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Analysis: INDIA/CHINA: Hopes for Early Border Settlement Recede

October 18, 2009

Analysis by Ranjit Devraj
IPS
October 16, 2009

NEW DELHI, Oct 16 (IPS) - Hopes for an early
settlement of the ‘world’s oldest standing border
dispute’ receded last week after Asian neighbours
China and India engaged in a tit-for-tat spat
that ran counter to the spirit of a formal dialogue they are engaged in.

On Wednesday India's external affairs ministry
called on Beijing to cease work on development
projects, including highways and hydro-electric
dams, in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

That request was made apparently in retaliation
for China’s objections to an electioneering visit
made by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to
the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh,
which Beijing considers to be disputed territory
and part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

A day earlier, a Chinese spokesman had sent
shockwaves through the Indian establishment by
saying at a press briefing in Beijing: ‘’China
expresses its strong dissatisfaction on the visit
by the Indian leader to the disputed area in
disregard of China’s grave concerns.’’

"By trying to tell the Indian prime minister
where he can go within his own country, all
limits of diplomacy have been crossed," said
Sujit Dutta, one of India’s foremost China
experts. "In fact, this is the worst of a series
of provocations emanating over the last six
months from Beijing, to which the Indian
government responded in a muted fashion."

Dutta, who is currently a professor at the Nelson
Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at
the Jamia Milia Islamia University, listed among
those provocations the issuance of ‘stapled
visas’ to Indian students from Indian Kashmir and
Arunachal Pradesh "as if to question their citizenship status".

China became a party to the territorial dispute
over the former princely state of Jammu and
Kashmir state by occupying the Aksai Chin area
following the 1962 Sino-Indian border war and was
ceded the Trans-Karakorum tract (or Shaksam
valley) by Pakistan in the following year.
Currently, India administers 43 percent of Jammu
and Kashmir. Pakistan controls 37 percent and China holds 20 percent.

During the 1962 war China invaded and briefly
occupied large parts of Arunachal Pradesh, which
it officially refers to as ‘southern Tibet’, but
withdrew its troops across the mountains for logistical reasons.

Currently, the effective border between China and
India is the Line-of-Actual Control, which
extends over 4,057 kilometres, with Kashmir on
the west end and Arunachal Pradesh on the east.
In between fall the Indian states of Uttarakhand,
Himachal Pradesh, the republic of Nepal, Sikkim
state and the kingdom of Bhutan.

Dutta also counted among the provocations the
objections raised by China at the Asian
Development Bank to a loan being provided for a
hydro-electric project in Arunachal Pradesh,
which caused the bank’s operations in the
territory to cease. "Such actions are not
conducive to an easy settlement of the border issue," he said.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at
the independent Organiser Research Foundation
(ORF), told IPS that she believed China’s
provocations were primarily calculated to put
pressure on India to "soften its positions at the
negotiating table" for a series of border talks
that have been conducted between the two countries over three decades.

At the 13th round of talks, which took place Aug.
7-8 in Beijing it was decided to set up a
‘hotline’ between Beijing and New Delhi as part
of confidence-building measures. "But there has
been little real progress at these talks,"
observed Rajagopalan, who is currently working on
a project to study the military strategies of the major Asian powers.

Ahead of the talks, on Aug. 4, the ‘People's
Daily’ carried an interview with Zhang Yan,
China’s ambassador in New Delhi, in which he
said: "China and India should settle the existing
border disputes properly, calling into play the
greatest possible political wisdom.

It added: "Despite the twists and turns in
China-India ties and border disputes, the two
countries share the same historical
responsibilities of developing economies,
improving people's lives and safeguarding world
peace and development, which requires them to
properly handle existing problems with the utmost political wisdom."

Zhang observed that "China is now India's top
trading partner, while India has become China's
largest overseas project contracting market and
an important investment destination. Bilateral
trade volume between the two hit 51.7 billion
U.S. dollars in 2008, up 35 percent over the same
period a year ago. The two countries have also
set a target of bilateral trade volume of 60 billion dollars by 2010."

But as the talks began, the Daily carried an
article by Chinese military expert, Long Tao, who
warned that though the two countries wished to
develop bilateral ties, "China won't sacrifice
its sovereignty in exchange for friendship.
Therefore, India should not have any illusions with regard to this issue."

"This blow hot, blow cold approach is typical of
Chinese diplomacy," said Rajagopalan. "But there
could be real issues worrying Beijing, starting
with vastly improved relations between India and
the United States that led to the signing of a
civilian nuclear pact between the two countries last year."

An editorial in ‘People’s Daily Online’ on
Thursday accused India of attempts at "hegemony"
and of following a policy of "befriend the far and attack the near".

The Daily issued the following admonishment:
"India, which vows to be superpower, needs to
have its eyes on relations with neighbours and
abandon the recklessness and arrogance as the
world is undergoing earthshaking changes."

According to the state-controlled paper, "the
pursuit of being a superpower is justifiable, the
dream of being a superpower held by Indians
appears impetuous". It goes on to say: "For
India, the ease of tension with China and
Pakistan is the only way to become a superpower.
At present, China is proactively engaging in
negotiations with India for the early settlement
of border dispute and India should give positive response."

But, said Rajagopalan, relations between the two
countries were complex and there were many
factors that needed to be addressed before
anything like a permanent settlement of the
border could be effected. ‘’One factor is the
Dalai Lama who fled to India 1959 to set up a
‘government -in-exile’ in Himachal Pradesh.’’

The Dalai Lama plans to visit Arunachal Pradesh
in November and this has not gone down well with
Beijing, which regards the Tibetan leader as a
‘splitist’ and accuses him of being behind the
protests that erupted in the Tibetan capital of
Lhasa and elsewhere in March 2008.

Dutta commented that instead of accusing India of
attempted hegemony, Beijing should look at its
own record in Tibet, which, he said, is
autonomous only in name. "The simple fact is that
Tibetan refugees have continued to stream across
the border into India after 1959 and they are now
at least 250,000 of them resident in India. China
has done nothing to encourage them to go back home."
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