that Indian officials say leaves China
with a way to later claim that it isn't
recognizing the visa recipients as Indian
citizens. A spokeswoman for the Chinese embassy
in New Delhi says "every country has the right" to set its own visa policies.

U.S. defense contractors could benefit from
India's desire to modernize its military. While
the U.S. has banned weapons sales to China, it
has ramped up such sales to India. Lockheed
Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. are among the defense
contractors competing to supply India's air force
a new fleet of jet fighters -- a deal that could be valued at $10.4 billion.

Some Chinese analysts say friction between India
and China are playing into what they say is a
U.S. wish to contain China. "If border tensions
between India and China continue to simmer, I
can't say the U.S. will be displeased," says Shi
Yinhong, a specialist in Sino-U.S. ties at People's University in Beijing.

The contested territory in northern India lies in
the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The region
abutting China, known as Ladakh, consists largely
of rocky mountain terrain with isolated green
pastures grazed by yaks, goats and horses. Many
of the herders and traders living on both sides
of the blurred border share the same Tibetan
heritage and Buddhist faith. The main town on the
Indian side, Leh, was an ancient caravan stop.

Today, the area crawls with Indian soldiers.
Indian border police tightly regulate visitors traveling east toward China.

The Indian army built this road in Ladakh, near
the China border, where there have been disputes over territory.

The Indian army has accelerated a road-building program in the region.

The roads, which run beside Indian army camps and
over a pass above 17,000 feet, are dotted with
offbeat signs: "I'm curvaceous, be slow," warns
one. "I like you darling, but not so fast," says another.

India intends to use the new mountain roads in
part to move military supplies. In September, an
Indian cargo plane landed at a new high-altitude airstrip near the border.

Indian villagers near the border have been caught
in the middle of the conflict. When villagers
were constructing an irrigation canal a few years
ago, Chinese soldiers tried to wave them off,
says Rigzin Spalbar, chairman at the time of the
Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.

The villagers hurled abuse at the soldiers, but
were angry at Indian soldiers for doing nothing,
he says. The Chinese "are pestering us to test India's reaction," he says.

Indian residents of the area claim Chinese
soldiers have painted Chinese characters on rocks
in territory that India claims as its own. The
residents say the border has never been as tightly patrolled as it is now.

Konchok Gurmet, 70 years old, lives in Spangmik,
a village ringed with Tibetan prayer flags on
Panggong Lake, beside the border with China.

He says that until a few years ago he was able to
smuggle horses and wool across the border in
exchange for Chinese crockery, clothes and thermos bottles.


These days, locals say, border forces on both
sides turn smugglers back. After violent protests
in Tibet last year, China has been sensitive
about who crosses over. Indian police worry that
herders and smugglers may be offering the Chinese
information on military positions and infrastructure projects, locals say.

According to Mr. Pillai, the Indian home
secretary, infrastructure development on both
sides of the border has heightened interest in establishing an exact line.

The confrontation between the Indian goatherds
and Chinese soldiers, which occurred in January,
began after the herders crossed a river to reach
a pasture they'd used for generations, Mr. Pillai says.

The Chinese viewed the river as the border line.
Indian security forces haven't pressed the claim,
he says, because the pasture now is encircled by
Chinese sentry posts. "We'd find it difficult
tactically to hold that land," he says.

China's ministry of defense declined to comment
on the incident, and the Chinese foreign ministry
has denied any incursions into Indian territory.
"China's border patrol is always conducted in
strict accordance with rules," said a foreign ministry spokeswoman last month.

Mr. Pillai says more troops are moving to the
border with China, which he describes as a
"gradual" buildup of "defensive positions."

Some residents of Arunachal Pradesh -- the Indian
state that China claims -- say it's about time.

"India needs to wake up. China is going to flex
its muscles," says Kiren Rijiju, a former member
of parliament from Arunachal Pradesh. "Being one
of its largest neighbors, we are a soft target."

* Vibhuti Agarwal in New Delhi and Sue Feng in
Beijing contributed to this article.
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