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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."

The Dangers of Going into Denial

September 15, 2010

Kanwal Sibal
The Telegraph (India)
September 14 , 2010

India needs to create political space for
imposing costs on China for the latter’s
adversarial policies, writes Kanwal Sibal

China’s denial of a normal visa to General
Jaswal, who heads India’s Northern Command, for
the fourth round of the defence dialogue in
Beijing — because he came from the “sensitive
location of Jammu and Kashmir” and “people from
this part of the world come with a different kind
of visa” — is grave political provocation and not
mere “needling”, as termed by our media. This
Chinese step has many implications.

China has no territorial claims on J&K other than
its claim to Aksai Chin in Ladakh, where it
occupies territory even beyond its own pre-1962
claim line. If it did not recognize vis-à-vis
itself India’s legal authority over the remaining
territory in J&K, it would not have engaged us in
prolonged border parleys covering the western
sector as well. Moreover, as China remains
committed, at least ostensibly, to a border
settlement, why has it begun to question J&K’s
status as Indian territory, for that would make
India ineligible as an empowered negotiating
partner? Issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris
holding Indian passports was the first offensive
step in the direction of questioning India’s
sovereignty over J&K. It has now compounded the
provocation by denying a normal visa to an
appointee of the government of India in J&K. By
referring to J&K as “this part of the world”,
Beijing is implying that the territory is not
Indian and has undetermined status.

China’s denial of a visa also contradicts its
stated political willingness to promote mutual
trust and confidence through increased dialogue
between the armed forces of the two countries.
Already some modest naval and anti-terrorism
joint exercises have taken place as part of an
effort to build bridges with the People’s
Liberation Army. The general who was denied the
visa is in charge of the Aksai Chin area, where
the forces of the two countries confront each
other and where increasing Chinese incursions
worry India. Does China want to signal now that
it does not want to engage any general in charge
of the sensitive Aksai Chin front even though it
supports a bilateral defence dialogue intended to
build greater mutual confidence?

China’s step seems even more incongruous when one
considers that the present Indian army chief,
General V.K. Singh, visited China in 2009 as head
of the Eastern Command, which includes Arunachal
Pradesh in its jurisdiction. Was China not
worried that giving him a visa might be construed
as accepting Arunachal Pradesh as Indian
territory? Is Arunachal Pradesh less of a --
sensitive location" for China than J&K is?
Moreover, the Chinese reportedly gave a visa last
year to the Indian corps commander at Leh to
visit China as part of an Indian defence delegation.

One cannot even argue that these are momentary
aberrations in Chinese policy. The issue of
stapled visas for Kashmiris has been raised
officially by us with the Chinese ever since the
practice was detected last year, but they have
ignored our démarches. In General Jaswal’s case,
the Indian side remonstrated with the Chinese
officially before the issue became public, but
without result. These political attacks on
India’s sovereignty over J&K are therefore
well-considered Chinese decisions, taken in full
awareness of how they could potentially affect
relations between India and China.

China’s expanded challenge to India’s territorial
integrity seems to be part of its growing
international assertiveness as a result of its
phenomenal economic growth, its financial muscle,
its developing military capacities and America’s
perceived decline as a global power. It has
declared the South China Sea an area of its "core
interest," prompting the United States of America
to declare that it has "national interests” in
this zone. China is establishing the network of
an enhanced naval presence in the Indian Ocean
that will challenge India’s security interests.
Its hardened position on Arunachal Pradesh has
become a political fact that India has to contend
with, even if its provocations there have subsided now.

China has shifted its attention to J&K for
several reasons. It has developed new security
interests in the Pakistan-occupied territory not
only in the context of the Uighur insurgency in
Eastern Turkestan, but also because of the
ambitious project to develop an energy lifeline
for itself through Gwadar to sources of oil and
gas in the Gulf area and beyond. This requires it
to have an entrenched presence in PoK through
involvement in large-scale infrastructure
projects. The recent New York Times story about
the presence of thousands of PLA units in PoK has
some basis as the Chinese government admits PLA
presence, though for flood-relief work. By its
massive ground presence and increased stakes in
this region, China intends to become a material
factor in any eventual settlement between India
and Pakistan regarding the state’s future. In the
eventuality of Pakistan’s disintegration or
inability to govern this region, China would want
to prevent any Indian attempt to control it or play a political role there.

We have reacted to the latest provocation by
suspending military exchanges with China for the
time being. Unidentified official sources have
also cautioned China that J&K to us is as
sensitive a matter as Tibet is to them. The prime
minister’s public candour about China exploiting
our “soft underbelly” in Kashmir and Pakistan to
keep India in a "low level equilibrium" is a
welcome change from the normal tendency to
appease China. It is important that our response
to this denial of a visa does not remain confined
to decisions on military exchanges.

The Chinese action transcends such exchanges; it
is a direct assault on our sovereignty over J&K.
If we fail to respond, we would be creating space
for China to continue questioning our sovereignty
over this territory and create more problems for
us in tandem with its all-weather friend,
Pakistan, whose case for Kashmir it now wants to
bolster for evolving strategic reasons. We must,
therefore, be more vocal in opposing China’s
presence in PoK in public as well as in private talks with the Chinese.

We should rally international opinion against the
China-Pakistan nuclear deal, which is a
calculated threat to our security. Our engagement
with Taiwan should go up visibly. We must seize
this opportunity to prise open the question of
China’s untrammelled sovereignty over Tibet. We
should consider giving stapled visas to the
inhabitants of the Greater Tibet region on their
Chinese passports. We must begin reminding the
Chinese that India has recognized an “autonomous"
Tibet as part of China, not a militarily occupied
zone; that China should demilitarize Tibet as a
necessary bilateral confidence-building measure;
that it should reach a peaceful settlement with
the Dalai Lama for stable and tension-free relations between India and China.

A rising China will be an escalating problem for
us. We urgently need to create political space
for ourselves to impose costs on China for its
adversarial policies towards us, even as we continue to engage with it.

* The author is former foreign secretary of India sibalkanwal@gmail.com
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