Indian prime minister visits China January 13-15, 2008

The PM’s China
visit comes when Beijing has hardened its stance
on territorial disputes

Dragooned
by the dragon

By BRAHMA CHELLANEY

The Hindustan Times, January 7, 2008

At
a time when Beijing is pursuing a more muscular policy — from provocatively
seeking to assert its jurisdiction
over islets claimed by Vietnam to whipping up spats
with Germany, Canada and the US over the Dalai Lama — Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh is embarking on a New
Year visit to China as part of an agreement reached during
President Hu Jintao’s November 2006
trip “
to hold regular summit-level meetings”.
But
while Hu clubbed his India trip with a visit to “all-weather ally” Pakistan —
just as his Premier Wen Jiabao did in
2005 — Singh will pay his respect by
going only to China, instead
of travelling also to, say, Japan or
Vietnam.

            Singh’s
visit is to follow more than a year of assertive Chinese
moves that have run counter to efforts to
build a stable Sino-Indian
relationship based on equilibrium and forward thinking. Two things
have happened. One, China has hardened its stance on
territorial disputes with India
— a reality the very small, largely symbolic joint
anti-terrorist army exercise in Yunnan cannot obscure.
And two, as the Dalai Lama pointed
out in a recent address in Rome, Beijing is taking an increasingly harsh position on Tibet, pretending there is no Tibetan issue to resolve.

            The
Tibet issue is at the core of the India-China
divide, and without Beijing beginning a
process of reconciliation and healing
in Tibet and coming to terms with history, there is little prospect
of Sino-Indian differences being
bridged. Beijing
itself highlights the centrality of the Tibet issue by laying claim to Indian territories on the basis of
alleged Tibetan ecclesial or tutelary links
to them, not any professed Han connection.  

            But with the Dalai Lama having publicly repudiated such claims, a discomfited Beijing has
sought to persuade his representatives in
the ongoing dialogue process that the
Tibetan government-in-exile support China’s
position that Arunachal Pradesh is part of traditional Tibet. The fact is that with China’s
own claim to Tibet
being historically dubious, its
claims to Indian territories are doubly suspect, underlining its attempts at incremental annexation.

            The
tough, uncompromising Chinese approach contrasts sharply with the forbearing positions of the Indian government and the Dalai
Lama. New Delhi,
for instance, has bent over backwards
to play down aggressive Chinese
military moves along the still ill-defined
line of control. The Dalai Lama, for
his part, is beginning to face muted criticism from restive Tibetans
for having secured nothing from Beijing two decades after changing the struggle for liberation from Chinese imperial conquest to a struggle for autonomy
within the framework of the People’s
Republic. As the Dalai Lama himself admitted in
Rome, “Our
right hand has always reached out to the Chinese
government. That hand has remained
empty…” 

            Examples
of China’s increasing hardline
stance on India range from its ambassador’s Beijing-supported
bellicose public statement on Arunachal on the eve of Hu’s visit, to its foreign minister’s May
2007 message to his Indian counterpart that China
no longer felt bound by the 2005 agreement that any border-related settlement
should not disturb settled populations. Add to that the October admission by
the Indo-Tibetan Border Police chief that there had been 141 Chinese military incursions
in the preceding
12 months alone — or about three incursions a week on average.

            Beijing’s
strategy is to interminably drag out its separate negotiating processes with India and the Dalai Lama’s envoys in order to wheedle out more and more concessions. In
line with that, China’s
negotiators have been in full
foot-dragging mode, seeking to keep the discussions merely at the level of
enunciating principles,
positions and frameworks — something
they have done splendidly in
negotiations with India
since 1981 and with the Dalai Lama’s
envoys since 2002. 

            As
several Chinese scholars have acknowledged,
Beijing
is not as keen as New Delhi
to resolve the territorial disputes. Having
got what it wanted either by military aggression or furtive encroachment, Beijing values
its claims on additional Indian territories as vital leverage to keep India under
pressure. Similarly, not content with the Dalai Lama’s abandonment of the
demand for independence, Beijing
continues to publicly vilify him and
portray his envoys’ visits for negotiations as personal trips. It has further tightened
its vise on Tibet
by ordering that all lama reincarnations
get its approval, renewing political repression, and encouraging the ‘Go West’ Han-migration
campaign.

            Gratuitously,
New Delhi has
downplayed instances of belligerent activity by the People’s Liberation Army, denying at times even the undeniable — like the PLA’s destruction
of a few unmanned Indian forward posts at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction
in November. Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor has called PLA cross-border forays
into Bhutan
“a matter between” Bhutan
and China,
as if India
is not responsible for Bhutanese defence. 

            It
is not accidental that China’s hardline approach has followed its infrastructure
advances on the Tibetan plateau, including the opening of a new railway,
airfields and highways. The railway, by arming Beijing
with a rapid military-deployment capability, is transforming the
trans-Himalayan military equations.

            Beijing has also been emboldened by a couple
of major Indian missteps. During Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s June 2003 visit,
it wrung the concession it always wanted from India
— a clear and unambiguous recognition of Tibet
as part of China. Vajpayee not
only inexcusably linked troubled Tibet with a non-issue, Sikkim, but also his
kowtowing on Tibet stripped India of leverage on the larger territorial
disputes with China. Little
surprise, therefore, that Beijing now presents Arunachal as
an outstanding issue that demands
‘give and take’, cleverly putting
the onus on India
to achieve progress. It aims to dragoon New
Delhi into ceding at least Tawang,
populated
not by Tibetans, but by Monpas, a distinct
tribe.

            This
line of attack has been further bolstered
by the 2005 ‘guiding principles’, one of which calls for
“meaningful
and mutually acceptable adjustments” to respective positions. India was craven enough to
agree to this principle, although it
is negotiating with an aggressor
state that aims to keep it off balance and prevent a settlement by seeking to extend its territorial gains.

Having conceded the Tibet
card, what “meaningful and mutually
acceptable adjustments” can India
demand from China? Such
adjustments, as Beijing
insists, have to be primarily on India’s part.
The new Chinese assertiveness on
Arunachal since 2006 thus is not
unplanned but the cumulative result of Indian missteps.

India can expect no respite from
Chinese pressure, given Beijing’s growing propensity to flex its muscles, as
underscored by its anti-satellite weapon test last January, its recent
large-scale war game in the South and East China Seas, its public showcasing of
new military hardware like the Jin-class, nuclear-capable submarine, its
strategic moves around India, and its last-minute cancellation of a
long-planned Hong Kong visit by the US carrier, Kitty Hawk. If anything, China is likely to further up the ante against India.

New Delhi thus cannot stay caught in a
double-bind. To blur the line between diplomacy and appeasement, and to
emphasize show over substance, is only to play into Beijing’s gameplan. It is past time India injected
greater policy realism by shedding deluding platitudes and placing premium on
substance and leveraged diplomacy.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=ff9aae5c-8c75-4c83-9090-83ea113eea22&MatchID1=4617&TeamID1=3&TeamID2=4&MatchType1=1&SeriesID1=1163&PrimaryID=4617&Headline=Dragooned+by+the+dragon

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