China’s bor­der­line bel­liger­ence

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

In re­cent years, the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army has been tak­ing ad­van­tage of its ris­ing po­lit­i­cal clout to pro­voke lo­calised skir­mishes and stand­offs with In­dia by breach­ing the two coun­tries’ long and dis­puted Hi­malayan fron­tier. The PLA’s re­cent in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of such bor­der vi­o­la­tions holds im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions for Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s up­com­ing visit to In­dia – and for the fu­ture of the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

In fact, such provo­ca­tions have of­ten pre­ceded vis­its to In­dia by Chi­nese lead­ers. In­deed, it was just be­fore Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao’s 2006 visit that China res­ur­rected its claim to In­dia’s large northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Like­wise, prior to Premier Wen Ji­abao’s trip to In­dia in 2010, China be­gan is­su­ing visas on loose sheets of pa­per sta­pled into the pass­ports of Kashmir res­i­dents ap­ply­ing to en­ter China – an in­di­rect chal­lenge to In­dia’s sovereignty. More­over, China abruptly short­ened the length of its bor­der with In­dia by re­scind­ing its recog­ni­tion of the 1,597kilo­me­ter line sep­a­rat­ing In­dian Kashmir from Chi­nese-held Kashmir. And Premier Li Ke­qiang’s visit last May fol­lowed a deep PLA in­cur­sion into In­dia’s Ladakh re­gion, seem­ingly in­tended to con­vey China’s anger over In­dia’s be­lated ef­forts to for­tify its bor­der de­fenses.

Now, China is at

it again, in­clud­ing near the con­ver­gence point of China, In­dia, and Pak­istan – the same place last year’s PLA encroachment trig­gered a three-week mil­i­tary stand­off. This pat­tern sug­gests that the cen­tral ob­jec­tive of Chi­nese lead­ers’ vis­its to In­dia is not to ad­vance co­op­er­a­tion on a shared agenda, but to re­in­force China’s own in­ter­ests, be­gin­ning with its ter­ri­to­rial claims. Even China’s highly lu­cra­tive and fast­grow­ing trade with In­dia has not curbed its ris­ing ter­ri­to­rial as­sertive­ness.

By con­trast, In­dian prime min­is­ters since Jawa­har­lal Nehru have trav­eled to China to ex­press good­will and de­liver strate­gic gifts. Un­sur­pris­ingly, In­dia has of­ten ended up los­ing out in bi­lat­eral deals.

Par­tic­u­larly egre­gious was Prime Min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee’s 2003 sur­ren­der of In­dia’s Ti­bet card. Va­j­payee went so far as to use, for the first time, the le­gal term “recog­nise” to ac­cept what China calls the Ti­bet Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion (TAR) as “part of the ter­ri­tory of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China.” That opened the way for China to claim Arunachal Pradesh (three times the size of Tai­wan) as “South Ti­bet” and re­in­forced China’s view of ter­ri­to­rial is­sues: what­ever area it oc­cu­pies is Chi­nese ter­ri­tory, and what­ever ter­ri­to­rial claims it makes must be set­tled on the ba­sis of “mu­tual ac­com­mo­da­tion and un­der­stand­ing.”

Va­j­payee’s blun­der com­pounded Nehru’s 1954 mis­take in im­plic­itly ac­cept­ing, in the Panchsheel Treaty, China’s an­nex­a­tion of Ti­bet, with­out se­cur­ing (or even seek­ing) recog­ni­tion of the then-ex­ist­ing Indo-Ti­betan bor­der. In fact, un­der the treaty, In­dia for­feited all of the ex­trater­ri­to­rial rights and priv­i­leges in Ti­bet that it had in­her­ited from im­pe­rial Bri­tain.

As agreed in the pact, In­dia with­drew its “mil­i­tary es­corts” from Ti­bet, and con­ceded to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, at a “rea­son­able” price, the postal, tele­graph, and pub­lic tele­phone ser­vices op­er­ated by the In­dian gov­ern­ment in the “Ti­bet re­gion of China.” For its part, China re­peat­edly vi­o­lated the eight-year pact, ul­ti­mately mount­ing the trans-Hi­malayan in­va­sion of 1962.

In short, China used the Panchsheel Treaty to out­wit and hu­mil­i­ate In­dia. Yet, just this sum­mer, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s new gov­ern­ment sent Vice Pres­i­dent Hamid An­sari to Beijing to par­tic­i­pate in the treaty’s 60th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions.

An­sari was ac­com­pa­nied by Com­merce Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man, who, dur­ing her stay, signed an agree­ment al­low­ing China – with­out any quid pro quo – to es­tab­lish in­dus­trial parks in In­dia. This will ex­ac­er­bate ex­ist­ing im­bal­ances in the bi­lat­eral trade re­la­tion­ship – China cur­rently ex­ports to In­dia three times more than it im­ports from the coun­try, with most of th­ese im­ports be­ing raw ma­te­ri­als – thereby ex­pos­ing In­dia to in­creased strate­gic pres­sure and serv­ing China’s in­ter­est in pre­vent­ing In­dia’s rise as a peer com­peti­tor.

The fact that the spot­light is now on China’s Ti­bet-linked claim to Arunachal Pradesh, rather than on Ti­bet’s sta­tus, un­der­scores China’s dom­i­nance in set­ting the bi­lat­eral agenda. Given In­dia’s de­pen­dence on cross-bor­der wa­ter flows from Ti­bet, it could end up pay­ing a heavy price.

Em­bar­rassed by China’s re­lent­less bor­der vi­o­la­tions In­dia has re­cently drawn a spe­cious dis­tinc­tion be­tween “trans­gres­sions” and “in­tru­sions” that en­ables it to list all of the breaches sim­ply as trans­gres­sions. But word play will get In­dia nowhere.

A re­minder of that came at July’s BRICS sum­mit when, yet again, China emerged ahead of In­dia. The BRICS’ New De­vel­op­ment Bank, it was an­nounced, will be head­quar­tered in Shang­hai, not New Delhi; In­dia’s con­so­la­tion prize was that an In­dian will serve as the Bank’s first pres­i­dent.

Un­der pres­sure from an un­yield­ing and re­van­chist China, In­dia ur­gently needs to craft a pru­dent and care­fully cal­i­brated counter-strat­egy. For starters, it could re­scind its recog­ni­tion of Chi­nese sovereignty over Ti­bet, while ap­ply­ing eco­nomic pres­sure through trade, as China has done to Ja­pan and the Philip­pines when they have chal­lenged its ter­ri­to­rial claims. By hing­ing China’s mar­ket ac­cess on progress in re­solv­ing po­lit­i­cal, ter­ri­to­rial, and wa­ter dis­putes, In­dia can pre­vent China from for­ti­fy­ing its lever­age.

More­over, In­dia must be will­ing to re­spond to Chi­nese in­cur­sions by send­ing troops into strate­gic Chi­nese-held ter­ri­tory. This would raise the stakes for Chi­nese bor­der vi­o­la­tions, thereby boost­ing de­ter­rence.

Fi­nally, In­dia must con­sider care­fully the pre­tense of part­ner­ship with China that it is form­ing through trade and BRICS agree­ments – at least un­til a more bal­anced bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship emerges. After all, nei­ther boom­ing trade nor mem­ber­ship in the BRICS club of­fers pro­tec­tion from bul­ly­ing.

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