CALL BEI­JING’S BLUFF

China’s ob­jec­tions to PM’S Arunachal visit are un­ten­able

DNA (Daily News & Analysis) Mumbai Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

In­dia has done well to stand its ground de­spite China’s vis­ceral ob­jec­tions on Arunachal Pradesh. It has be­come Bei­jing’s habit to make un­war­ranted noises when any­one vis­its In­dia’s east­ern-most state, in a vain at­tempt to cat­e­gorise it as dis­puted. If the vis­i­tor is a for­eigner, as has been the case on a few oc­ca­sions, s/he is un­com­fort­able, as­sess­ing whether it is worth their while to an­noy a mil­i­tary and eco­nomic su­per­power like China. But Bei­jing seems to have crossed the thresh­old when it ob­jected to Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s one-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh, on what was es­sen­tially a po­lit­i­cal trip marked by a series of in­au­gu­ra­tions of in­fras­truc­tural projects. The Chi­nese for­eign min­istry spokesper­son said it “res­o­lutely op­poses ac­tiv­i­ties” by In­dian lead­ers in the re­gion, adding that such ac­tions would hurt progress made by both sides and com­pli­cate the bound­ary ques­tion. New Delhi has dis­missed China’s claims, say­ing that the North East­ern state re­mains an “in­alien­able” part of In­dia and that its lead­ers visit Arunachal from time to time as they visit other parts of the coun­try. Tra­di­tion­ally, In­dia has used po­lite diplo­macy to make its point, and un­less the provo­ca­tion is so grave, should con­tinue do­ing the same. But there is lit­tle doubt that the in­fras­truc­tural drive on the bor­der launched by suc­ces­sive In­dian gov­ern­ments has got China’s goat. On Satur­day, the Prime Min­is­ter laid the foun­da­tion stone of an all-weather tun­nel un­der the crit­i­cal Sela moun­tain pass that con­nects Tawang to the rest of the state. It will al­low for faster troop move­ment, should the need arise. For China, Tawang re­mains the ap­ple of its eye and there are many ex­perts who be­lieve that the small town’s fa­mous monastery in the hands of In­dia is a sore point with Bei­jing, whose an­nex­a­tion of Ti­bet is closely linked to this his­toric place. In the 1962 bor­der war, Chi­nese troops had reached Tawang. The Chi­nese out­burst is also linked to its frus­tra­tion. In­dia’s stout de­fence in this re­gion leaves it with very lit­tle lever­age, apart from is­su­ing pe­ri­odic state­ments, par­tic­u­larly when a vis­i­tor is in the vicin­ity. 2017, a bad year for Sino-in­dian ties, notably for the Dok­lam stand­off, could well have been trig­gered by Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in the same year. The scene of the revered Bud­dhist leader vis­it­ing the Tawang monastery was seen by China as a grave af­front to its sovereignty. Bei­jing main­tains that un­til the bound­ary ques­tion is set­tled, no In­dian leader should visit Arunachal. It is a patently un­ten­able po­si­tion. The two coun­tries have held 21 rounds of talks about the 3,488-km­long dis­puted fron­tier and de­spite some progress and grad­ual cool­ing of tem­per­a­tures, any fi­nal res­o­lu­tion re­mains far away. So to sug­gest that un­til a set­tle­ment is reached no­body can visit Arunachal Pradesh con­sti­tutes a di­rect in­ter­fer­ence in the af­fairs of In­dia. As a sov­er­eign repub­lic, surely no one can tell In­di­ans where they can travel within their coun­try.

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