Monday, September 7, 2009

INDIA-CHINA: DANGEROUS HYSTERIA

B.RAMAN

A dangerous hysteria has taken hold of India-China relations since the anti-Beijing uprising in Lhasa in March last year. This hysteria is not due to any actions or rhetoric by the two Governments, which have been conducting themselves in a balanced and restrained manner.They have been trying to preserve and expand the gains in bilateral relations since the famous visit of Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988. They have been sincerely trying to adhere to the bilateral agreement on maintaining peace and tranquillity till a final solution is reached to the border dispute between the two countries. This hysteria has been the creation of some sections of the non-governmetal strategic communities in the two countries.


2.There are issues on which the two Governments have reasons to be concerned and unhappy with each other. India has reasons to be concerned over past Chinese contacts with the Naga and Mizo insurgents in the North-East and with their present contacts, as suspected,with the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Similarly, China has reasons to be concerned over the activities of the set-up of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) from the Indian territory and over the reported presence in the Indian territory of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) of the US which they blame for part of their troubles in Xinjiang and Tibet.The two Governments have refrained from publicly articulating these concerns and have taken care to see that these concerns do not come in the
way of the further development of the bilateral relations.


3. Even in respect of the bilateral dispute over the border, one has to take note of the fact that there has been no attempt by either Government to change the status quo by setting up an illegal territorial presence in any sector of the border. In respect of the Ladakh sector, India feels that the status quo favours the Chinese because of the Chinese occupation of large parts of our territory in this sector
after the People's Republic of China came into existence in 1949. The Chinese have consolidated the status quo, which favours them, by constructing roads, setting up border posts and creating boder habitations in areas which used to be unpopulated. India, while not accepting the status quo de jure, has not tried to disturb it de facto.


4. In the Eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh), the status quo, which we inherited from the British, favours us. The Chinese disturbed it briefly during the Sino-Indian war of 1962 by occupying large parts of it by taking advantage of our weak military and administrative presence in that area, but they unilaterally restored the status quo by withdrawing from the area occupied by them. If they had not withdrawn unilaterally, our Army was not in a position to eject them and we would have been confronted in the Eastern sector with a situation similar to the one in the Western sector---that is, with a new post-1949 status quo set up by the Chinese which we are not in a position to change. The Chinese have been trying to change the status quo in the Eastern sector in their favour not through military means, but by claiming a large part of this territory and insisting on our conceding their demand over some (Tawang) if not all of this territory as part of a border settlement.


5.Unfortunately, we find ourselves in an unequal position with the Chinese. This is because while the Chinese have consolidated the status quo in the Western sector and made sure that India will not be able to change it militarily, we have similarly not consolidated the status quo in the Eastern sector and made sure that the Chinese will not be able to change this militarily. Our long-neglect of the North-East and our failure to consolidate the status quo in Arunachal Pradesh have placed China in a strategically advantageous position in the Eastern sector. Only in the last two or three years have we realised the importance of consolidating the status quo in the Eastern sector by strengthening our military and administrative presence in the area through the construction of roads and inducting fresh military units to protect this area from any adventurist Chinese action.


6. While the Chinese have not sought to change the status quo in the Arunachal Pradesh sector militarily, they have created for themselves a capability for doing so eventually if the border talks fail. They have done this by developing road and rail communications in Tibet and by strengthening military deployments in Tibet. We have only recently realised the importance of giving ourselves a capability in the Arunachal Pradesh sector to thwart any Chinese attempt to change the status quo militarily if the bilateral border talks fail to break the deadlock.


7.The Chinese long-term strategy with regard to India has many facets. The trans-border developments are only one---but the most important--- component of their strategy. There are other components---namely, strengthening their relationship with Pakistan in order to confront India with the danger of a two-front war should it try to change militarily the status quo either in respect of China or in respect of
Pakistan with regard to Jammu & Kahmir; giving Pakistan a nuclear and missile capability for threatening India; weakening the Indian influence in the rest of South Asia and strengthening their presence and influence in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal; creating a presence for their Navy in the Inbdian Ocean region and opposing India's attempts to emerge as an Asian power on par with China.


