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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

China and India -- A Danger in Thin Air

February 16, 2010

February 15, 2010

Of all the world’s potential hotspots, one of the
most unlikely is tucked into the folds of the
Himalayas. It is a slice of ground that is little
more than frozen rock fields and soaring peaks
that is decidedly short on people, resources and
oxygen. But for the past year it has been a
worrisome source of friction between India and
China, including incursions by Chinese troops,
the wounding of several Indian border police, and
a buildup of military forces on both sides.

Some Indian analysts go so far as to say that
China has how replaced Pakistan as India’s
greatest threat, while Beijing has been
uncharacteristically assertive in pushing its
claims for a sizable chunk of India’s Arunachai Pradesh state.

Sorting out why the two huge Asian nations are
facing off over ground that all but the hardiest
of goats avoid, involves a combination of the
past: colonialism’s bitter legacy -- and the
present: current U.S. efforts to maintain its pre-eminent role in the region.

The area in question, which borders Tibet and
covers an area about the size of Austria, is
delineated by a boundary that has shifted over
the millennia. The British drew the current line
in 1914, but the Chinese have never recognized
the agreement that established it -- the
so-called "Simja Convention" -- "because they saw
it as just another treaty forced on China by Western colonial powers.

Because the area in dispute was once connected to
Tibet, Beijing says the region is part of China.

So far the tension on the border has resulted in
little more than Chinese soldiers painting rocks
red on the Indian side, and the one shooting
incident that wounded two members of the
Indo-Tibetan Police Force. The Indians have
responded by moving 30,000 troops and its latest warplanes into the area.

The region has long been a volatile one, and
similar tensions in 1962 sparked a 32-day war
that killed 3100 Indian and 700 Chinese soldiers,
and resulted in a humiliating defeat for New Delhi.

India’s Right, led by the Bharatija Janata Party
(BJP), has raised the specter of the 1962 war and
is demanding that India respond to Chinese
"aggression." "India must take adequate
precautions," says BJP President Rajnath Singh.
Retired Indian Air Force Marshall Fali Homi says
that China now poses a bigger threat than India’s
traditional adversary, Pakistan, and former
Indian National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra
predicts a China-India war within five years.

Some Indians even charge-- without evidence" that
China is supporting India’s homegrown Maoists, or
"Naxilites," who are waging a low-key insurgency against the Indian government.

The rhetoric on the Chinese side is less
bombastic, but Beijing’s statements have been
unusually sharp, especially after the Dalai Lama
visited the region this past November.

China’s prickliness over its borders is hardly
new, but with the exception of its attack on
Vietnam in 1979, Beijing has threaded a careful
path between asserting its power, and reassuring
its neighbors that it isn’t about to become the
bully on the block. Why then the pugnaciousness
over what can hardly be considered strategic ground?

Enter the United States.

In 2005, the Bush Administration executed a full
court press to bring India into an alliance with
Washington and its allies in the Pacific region
-- specifically Australia, South Korea, and Japan
-- to counter the rise of China. Washington
warned that the Chinese military, in particular
its naval arm, was expanding rapidly and would
soon pose a threat to other nations in Asia. The
U.S. and India held joint military operations,
and the U.S. urged New Delhi to actively patrol
the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

India’s former UN ambassador, Arundhati Ghose,
told the Financial Times that China’s navy is
"flexing its muscles" and "what they want to do
is to say, ‘We are the big boys here and Asia can only afford one power,’"

Countries that border the region control 60
percent of the world’s oil reserves and more than 30 percent of its natural gas

Since 80 percent of China’s oil and gas supplies
transit the Indian Ocean and South China Sea,
talk of joint patrols was certain to draw a
response from Beijing, and indeed, the Chinese
Navy is increasingly making its presence known in
the area. China is also in the process of
developing a series of friendly ports- -- its
so-called "string of pearls" -- from Africa through Southeast Asia.

The Bush Administration also pushed through
Congress the "1-2-3 Agreement" through Congress
that allows India to violate the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty by buying uranium on the
world market even though New Delhi won’t sign the
pact. This will allow India to rapidly increase
its nuclear arsenal, which is certain to spark a similar buildup by Pakistan.

