By P. Stobdan
The details of the sixth round of Sino-Indian Special Representatives-level talks (September 26-28) have not been made public.The talks in Beijing were the first to be held in the backdrop of the turnaround in India’s foreign policy, marked by its support to the US and EU-led resolution against Iran in the crucial IAEA meeting on September 24.
On September 27, Beijing decided to put off the trade through Nathula that was to begin on October 2, saying that infrastructure on its side was not ready. Will itcontest India’s great-power aspirations and introduce fresh obstacles for the boundary settlement?
The Chinese have never hidden their apprehensions about closer Indo-US ties. It appears that Beijing had anticipated the July 18 Indo-US nuclear deal and China had enunciated its principles to guide future Sino-Indian ties during Wen Jiabao’s visit to India this year. The global and strategic character of the relationship under the Strategic and Cooperative Partnership(SCP) envisaged, inter alia, Democratisation of International Relations and Multilateralism.
But the SCP does not address India’s concerns stemming from the Sino-Pak strategic partnership and China’s growing ties with our neighbouring states. It does not ensure Chinese support for a permanent seat in the UNSC. In fact, even after the SCP, China campaigned to scuttle the G-4 model. Similarly, commitments on counterterrorism, too, lacked specifics. While India was specific in recognising the “one China” policy, there was no similar Chinese reciprocity on Kashmir. Notwithstanding India’s repeated commitment on Tibet, Beijing has not foreclosed its option of subversion in the Northeast. Russia used the energy pipeline, weapon sale and anti-terrorism to reach a boundary settlement with China. India enjoys no such leverage with China.
The guiding principles on a boundary settlement too appeared a diversionary trick. They sought “meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments” for a “package settlement”. Article V of the Principle — historical evidence and national sentiments — provides the Chinese sufficient room to manipulate the agenda. Chinese writings have lately been referring to Monyul’s (Tawang) importance to Tsangyang Gyatso or the 6th Dalai Lama’s birthplace. Gyatso was born in Urgelling, South Tawang in 1683. Surprisingly, the position of Tibetans on Tawang is also not clear. When Dalai Lama visited Arunachal in 2003, obliquely referred to Tawang as part of Tibet.
Any success of the current China-Dalai Lama dialogue will depend on the Tibetan position on Tawang. Tibetans cannot take the position that Tawang is not part of Tibet. As Johan Garver, citing Chinese sources writes, besides the Dalai Lama factor, Tawang’s importance to China lay in its capacity to sustain one-third of the Tibetan economy and its strategic proximity to the North East and Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, India’s hold over Tawang, if not handled with sensitivity, could become tenuous. Tension is brewing in Tawang and Bomdila. As the power balance has shifted in favour of other tribes, the Monpas, Sherdukpens and Khamptis are increasingly facing religious onslaughts by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM)&(K). The NSCN’s call to either embrace Christianity or face capital punishment is frightening for the Monpas and Khamtis. New Delhi’s apathy combined with pressure from NSCN could eventually throw the Monpas into China’s lap.
In the Western Sector, Articles VI, VIII, IX, X are unlikely to affect the Chinese position there. As it is, the Tibetanisation of the western Himalayas is already complete and China is eventually going to reap the benefits. Interestingly, China’s stated flexibility in its approach on the boundary issue disguises its desire to display great power responsibility, as well as to illustrate its peaceful rise. By replicating its SCO model — settling borders and gaining a foothold in Central Asia without antagonising Russia — China wishes to enter South Asia through SAARC without antagonising India. Once that happens, Beijing will decide regional security and development in South Asia as an equal partner.
China’s regional schemes could have worrisome implications. In recent times, Chinese have sold us the euphoria of interdependence — conceding where they saw benefits for themselves like in the area of IT cooperation, rejecting where it saw potential threats like a seat for India in UNSC.
Judging from India’s boldness to make a fundamental shift in its position on relations with the US, Beijing would be hoping for a similar shift by New Delhi on the boundary issue. Interestingly, Beijing is succeeding through an effective psycho-op in projecting China as a benign power. Earlier, this was sold in Southeast and Central Asia, where the euphoria for change was built around the post-Soviet and Cold War trans-border environment.
The writer was with the National Security Council Secretariat, Delhi