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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Obama should speak up for India in Beijing

November 15, 2009

By Brahma Chellaney
The Financial Times
November 12 2009

The economic rise of China and India draws ever
more attention. But the world has taken little
notice of the rising border tensions and
increasingly visible differences between the two giants.

With Barack Obama, US president, headed to
Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s tour of the remote
north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh
provoking an angry Chinese response, the
China-India-US triangle and Tibet have emerged at
the centre of escalating tensions.

China has resurrected its long-dormant claim to
Arunachal Pradesh -- almost three times as large
as Taiwan -- and stepped up military pressure
along the 4,057km frontier with India through frequent incursions.

Beijing seems to be drawing the analogy that
Arunachal is the new Taiwan that must be "reunified" with the Chinese state.

Tibet, however, has always been the core issue in
Sino-Indian relations. China became India’s
neighbour not by geography but guns -- by
annexing buffer Tibet in 1951. Today, Beijing is
ready to whip up spats with western nations that
extend hospitality to the Dalai Lama. But India
remains the base of the Tibetan leader and his government-in-exile.

The key cause of the more muscular Chinese stance
towards India is the US-Indian tie-up, unveiled in 2005.

Since then, the official Chinese media has
started regurgitating the coarse anti-India
rhetoric of the Mao Zedong era, with one
commentator this week warning New Delhi not to
forget 1962, when China humiliated India in a 32-day, two-front war.

Yet the Obama administration is reluctant to take
New Delhi’s side in its disputes with Beijing.
Washington has also shied away from cautioning
Beijing against attempts to change the territorial status quo forcibly.

Mr Obama is committed to the partnership with
India as part of which New Delhi has placed
arms-purchase orders worth $3.5bn last year
alone. But he has also signalled that any
relationship will not be at the expense of fast-growing ties with Beijing.

Washington now intends to abandon elements in its
ties with New Delhi that could rile China,
including a joint military drill in Arunachal or
a 2007-style naval exercise involving the US,
India, Australia, Japan and Singapore. Even US
naval manoeuvres with India and Japan are out.
Washington is charting a course of tacit neutrality on the Arunachal issue.

As his secretary of state did in February, Mr
Obama has started his Asia tour in Japan and will
end in China -- the high spot -- while skipping
India. But playing to India’s well-known weakness
for flattery, he will honour it with his
presidency’s first state dinner later this month.

Left to fend for itself, New Delhi has steered
clear of confrontation with Beijing. It has
sought to damp down military tensions and cut off
all information to the media on the Himalayan
border situation, including Chinese intrusions.

But faced with attacks at home for being "soft"
on China, the government has asserted itself
politically. It rebuffed repeated Chinese
diplomatic appeals and allowed the Dalai Lama to
travel to Arunachal. It also announced an end to
the practice of Chinese companies bringing
thousands of workers from China to work on projects in India.

But India cannot afford to be isolated. With Mr
Obama pursuing a Sino-centric Asia policy, and
with China-friendly heads of government in
Australia, Japan and Taiwan, New Delhi’s
diplomatic calculations have gone awry. But the
hardline Chinese approach reinforces the Indian
thinking that engendered Chinese belligerence:
that India has little option other than to align with the US.

New Delhi has to manage its relationships with
Beijing and Washington wisely so it does not lose
out. Meanwhile, the US cannot ignore the pattern
of Sino-Indian border provocations and new force
deployments similar to what happened 47 years ago
when China, taking advantage of the Cuban missile
crisis, routed the Indian military in a surprise invasion.

When Mr Obama is in Beijing, his message should
be that any military adventure will prove costly
and trigger the rise of a militaristic,
anti-China India. Mr Obama should propose a
US-China-India initiative and encourage his hosts
to begin a process of reconciliation and healing in Tibet.

Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies
at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi,
is the author of ‘Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan’
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