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Q+A: What's behind India and China's diplomatic spats

September 9, 2010

By Sanjeev Miglani
Reuters
September 7, 2010

SINGAPORE -- Trade between India and China is
booming but diplomatic ties have become
increasingly fraught over an unsettled border,
the disputed Kashmir region and the competing
global aspirations of the world's most populous nations.

China is seeking to expand its influence in South
Asia and could use India's "soft underbelly" of
Kashmir to box it in, a newspaper quoted Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as saying, a rare
public criticism of his giant neighbor.

WHAT IS THE LATEST PROVOCATION?

Last month China refused a visa to an Indian
military general based in the disputed region of
Kashmir, prompting New Delhi to suspend defense
ties, a defense source and local media said.
Defense relations between the two countries,
which fought a brief border war in 1962, are in
any case limited to visits by military officials
and the occasional, low-level exercises, nowhere
near the scale and sophistication of the wargames
that India conducts with the United States each year.

Beijing had for decades maintained a low profile
on Kashmir, where Indian forces have been trying
to quell a 20-year separatist revolt that New
Delhi blames on Pakistan. But China signaled a
more assertive policy last year when it started
issuing different visas for residents of the territory.

India, which considers Kashmir to be its
territory, is extremely sensitive to any foreign
power treating the area as a disputed region,
which Pakistan also claims in full. Last year,
India bristled at a U.S.-China joint statement
calling for better India-Pakistan relations.

WHAT ARE CHINA'S CONCERNS?

Beijing's longest running grudge with India is
its granting of asylum to Tibetan leader Dalai
Lama, who fled to India in the 1950s following a
failed uprising, setting off a chain of events
that eventually led to the war between India and
China. Beijing, which brands the Dalai Lama as a
separatist, worries that Tibet's spiritual leader
is using his base in the northern hill town of
Dharamsala to keep separatist fires alive.

Last year, China reacted angrily to New Delhi's
decision to allow the Dalai Lama to visit the
border state of Arunachal Pradesh disputed by
China. For the first time in years, it also
criticized a visit by Prime Minister Singh to the
state, suggesting that it was raising the stakes there.

Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern stretch of the
Himalayan border and Aksai Chin on the western
end are two large, contested areas. While India
controls Arunachal, China holds the remote Aksai
China, and despite rounds of fitful talks over
several decades, the two are nowhere near a resolution.

WHAT ARE THE GEOPOLITICAL RIVALRIES?

China is concerned about India's growing
strategic ties with the United States. Several
analysts consider a 2008 civilian nuclear deal as
a turning point in ties not only between India
and the United States, but also indirectly
impacting relations with China. Under the deal,
Washington ended India's nuclear isolation,
granting it access to nuclear fuel and technology
while continuing its nuclear weapons program.
Washington then rammed the pact through the
Nuclear Suppliers Group, despite reservations
from several countries including China which saw
it as part of a U.S. move to build India into a strategic counterweight.

Beijing, in retaliation, has offered to build new
nuclear powered reactors for Pakistan, despite
global concerns of nuclear proliferation.

The two countries also compete for global
resources, especially energy supplies, to power their growing economies.

WHAT ABOUT REGIONAL RIVALRIES?

Concern has also mounted in New Delhi over
growing Chinese strategic assistance to not only
Pakistan, but also Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and
Myanmar, countries India has regarded as part of
its sphere of influence. Beijing is helping build
ports in Gwadar in Pakistan and Humbantota in Sri
Lanka, as well as in Myanmar and Bangladesh in
what seen as a "string of pearls" strategy to
build a network of port facilities across the
Indian Ocean, mounting a challenge to the Indian
and U.S. navies, the two big powers there.

The strategy has also raised Indian fears of
encirclement and the worry that Beijing wants to
pin down India within South Asia, crushing its
global aspirations. Some Indian officials,
however, have said some of those fears of
expanded Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean are overblown.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)
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