8. Till recently, we had no well thought-out long-term strategy with regard to China----neither in the border region, nor in South Asia nor in the Indian Ocean region.Only recently the initial rudiments of such a strategy have been appearing. Our attempts to strengthen our strategic relationship with the US and Japan is one such building-block of this comprehensive strategy. Our proactive Indian Ocean policy is another building block. But we find ourselves handicapped in further developing such a comprehensive strategy because we have let our influence
be weakened in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.


9.The post-March 2008 hysteria in the bilateral relations has not been the creation of the two Governments. It has been the outcome of a new activism with regard to each other in the non-governmental strategic communities of the two countries. Sections of the Indian strategic community saw in the Lhasa uprising an opportunity to change the status quo in Tibet by playing the Tibet card against China through helping the Tibetans in securing their legitimate rights from the Han Chinese. By changing the status quo in Tibet----not militarily which is out of question, but politically by backing the Tibetan people's efforts to change the status quo themselves--- India might be able to change the status quo in the Western sector and preserve the status quo in the Eastern sector. So these analysts believed and started advocating vigorously a policy of playing the Tibet card against China.


10. The activism in the Chinese non-governmental strategic community is partly the result of what they see as the Indian activism on Tibet and partly the result of the Indian activism in Arunachal Pradesh for consolidating the status quo. They want their Government to be more assertive in playing the Arunachal Pradesh card and to take advantage of the difficulties faced by India in the North-East to counter any
attempt by India to play the Tibet card. This hysteria has resulted in a campaign of mutual demonisation and mutual sabre-rattling. This sabre-rattling is only at the non-Governmental level. The two Governments have maintained a distance from this hysteria without trying to discourage it.


11. The danger of such hysteria is that it could acquire an uncontrollable momentum and take the two countries towards a precipice from where they may not be able to withdraw. Any confrontation as a result of this hysteria would damage the interests of both the countries.This hysteria has to be defused in time by the top leaderships of the two countries interacting with each other more frequenly and more directly
than now and taking initiatives to remove wrong perceptions about each other. It is unwise for Indian analysts to talk of the Tibetan card.The international community has recognised Tibet as a part of China. While it will be sympathetic to any Tibetan attempts to free themselves of Chinese control, it will not support any Indian initiative or move in this regard. By frequently talking of the Tibetan card, we
will only be adding to the suspicions and concerns in the Chinese mind.


12. It is equally unwise for Chinese analysts to talk of the Arunachal Pradesh (southern Tibet as they call it) or the North-East card. The international community looks upon these areas as a part of India and will not support any Chinese move to change the status quo. Much of this hysteria will die down automatically if the two countries reach a border settlement.The only border settlement, which will be equally
advantageous, is for India to accord de jure recognition to the status quo in the Western sector in return for China recognising the status quo in the Eastern sector. The present difficulties in the Eastern sector are apparently due to the fact that China wants a face-saving formula by India handing over at least Tawang to it.India cannot do this because Tawang is a populated area. Its inhabitants are Indian
citizens. No Indian political leader will be able to sell to the people and the parliament any concession, which would involve any population transfer.


13. So, what are the options? Either go on holding one meeting after another without any forward movement or think of some idea which could break the present deadlock. One idea could be to explore the possibility of a 'status quo plus' solution under which China will recognise the status quo in Arunachal Pradesh in return for India accommodating some of the Chinese interests in Tawang.


14. Once the border dispute is solved to our mutual satisfaction, the danger of a military confrontation between the two countries across the Himalayas will lessen considerably. But the competition between the two countries for influence in the region and outside will remain in the near and medium-term future, but this competition need not lead to a military confrontation. ( 8-9-09)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd),Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

5 comments:

Infinity said...

