Join our Mailing List

"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."

Talks with China head nowhere

August 15, 2009

Rediff News
August 12, 2009

In 2003 India and China appointed Special
Representatives to find a political solution to
the unresolved boundary issue. A new political
will on both sides to break the existing
stalemate was implied. The initiative presupposed
abandoning entrenched positions and approaching
the issue with a new spirit of compromise. Six
years have elapsed, but the breakthrough is still awaited.

In 2005, during Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's India
visit, the political parameters and guidelines
for settling the boundary issue were agreed. Four
years of labour since then has produced no
visible result. Both sides had agreed that these
sensitive negotiations would be conducted without
media scrutiny. So, although the periodic
meetings are announced and media is stirred up,
the negotiators have adhered to the discipline of
silence about the outcome of these parleys.

Unlike in the case of Pakistan where the
backchannel has operated in total discretion,
without any information surfacing about the
location and periodicity of meetings, the talks
with China are exposed to public attention, but
progress is subject to "omerta".

A "political" solution to the boundary issue has
to ride on decisive improvement in the political
ties between India and China. If in the last six
years no such amelioration has occurred, then to
expect the boundary resolution track to move
faster or even independently of such progress would be wishful thinking.

In actual fact, despite high levels visits on
both sides, some military contacts, burgeoning
trade and convergence of thinking on global
issues like Climate Change and WTO negotiations,
the underlying mutual distrust has increased,
rather than decreased, in recent years. China's
opposition to India's Security Council permanent
membership, its objection to the Indo-US nuclear
deal and attempts to scuttle the NSG waiver,
apart from the increased militarisation of Tibet
[ Images ] and Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean area, account for this.

Much is being made about India-China cooperation
in international forums on global warming and
world trade issues, as if such pragmatic,
self-interested cooperation in multilateral
forums, where India and China as developing
countries are pitted against the industrialized
countries, can influence China's attitude to
purely bilateral matters of contention such as the boundary question.

Such cooperation has its downside too, as China
is in weaker position than us on global warming
issues, and on this and WTO matters letting India
take the front seat to counter western demands suits it.

To place things in perspective, India and China
have diplomatic ties, engage each other in many
areas, adhere broadly to the rhetoric of
friendship and have a shared interest in not
allowing tensions to overwhelm the relationship
as a whole. They are cooperating to mutual
advantage in multilateral forums such as the G-8,
the G-20, BRIC and the trilateral dialogue with
Russia. But this is far from enough to create the
requisite degree of mutuality of interest and
trust to resolve the boundary issue, especially
as China does not need to make any concession on
that issue to benefit from multilateral engagement with us.

Since China can eat its cake and have it too, why
should it not keep India under pressure on the
border issue, maintain leverage over us so that
we are always kept off balance and cannot stand
up as equals, besides having the freedom to
pursue policies that severely damage us strategically in our neighbourhood?

India has no answer to this dual strategy as we
have neglected our border defences, the economic
and military gap between us and China is
expanding, China's global financial clout has
increased with the recession affecting the West,
and we cannot afford to have tensions both with
China and Pakistan at the same time, as that
would only reinforce this tandem hostile to our rise as a power.

We are also reluctant to be seen as allowing
ourselves to be drawn into any US arrangement
that could be construed as anti-Chinese in intent.

A harder look at reality is needed. Rather than
work to create a favourable political atmosphere
for resolving boundary differences, China has
deliberately poisoned it by asserting its claim
over the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as a matter
of principle and on Tawang in particular. The
airing of this claim on the eve of President Hu
Jintao's visit to India in 2006 showed China's
scant regard for ground realities as well as Indian political sensitivities.

China has lately upped the ante by broadening its
bilateral differences over Arunachal Pradesh by
raising them in a multilateral forum like the
Asian Development Bank
disregarding that this detracts from the process
of finding a bilateral solution to them.

To escape responsibility for wrecking progress
towards a settlement, China engages in the artful
propaganda that India's coalition governments do
not have the mandate and the will to make the necessary concessions for it.

The political atmosphere surrounding the boundary
negotiations was further vitiated by the Tibetan
uprising in March last year, the verbal violence
unleashed by the Chinese leadership against the
Dalai Lama and the breakdown of China's dialogue with his representatives.

China's pretense that it raises the Tawang issue
in deference to Tibetan sentiments flies in the
face of Dalai Lama's public position that Tawang
belongs to India and the 2008 Tibetan revolt against China's rule.

India's belated decision in the face of
provocative Chinese claims to improve the
infrastructure in the border regions, activate
air fields, position advanced aircraft as well as
augment ground forces, have aroused reactions
from Chinese analysts and newspapers. The
unnecessary publicity given to our missile and
naval programmes, with the media playing up their
anti-China thrust, has not helped.

Some condescending commentaries have appeared in
the Chinese press analyzing India's complexes
towards China and warning that it should not
expect any concessions on the disputed border.
Such writings have not appeared in the China's
state controlled press for years and some serious
observers do not rule out China fomenting some
border trouble, if only to deflect attention from
mounting internal problems caused by the impact
of the global recession on China's export markets.

The just concluded 13th round of the Special
Representative's dialogue has ended on an odd
note. The mechanism set up to discuss only the
boundary issue has ended up discussing a broader
agenda covering bilateral, regional and global issues.

Does this mean that the boundary talks as
structured presently have run into an impasse and
this is being disguised through altogether
unrelated announcements about setting up a
hotline between the two Prime Ministers,
celebrating the Year of China in India to mark
the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties,
highlighting our cooperation in multilateral
forums and describing trade and economic
relations as the centrepiece of bilateral ties?

Allowing the boundary negotiations to be mixed up
with a so-called strategic dialogue appears to be
a shortsighted move as it could allow the Chinese
to impose limits on India's strategic options by
linking progress on the boundary question to
India's pliability on strategic issues.

It is disturbing why we have felt the need to
artificially project Dai Bangguo's visit as
successful even as on its central purpose- the
boundary question- no progress is claimed.

Kanwal Sibal is a former foreign secretary.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank