India–China Border Resolution

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 03 December 2004

We wrote in our piece on ‘Healthy Developments in India, China, Pakistan’ that:

“We just heard another GOI statement that China has been told that we must settle the International Border along ground realities and if that is true then our reading is correct as we have always maintained. We will be obliged to settle 'as is where is' and Tawang remains with us with minor adjustments in the central sector and nil in the Eastern or Western sectors. If our reading is correct then where is the problem and the MacMahon line goes and the Tibet issue is resolved as China's own and as the MOD report says we must watch the build up in Tibet and be on guard. Then Establishment 22, SSF, SSB and many other miltary and paramilitary agencies will have no role to play but we fear that in India Parkinson's Law is more powerful than in any other country and so this may be a pipe dream.”

We add that we have great sympathy for the Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the PM Manmohan Singh. The entire security establishment in India appears to have gone out of control –– the lines between homeland and external security are blurred and the so called Security and National Security Advisers are doing their own thing. The Defence Ministry is without a CDS or a proper Integrated Defence HQ (which exists in name only). The Israelis were here to advise on terrorism, Rumsfeld wants his say and now Putin is getting tough and at lower levels there is little synergy between the three services –– as admitted by the services themselves. But our Armed Forces are professional and so if the balloon goes up they will respond to the challenge.

In the piece below hark the caution, "To engage with China in the circumstances would require no less than keeping awake in your sleep".

A Fine Balance

How should the UPA go about engaging the Chinese?

01 Dec 2004: Following Manmohan Singh’s talks with the Chinese leadership in Laos, there will be pressure on the UPA to expand the relationship, pressure from the Left allies, especially the CPI-M, which has fraternal ties with the Chinese Communist Party, the various Chinese lobbies masquerading as friends of India, and so on. What is the quality of the relationship, which can be built with China, if at all, what to watch out for, and what not to expect?

Subramanium Swamy is among the few Indian politicians who trusts China, but for the rest, it has been a swinging relationship, friendship turning to bitterness, or bitterness to eager embrace. A.B.Vajpayee is the epitome of these oscillating ties, bitter and hurt when China attacked Vietnam, India’s friend and ally, when he was visiting Beijing as the first Janata government’s foreign minister. George Fernandes comes in at the other end of the spectrum, starting out with Lohia’s distrust of China, going so far as to label it India’s enemy number one, but when the Chinese cottoned on to his anti-Americanism at a South-East Asian security conference, and invited him over, he was bowled over.

The first PM to keep his balance with China was P.V. Narasimha Rao. He was not glassy- but steely-eyed in his dealings with China. He correctly analysed India could not forever sustain hostility on two fronts, the western one with Pakistan and the long eastern border with Chinese Tibet. To the extent that India had to compromise on the Tibet issue, he commenced the process, leading up to TAR’s recognition as Chinese by the NDA, but Narasimha Rao knew what he wanted and what he could get. He could not get a border settlement, a settlement of the differences that lead to the 1962 war, but he aimed for peace and tranquility on that long eastern frontier, and since the Chinese were convinced of the need to demilitarise too, an agreement did not take long coming. In his dealings with the Chinese, Rao indulged in no romanticism, no ideology, but was resolutely pragmatic.

Rao’s threads with China were picked up by Vajpayee, but the relationship swing was extreme in his prime ministership. It started out bitter after he defended the second Pokhran explosion citing China’s enmity, and while relations were gradually repaired, they swung the other way, last year, when he got into a tearing hurry to get a border deal with China. He thought getting Sikkim recognised as an Indian state by China would benefit him in the 2004 general elections, forgetting that Indian voters couldn’t be bothered, so long as Sikkim was not seized by the PLA or separated on its own. That is how insular Indians are.

Seizing on his anxieties, the Chinese demanded counter-recognition of the Tibetan Autonomous Region as Chinese. There is a difference here between Rao’s anxiety to close one front and Vajpayee’s anxiety to win an election on Chinese concessions. The one was motivated by pure national interest, military necessity, but the other brought up party politics. Sharply rebuked about this, in which this magazine played a small role, Vajpayee attempted a course change, reminding the Chinese premier in a meeting outside China about the great Indian media hostility to China. It worked, because Vajpayee appeared to be seeking out unless China recognised Sikkim as Indian, and so it happened, first removed from a government website as Chinese, then from the Chinese yearbook, but knowing the Chinese, nothing is final, unless they say so.

For Manmohan Singh, the obvious course to follow on China is as laid down by Narasimha Rao, not Vajpayee, to be absolutely open-eyed about the dealings, neither fettered by the past but not forgetting it either, and to carry the security establishment along. Right in the middle of Vajpayee’s Beijing visit in June 2003, the PLA grabbed two IB officers and SSB support staff on a routine mission in Arunachal Pradesh. The NDA bottled up the grab, not to spoil the visit, but an enraged security establishment leaked it after the visit, and the government had to do some flurried damage control. More than Vajpayee’s visit do good, this could have ruined him with the voters, but the Congress opposition was not up to the opportunity.

A similar or perhaps more serious event has occurred before yesterday, when Manmohan Singh met the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, and spoke about bringing down the “Berlin Wall” between the two countries. Indian coastguards seized two Chinese ships with more than forty sailors who were doing magnetic resonance imaging of the seabed around the Andamans (Intelligence, “2 Chinese spy ships seized off Andamans,” 30 November 2004). The Andamans will station some of our future strategic forces, and among other things, the magnetic resonance was being done to check the seabed capacity to withstand heavy submarine movements and take pen facilities, and the offensive weapons required in case of a hostility. The Chinese embassy in New Delhi refused to meet the arrested sailors, and the Taiwanese embassy cooperated to identify some of the Taiwanese among them, the Chinese themselves traveling on fake documents. Not to spoil the Manmohan-Wen Jiabao meeting, the UPA government has been playing down the spycatch. To flash back, the Chinese refused to return a force landed US spyplane in April 2001 until the Americans apologised. It cannot be business as usual when the Chinese are caught around your most strategic island, for the third time, as it turns out. Give in now, and you give in most of the time.

Even otherwise, the Chinese have been playing dirty. US intelligence has revealed (“FBI detects Al-Qaeda base in Xinjiang,” 2 November 2004) that China has hosted Al-Qaeda leaders in Xinjiang in return for not supporting the East Turkistan movement. And now, it is busily advancing Iran’s case for weaponisation to counter US unilateralism, and hopes India, Russia, and the European Union will join its effort (“China backs Iran’s N-programme,” 27 November 2004). In perverse pursuit of its self-interest, it proliferated to Pakistan against India, now deals clandestinely with the Al-Qaeda which most of the civilised world abhors, and in return for lucrative oilfield contracts, is supporting Iran’s WMD programme, the most dangerous development since Pakistan went nuclear. 

Post 9/11, the world has become a minefield of narrow nationalisms, and China has emerged one of its worst practitioners. To engage with China in the circumstances would require no less than keeping awake in your sleep.

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