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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

'Is the time ripe for a settlement?'

July 4, 2008

Claude Arpi
Sify (India)
June 27, 2008

(Excerpt from Tibet: The Lost Frontier by Claude Arpi, published by
Lancer Publishers. Rs 795 /$ 27.)

The border issue has always been intimately linked with the Tibetan
question. During the course of the negotiations in Beijing in
1953-54, both Panikkar and Kaul 'cleverly' tried to avoid bringing
the border issue to the table, while 'settling' the Tibet issue. This
approach backfired and ended in a disaster for India. In his speech,
after the signing of the Agreement, Zhou Enlai congratulated the
negotiators for having solved all the matters 'ripe for settlement'.
Though the Indian government later tried to raise the issue, the
Chinese appropriately asked them why the matter was not taken up in
1954, if it was so important. In July 1962, the Indian Ministry of
External Affairs answered that, in 1954, there was no difference of
opinion between the two countries regarding the boundary alignment.
It also claimed that the tension on the border was only the result of
Chinese aggressive activities "carried out in violation of the Five
Principles embodied in the 1954 Agreement". It further asserted: "the
precise extent of Indian territory was in 1954 well-recognised and
the traditional boundary alignment between the two countries had been
respected for many centuries by both sides."

The conclusion of Delhi's argument was that there was "no reason to
believe, during the negotiations leading upto the Agreement of 1954,
that the Government of China was contemplating laying extensive
claims to well-known Indian territory."

It was pure wishful thinking on the part of New Delhi to assume that
Beijing would not lay claims; their maps already showed large parts
of India as belonging to China.

In his biography of Nehru, Dr. Gopal put it very simply: "By
asserting that not only questions ripe for settlement but 'all
outstanding questions' were being settled, the Indian side sought to
score a debating point of no value. Semantics cannot guarantee an
international frontier…"

The tragedy is that today, fifty years later, the border tangle
remains unsolved. Long negotiations were held in 1960 without
tangible results. After the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to
Beijing in 1988, the Sino-Indian relations relaxed and were followed
by a long series of 'border meetings', but no breakthrough was made.

More recently, during his visit to China in June 2003, Prime Minister
Vajpayee took the initiative to propose the appointment of two
Special Envoys to hold talks on a 'fast track'. This was accepted by
his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao.

On October 22, 2003, the National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra met
in Delhi for the first time with the Senior Vice-Minister of the
Chinese Foreign Ministry, Dai Bingguo. Though little filtered out of
the meeting room, PTI reported that "MEA circles exuded optimism and
said the Chinese leadership is 'well disposed' towards resolving the
border dispute, which has strained relations for over four decades."

The optimism exuded by Panikkar's children in the corridors of South
Block may not mean much. It is far more difficult today to find a way
out of the tangle than it was 50 years ago. The main issue remains
unsolved: Beijing still claims some 90,000 sq kms of Indian territory
in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies 38,000 sq kms more in Ladakh.

 From the beginning, by claiming both sectors in Arunachal and Aksai
Chin, the Chinese were sure to keep one at least. It cost them
nothing to exchange their claim on Arunachal against the
'legalisation' of their occupation of Aksai Chin. Zhou's visit to
India in 1960 was followed by five rounds of detailed discussions.
The issue was that the Chinese were already occupying the ground. Who
was to dislodge them?

Indeed, the matter in front of the National Security Advisor is a
tough one. Basically, it boils down to: "Is India ready to give away
Aksai Chin in exchange for something it already possesses - Arunachal Pradesh."

Tactically, in recent months, Beijing has put a lot of pressure on
Arunachal Pradesh and more particularly on the Tawang area. The
Chinese Ambassador in Delhi has regularly claimed Arunachal as being
part of China and the PLA has regularly intruded on India territory.
During 2006-2007 alone, more than 300 cases of incursions on Indian
soil have been reported.

During a visit to Sikkim in December 2007, India's Defense Minister A
K Antony could not deny this hard fact. Though most of these
incursions have occurred in Arunachal Pradesh, some have also been
reported in Ladakh.

There are other inconvenient truths. Antony admitted the sorry lack
of India's preparedness. He was frank enough to declare: "It is an
eye-opener for me. There is no comparison between the two sides.
Infrastructure on the Chinese side is far superior. They have gone
far in developing their infrastructure." He could only promise that
he would take vigorous steps to develop the frontier areas to match
China. The incursion game in Arunachal is probably a Chinese bluff to
regularize their illegal occupation of Aksai Chin.

Retrospectively, one can question the sagacity of Prime Minister A B
Vajpayee's 'bright idea' to open 'fast track' border talks with China
in June 2003. At that time his move surprised everybody (including
the Chinese). Did Vajpayee consider the eventual end-result of his
action? His move could only place Beijing in a win-win situation.

If Vajpayee believed that he would get a quick settlement (and quick
glory), he was wrong! Nehru had tried before.

In the meantime, the PLA keeps sending grazers and intruders to the
Indian side of the McMahon Line. With the Confidence Building
Measures (CBM) in place, the Chinese know perfectly well that they
will get away without retaliation; the CBMs therefore have become an
alibi for the Chinese to continue creating an atmosphere of uncertainty.

Today like yesterday, the main problem is that while the Chinese
remain pragmatic, most of the Indian leaders are sentimental. A
Bhai-Bhai policy is so much easier and more romantic than a firm stand!

True, there is enough good news not to be bothered by the border
issue. Take business for example; it has never been so brisk between
the two Asian giants. Trade has been expanding at an incredible pace;
it has reached a staggering 34.2 billion dollars (about Rs 136,800
crore) from January to November 2007, up 54 percent from the previous year.

However everything is not rosy.

External Affairs Minster Pranab Mukherjee may say that the
negotiations are moving in the right direction, but what is the final
goal? Is India ready to give away part of its territory which has
been illegally occupied by China? This is the only question to be answered.

When asked about the dispute before Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit to
China in January 2008, the Chinese spokesperson declared that both
sides wanted to find a 'fair and rational' settlement to the vexed
boundary problem: "We will make joint efforts to try to find a fair
and rational settlement acceptable to both countries." She added: "We
hope that with the visit the two countries can promote the healthy
and long-term development of a strategic partnership."

Is it conceivable that any Indian government would 'gift' such a
large chunk of Indian territory to a foreign nation? Fortunately,
India is a democracy and a government which tried to 'cede' a part of
India to its neighbour, would never be forgiven by its electorate.

Besides, what could India receive in return for such a 'gift'? The
acknowledgement of Arunachal Pradesh as being a part of India by
Beijing has been mentioned as a possible compensation. But this does
not make any sense as the Chinese claim on Arunachal is empty of any
substance both legally and historically.

At one point in time, an idea was mooted to have an international
board of neutral historians who would ascertain both China and
India's claims. But one can doubt if Beijing would ever accept such
an arbitration: their 'historical' case is too weak. With both
parties firm on their respective stands since the Panchsheel years,
is there a possible solution where no party would lose face? It would
certainly be in India's interests if Delhi decides to help the Dalai
Lama and the Tibetan people to find a negotiated solution with Beijing.

Unless this is done, one can doubt that the time will soon be 'ripe
for settlement' of the Indo-China contentious border issue.

The question is therefore: Is the time ripe for settlement?
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