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Singh visits remote state contested by China

February 4, 2008

By Jo Johnson in New Delhi
The Financial Times
February 1 2008


Manmohan Singh on Thursday became the first Indian prime minister to
visit Arunachal Pradesh in nearly a decade, reflecting concern in New
Delhi at persistent Chinese claims to the remote and sparsely-populated
north-eastern state.

Beijing claims 90,000 sq km of land in Arunachal Pradesh, which borders
Tibet, Bhutan and Burma. New Delhi in turn says China is occupying
38,000 sq km of Indian territory in Kashmir illegally ceded to it by
Pakistan.

While India and China have recently enjoyed a surge in bilateral trade
and managed to co-ordinate their approach to international climate
change negotiations, political relations remain strained by failure to
settle the border, cause of a brief war in 1962.

During his two-day visit to a state whose development has lagged far
behind that of Tibet, Mr Singh will inaugurate two hydroelectric plants
and lay the foundation stone of a new parliament building in Itanagar,
the capital of Arunachal Pradesh

“I sincerely hope that like the sun, Arunachal Pradesh will rise from
the east as a new star and become one of the best regions of our
country,” he said, addressing a public meeting in Hindi in Itanagar, the
state capital.

The visit comes two weeks after Mr Singh became the first Indian prime
minister in five years to travel to China. Special representatives held
talks on the border on the sidelines of the official visit, with neither
side claiming any real progress.

“The Chinese are stalling on the border talks because they think that
time is on their side,” said Satish Chandra, who served as India’s
former deputy National Security Adviser between 1999 and 2005.

“With their rates of growth, they know they’ll assume big power status
before India does. No one has any idea what China will be like when it’s
a great power. Maybe they feel it’s a good idea to keep India off balance.”

India last May cancelled a confidence-building visit to China by 107
elite civil servants after China denied a visa to an official from
Arunachal Pradesh on the grounds that he was “Chinese” and therefore did
not need one.

On the eve of Mr Singh’s visit to China on January 13-15, Pranab
Mukherjee, India’s foreign minister, admitted that Chinese armed forces
had been making incursions across the de facto border.

“We immediately take it up. Mechanisms have been established through
which we address this type of problem,” Mr Mukherjee told CNN-IBN, a
news channel. “There is nothing to be worried at this point of time.”

Mr Mukherjee acknowledged that infrastructure across the border in Tibet
was “much superior to that on our side. It’s a known fact. That’s why we
have decided that we should also build up the roads and other types of
infrastructural facilities.”

Prime ministerial visits to Arunachal Pradesh have been so infrequent in
part because New Delhi has been keen not to antagonise the Chinese
leadership during long-running talks to resolve their outstanding border
dispute, some analysts believe.

B.G. Verghese, an expert on the north-east, said the rarity of prime
ministerial visits to Arunachal Pradesh reflected less sensitivities
relating to the border dispute than the difficulty of reaching a
Himalayan state that lacks useable airstrips.

Mr Singh on Thursday promised the state’s estimated 1m inhabitants a
number of airports, a trans-state two-lane “highway” and a central
government-subsidised helicopter service to Guwahati.

Internet down

Internet connections from India to Cairo were severely disrupted on
Thursday after undersea cables were damaged in the Mediterranean on
Tuesday, with some estimating it could take up to 10 days to restore
services to normal, Joe Leahy reports from Mumbai.

India’s main outsourcing companies, which rely on internet connections
to service their overseas customers, said they had not been badly hit,
but individual consumers in the subcontinent reported severe
disruptions. It was not immediately clear how the cables were damaged.
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