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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Dragooned by the dragon

January 11, 2008

6 January 2008

Brahma Chellaney Hindustan Times

NEW DELHI, India, Jan. 6 -- At a time when Beijing is pursuing a more
muscular policy - from provocatively seeking to assert its jurisdiction
over islets claimed by Vietnam to whipping up spats with Germany, Canada
and the US over the Dalai Lama - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is
embarking on a New Year visit to China as part of an agreement reached
during President Hu Jintao's November 2006 trip "to hold regular
summit-level meetings".

But while Hu clubbed his India trip with a visit to 'all-weather ally'
Pakistan - just as his Premier Wen Jiabao did in 2005 - Singh will pay
his respect by going only to China, instead of travelling also to, say,
Japan or Vietnam. Singh's visit is to follow more than a year of
assertive Chinese moves that have run counter to efforts to build a
stable Sino-Indian relationship based on equilibrium and forward
thinking. Two things have happened. One, China has hardened its stance
on territorial disputes with India - a reality the very small, largely
symbolic joint anti-terrorist army exercise in Yunnan cannot obscure.
And two, as the Dalai Lama pointed out in a recent address in Rome,
Beijing is taking an increasingly harsh position on Tibet, pretending
there is no Tibetan issue to resolve.

The Tibet issue is at the core of the India-China divide, and without
Beijing beginning a process of reconciliation in Tibet, there is little
prospect of Sino-Indian differences being bridged. Beijing itself
highlights the centrality of the Tibet issue by laying claim to Indian
territories on the basis of alleged Tibetan ecclesia or tutelary links
to them, not any professed Han connection. But with the Dalai Lama
having publicly repudiated such claims, a discomfited Beijing has sought
to persuade his representatives in the ongoing dialogue process that the
Tibetan government-in-exile support China's position that Arunachal
Pradesh is part of traditional Tibet. The fact is that with China's own
claim to Tibet being historically dubious, its claims to Indian
territories are doubly suspect, underlining its attempts at incremental
annexation.

The tough, uncompromising Chinese approach contrasts sharply with the
forbearing positions of the Indian government and the Dalai Lama. New
Delhi, for instance, has bent over backwards to play down aggressive
Chinese military moves along the still ill-defined Line of Control. The
Dalai Lama, for his part, is beginning to face muted criticism from
restive Tibetans for having secured nothing from Beijing two decades
after changing the struggle for liberation from Chinese imperial
conquest to a struggle for autonomy within the framework of the People's
Republic. As the Dalai Lama himself admitted in Rome, "Our right hand
has always reached out to the Chinese government. That hand has remained
empty…"

Examples of China's increasing hardline stance on India range from its
ambassador's Beijing-supported bellicose public statement on Arunachal
on the eve of Hu's visit to its Foreign Minister's May 2007 message to
his Indian counterpart that China no longer felt bound by the 2005
agreement that any border-related settlement should not disturb settled
populations. Add to that the October admission by the Indo-Tibetan
Border Police chief that there had been 141 Chinese military incursions
in the preceding 12 months alone.

Beijing's strategy is to interminably drag out its separate negotiating
processes with India and the Dalai Lama's envoys in order to wheedle out
more and more concessions. In line with that, China's negotiators have
been in full foot-dragging mode, seeking to keep the discussions merely
at the level of enunciating principles, positions and frameworks -
something they have done splendidly in negotiations with India since
1981 and with the Dalai Lama's envoys since 2002.

As several Chinese scholars have acknowledged, Beijing is not as keen as
New Delhi to resolve the territorial disputes. Having got what it wanted
either by military aggression or furtive encroachment, Beijing values
its claims on additional Indian territories as vital leverage to keep
India under pressure. Similarly, not content with the Dalai Lama's
abandonment of the demand for independence, Beijing continues to
publicly vilify him and portray his envoys' visits for negotiations as
personal trips. It has further tightened its vise on Tibet by ordering
that all lama reincarnations must get its approval, renewing political
repression and encouraging the 'Go West' Han-migration campaign.

Gratuitously, New Delhi has downplayed instances of belligerent activity
by the People's Liberation Army, denying at times even the undeniable -
like the PLA's destruction of unmanned Indian forward posts at the
Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction last month. Army Chief General Deepak
Kapoor has called PLA cross-border forays into Bhutan "a matter between"
Bhutan and China, as if India is not responsible for Bhutanese defence.
It is not accidental that China's hardline approach has followed its
infrastructure advances on the Tibetan plateau, including the opening of
a new railway, airfields and highways. The railway, by arming Beijing
with a rapid military-deployment capability, is transforming the
trans-Himalayan military equations.

Beijing has also been emboldened by a couple of major Indian missteps.
During Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's July 2003 visit, it wrung the
concession it always wanted from India - a clear and unambiguous
recognition of Tibet as part of China. Vajpayee not only inexcusably
linked troubled Tibet with a non-issue, Sikkim, but also his kowtowing
on Tibet stripped India of leverage on the larger territorial disputes
with China. Little surprise, therefore, that Beijing now presents
Arunachal as an outstanding issue that demands 'give and take', cleverly
putting the onus on India to achieve progress. It aims to dragoon New
Delhi into ceding at least Tawang, populated not by Tibetans, but by
Monpas, a distinct tribe.

This line of attack has been further bolstered by the 2005 'guiding
principles', one of which calls for "meaningful and mutually acceptable
adjustments" to respective positions. India was craven enough to agree
to this principle, although it is negotiating with an aggressor State
that aims to keep it off balance and prevent a settlement by seeking to
extend its territorial gains.

Having conceded the Tibet card, what 'meaningful and mutually acceptable
adjustments' can India demand from China? Such adjustments, as Beijing
insists, have to be primarily on India's part. The Chinese assertiveness
on Arunachal since 2006 thus is not unplanned but the cumulative result
of Indian missteps.

India can expect no respite from Chinese pressure, given Beijing's
growing propensity to flex its muscles, as underscored by its
anti-satellite weapon test last January, its recent large-scale war game
in the South and East China Seas, its public showcasing of new military
hardware like the Jin-class, nuclear-capable submarine, its strategic
moves around India and its last-minute cancellation of a long-planned
Hong Kong visit by the US carrier, Kitty Hawk. If anything, China is
likely to further up the ante against India.

New Delhi thus cannot stay caught in a double-bind. To blur the line
between diplomacy and appeasement, and to emphasise show over substance,
is only to play into Beijing's gameplan. It is past time India injected
greater policy realism by shedding deluding platitudes and placing
premium on substance and leveraged diplomacy.

The Hindustan Times is provided through HT Syndication, New Delhi.

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