To change the status-quo, India needs to build its strategic forces, long range bombers, ICBMs, etc. To do that, India has to revamp its military production system (which is archaic at best). More importantly, India needs to conduct research on metamaterials for use in stealth technologies. Wish I could help them there.

Gren Treee said...

India should have strongest ties with Russia. Secondly we should also make sure that that the relations of Pak and China with Russia is never cordial.
India should fuel the separation of Balochistan area and use it against Pak.

Shaan said...

I welcome your attempt to reduce the temperature. But the Indian govt is famous for its lack of strategic thinking and it is the public pressure that keeps the govt from making any compromise on strategic issues. So it is actually good that the Indian public is constantly reminded of the Chinese threat. I would like to point out that the Chinese threat is not just limited to Arunachal Pradesh. The greatest threat is the Chinese attitude, they always want the greatest share in everything. Starting from Spartly islands to Ladakh to disputes with Japan, it is the greed of the Chinese that is behind. The Chinese quest to acquire more and more natural resources by whatever means is a cause of worry for India. There is the threat that if the Indian public completely accepts Tibet as a part of China they may start diverting the Himalayan rivers which are the life line of India to China. Moreover the Chinese may never be satisfied even if India gives the whole of Arunachal Pradesh to them. They were not satisfied with our acceptance of Tibet as a part of China and they will not be satisfied just with the handover of any part of Arunachal Pradesh. The only option available for India is to postpone conflicts while building its economy and military and entering into alliances with China's neighbors. The Chinese threat will remain till China is moved back to its pre-1949 borders.

walter said...

"The only border settlement, which will be equally advantageous, is for India to accord de jure recognition to the status quo in the Western sector in return for China recognising the status quo in the Eastern sector. The present difficulties in the Eastern sector are apparently due to the fact that China wants a face-saving formula by India handing over at least Tawang to it.India cannot do this because Tawang is a populated area. Its inhabitants are Indian
citizens. No Indian political leader will be able to sell to the people and the parliament any concession, which would involve any population transfer."


So, in effect, we give away the western sector, extinguish any possibility of ever having a border with Afghanistan and most importantly, approve of the forcible acquisition of territory by the Chinese? Then you say that we cannot relinquish our claim to Arunachal Pradesh since there are too many people living there? So is it only because of the presence of large settlements in the concerned territory that is the mainstay of your argument for not giving it away. And not because it is a sovereign part of India? That's a self-defeating argument isn't it? Merely because one has not developed an area in a country the size of India, it's better to let it be claimed by someone else upon request or demand?

Mr. Raman. Your words are disturbing. Considering that you were earlier in the security establishment, this is a lamentable approach to reconciliation with our neighbour.

"accomodating their interests in Tawang"

Why?

So we give away the western sector AND 'accomodate their interests in Tawang"?

And this is supposed to be 'mutually' advantageous. It would be considered as mutually advantageous if it were coming from a nationalistic Chinese blogger. So you're saying that India should be perceptive enough to surrender its claim to two pieces of territory as that is its best bet or the closest it will get to resolving the border dispute?

Siva Chinnasamy said...

Dear Sri Raman:
I read this article with much interest as it outlined pragmatic steps to move forward.

I was particularly drawn to one of your suggestions in that article:
"One idea could be to explore the possibility of a 'status quo plus' solution under which China will recognise the status quo in Arunachal Pradesh in return for India accommodating some of the Chinese interests in Tawang."

I believe this is a very pragmatic solution. However, this will entail a loss of face to India and Indian leadership. On the contrary, if China could make a similar gesture by giving India Mount Kailas and Lake Manasarovar and adjoining areas which are revered by nearly a billion Hindus, India can accommodate some of Chinese interests in Tawang. In addition, China would have to give back at least some of Ladakh region which they occupied in a sneaky manner.

What are your thoughts on this. I am suprised that India has never made a public claim on Mount Kailas and Lake Manasarovar so far despite the fact that historically Indians undertake pilgrimage there every year at least for the past few thousand years.