Saturday, October 17, 2009

INDIA/CHINA: Hopes for Early Border Settlement Recede

Here's a story by Ranjit Devraj on the recent India-China border controversies that has quoted me and it has appeared today on the Inter Press Service (Rome, Italy) website.

Hopes for Early Border Settlement Recede

Analysis by Ranjit Devraj
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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