The nuclear deal is not all about strategy. U.S.
companies are due to make billions building
nuclear power plants in India. And India is
considering buying $15 billion in arms from the
U.S’s largest arms company, Lockheed-Martin.

China has long had a friendly relationship with
Pakistan and is Islamabad’s leading military
supplier. It is concerned that tension between
India and Pakistan could lead to war; a war that
the Pentagon predicts would likely escalate into
a nuclear exchange. A recent study by climate
scientists Alan Robock and Brian Toon found such
a war would result in a "nuclear winter" that
would devastate China, indeed, much of the world.

New Delhi and China are also at loggerheads over
Afghanistan, with the Chinese dubious of the U.S.
war and the Indians strongly supportive. With a
number of NATO allies getting ready to bring
their troops home, the Obama administrations has
pressed India to back the war, going so far as to
touch on the sub-continent’s third rail: intercommunal violence.

Writing in the Indian publication Outlook, Bruce
Riedel, chair of the Administration’s
Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review, says that
defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan
is essential, or India’s Muslim minority will
"face the danger of radicalism." That is
incendiary talk in that part of the world. A
recent report on the massacres of Muslims
following the destruction of a mosque 17 year ago
placed much of the blame for the savage intercommununal bloodletting on the BJP

China’s response to the growing U.S.-Indian
alliance was to oppose the "1-2-3 Agreement,"
block India’s application for a permanent seat in
the United Nations Security Council, and try to
torpedo a loan from the Asian Development Bank to
fund flood control in Arunachai Pradesh.

Yet the current tensions between India and China
over 90,000 thousand square miles of ice and rock
fly in the face of a growing interdependence
between the two Asian giants. China is now
India’s number one trading partner. Bilateral
trade has risen from under $3 billion in 2000 to
almost $52 billion in 2008, and is growing at
almost three times the rate of U.S.-China trade.
Estimates are that by 2020, China-India trade
will surpass $410 billion, a figure equal to last
year’s U.S.-China trade. With China’s powerful
manufacturing sector, and India’s wealth of raw
materials and its cutting-edge technology
industry, the two countries complement one another.

China needs India’s iron ore, bauxite and
manganese, and India needs China’s low-priced
manufactured goods to upgrade its infrastructure.
China also has huge foreign reserves to invest,
although cross-border investment is still modest.

Both nations also share a colonial experience.
Some 300 years ago, the two countries accounted
for approximately 50 percent of the world’s GDP.
By the middle of last century, they were among
the world’s poorest nations. China is on track to
become the second largest economy in the world,
and India may claim third place in the coming decades.

There have been efforts by both sides to tamp
down the border dispute. Asked about tensions
between New Deli and Beijing, India’s Deputy
Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor replied that
"things seem to be very good," adding that "minor
irritants" had been blown our of proportion by the media.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held what he
called "frank and constructive" talks with
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during the recent
meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

And yet the region remains a witch’s brew of
dangerous hot spots and powerful cross currents:
the U.S. escalation in Afghanistan, ongoing
tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir,
and Washington’s sometimes warm, sometimes cool attitude toward China.

Indian newspapers have been filled with headlines
like "Red Peril," and "Enter The Dragon," and
senior Indian national security advisor M.K.
Narayamen warned that "media hype" could set off
an "unwarranted incident or accident." Chinese
newspapers and websites have also reflected
strong nationalist sentiments over the issue.

If the Obama administration wants to avoid making
a dangerous situation worse, it should revisit
the "1-2-3 Agreement" and put the peaceful
resolution of the Kashmir problem back on the
table. During his presidential campaign, Obama
promised to pressure both sides on Kashmir, the
flash point for three wars between India and
Pakistan, but under intense Indian pressure,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Special
Envoy to South Asia Richard Holbrook dropped the issue.

It is also time for the U.S. to realize that it
can no longer dominate Asia, and that, in its
efforts to maintain its former status as top dog
in the region, it has exacerbated tensions
between a number of countries in the area,
tensions that have the potential to produce catastrophic consequences.

Conn Hallinan can be reached at:
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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