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Yet one more Beijing duck! Manmohan visit to China

January 16, 2008

10 January 2008
Indo-Asian News Service

Report from Indo-Asian News Service brought to you by HT Syndication.

New Delhi, Jan. 10 -- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will shortly be
meeting in China President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on what has
now become a regular annual catch up between India's and China's
leaders. Like all the other recent visits, this one too will be big on
atmospherics with little on substance.

It is now commonly agreed in the West that China is its next major
challenge. The typical Western notion of balance of power politics
requires a fast rising India to be in its corner. The Chinese too
suspect that many among India's leaders, Manmohan Singh being the least
among them, would be quite willing to go along with this. Whether they
are right or wrong is not the issue, the important thing is what they
believe or suspect. Given this backdrop, good atmospherics itself is a
major achievement.

Sino-Indian economic ties are growing as envisaged. By 2010 bilateral
trade may even top US$50 billion. India still mainly exports primary
goods to China and China largely exports mass produced and often
low-tech manufactured goods to India. But the value addition still
accrues largely to the Chinese, meaning that they still benefit more
from this. Despite this, both countries still by and large do not
actively encourage greater economic entwinement.

India is still deeply suspicious about the antecedents of many large
Chinese companies such as Huawei and China Harbor, which are actively
seeking to pitch camp in India. China still does not allow our big
infotech players like TCS and Infosys much ingress into Chinese markets.
Both the countries equally prefer to do business with the West and both
the elites have not outgrown their aversion for each other and their
preference for all things Western. This is not likely to change soon,
and Manmohan Singh and Hu Jintao are unlikely to facilitate a strategic
coming together of the strengths of the two countries. Thus, typically,
India and China will be happier buying Boeing and Airbus aircraft than
making them jointly when the biggest markets for them are they themselves.

There is unlikely to be any major shift in the border dispute between
the two countries. In fact things have only worsened. In the last few
years the Chinese have managed to turn the border dispute into a
territorial dispute. Till the eve of the last Hu Jintao visit to India
in 2006, Indians had begun to assume that the issue was one of
demarcating the lines of actual control, basing this on China's offer
twice in the recent past to settle the issue by freezing the borders on
an as-is-where-is basis.

When Deng offered it to Rajiv Gandhi, he demurred fearing a domestic
backlash. When Jiang Zemin offered it to Narasimha Rao, he too demurred
for fear of how his own shadow may react. But what we evolved were the
guiding principles and peace and tranquillity on the border agreements.
The somnambulistic Vajpayee, much to the chagrin of the Tibetan
diaspora, conceded that Tibet was an inalienable part of China in
exchange for China's recognition of the accession of Sikkim into India.
Typically the Chinese have been tardy about this in reality for many
official Chinese websites still show Sikkim as independent. One supposes
that China being a large country the word takes time to filter down. And
we Indians can be quite patient!

In the recent months the Chinese have been stepping the ante on
Arunachal Pradesh. The untimely and hence rather undiplomatic comment by
then ambassador Sun Yuxi about China's outstanding claim on the Indian
state, followed by the denial of a visa to a senior official from
Arunachal Pradesh and by a rising tide of aggressive statements on the
Track II seminar circuit are clearly a setback.

Some influential Chinese have now taken to saying that only the Tawang
tract is the issue and that Chinese and Tibetan public opinion can be
assuaged by India transferring it to their control. This allusion to the
existence of "public opinion" comes as a revelation to Indians familiar
with China and Tibet. It is true that the present Dalai Lama formally
laid claim to Tawang in 1947, but has since renounced any Tibetan claim
to it. The truth is that when China occupied Tibet in 1951, India
established formal control over Tawang the same year. If one is
challenged, then so must the other.

There are other differences also. Except for the denizens of the Tawang
monastery, the majority of people in the Tawang tract and the rest of
Arunachal Pradesh are overwhelmingly non-Tibetan in ethnicity. As a
matter of fact Hindus who account for over 30 percent of the state's
population are its biggest religious group.

If ethnicity is taken as criteria, than the small population living
sandwiched between the McMahon Line and the south bank of the river
Tsangpo, who are ethnically the same as those living in Arunachal,
provide a basis of integrating that region into the state. The Chinese
need to revisit Lenin for his views on the rights to nationality of
smaller ethnic groups. Then the Chinese must also realise that lasting
peace and friendship with India can only be assured by their not having
a sub-Himalayan presence.

No regime in India can accept a Chinese presence on the foothills. It is
highly doubtful that Manmohan Singh will read the riot act to them on
this. So peace and tranquillity will prevail on the border till they
decide to pull the rug from under it or create a not so tranquil peace.

 From the Chinese perspective they find it inexplicable as to why all
Indian governments find it difficult to accept their control over the
Aksai Chin as final. That, my friends, is due to public opinion, which
is real in India and merely a chimera in China. The Chinese cite all
their border agreements with their other neighbors, but somebody needs
to tell them that they need to consider the nature of each one of the
regimes that concluded border agreements with them.

Manmohan Singh is unlikely to either. The important thing is we are
still talking which is a lot better than sulking. This we must till a
global scenario emerges that forces Indians and Chinese alike to think
big and act in concert. So like other previous Beijing visits there will
be a lot of Beijing duck consumed during this one also, and one more
duck is of no great consequence.

(Mohan Guruswamy is president of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, New
Delhi ( []), and a frequent
commentator on Sino-Indian relations.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indo-Asian News Service.
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