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M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur
June 26, 2003

The recent visit to China by the Indian prime minister is a story of Indian tactical concessions on Tibet, a compounding of Nehru’s mistake of conceding without reciprocity in the 1950s, and the further concession to open the trade route through Sikkim without Chinese agreement on the border.  The plain fact is that China has refused to negotiate on Sikkim and perhaps that is not needed if a boundary settlement is not required or expected.  So the situation on the ground remains the same, the armed forces will have to keep an eye on the borders, the harping about Sikkim by Robert Blackwill, Ashley Tellis and the China lobby is likely to continue and there is clearly no breakthrough in the relationship.  The visit confirms that China’s strategic move is to play a waiting game, waiting for the Dalai Lama to pass away and waiting till the time is ripe to deal with ‘unequal treaties’.  The visit confirms that China has not given up its territorial ambitions in India’s northeast and now Bangladesh will become its proxy in India’s east, as Pakistan in its proxy in the west.

What should be done?
First, it has to become clear that the view in the Joint statement that there is no China threat to India is deceptive.  Taking into account the territorial claims of China relating to Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir, its nuclear and missile supplies to Pakistan, its arms aid to insurgents in the Indian northeast, buildup of military facilities in Mandalay, Coco Islands and Gwador, the demand that India relinquish its nuclear and missile program, and the opposition to India’s bid for a permanent seat in the Security Council, there do not appear to be any important common interest(s) except for the following points.  It is essential that discussions be fast tracked so that the Chinese attitude towards India becomes crystal clear.  Give diplomacy a chance but make it time bound and do not leave it upto the Chinese government to decide when the time is ripe for settlement.  Let the Vajpayee-BJP government not repeat the mistakes of the Nehru regime.

The prospect of Sino-Indian economic cooperation is appealing but there is no serious argument that shows a real potential in scope and depth of bilateral trade.  Tangible evidence must be presented by the Indian government and by non-governmental Indian economic groups about the trade potential.  Leaving aside the Congress party (Jairam Ramesh) mantra about Sino-Indian economic cooperation, who in the Indian business world is pining for China trade and China market?  The Indian government should be able to table a paper outlining the potential and this document should reflect economic realities and data, and not pious statements and fluffy rhetoric.  So the economic dialogue should become time bound, as is indicated in the Joint Statement and Indians ought to be monitoring the progress on this front to see if the hype matches the reality.

The core issue is strategic, not economic, and the differences in the strategic arena are fundamental to India’s future.  The Joint Statement elevates the level of debate about the territorial issue to the political level by announcing the appointment of two special envoys.  With Brajesh Mishra as the Indian special envoy now the issue lies in the Prime Minister’s office.  The point to ponder is this.  China has been talking the border issue with India for about 22 years.  No significant progress has been made other than to accept the idea of tranquillity on the line of actual control.  Thus far, including the present visit of the prime minister, the evidence shows that China has no desire to settle the boundary issue quickly or at all, because China is not willing to renounce its territorial ambitions in India’s northeast and its policy is to drive a wedge between Bangladesh and the Indian northeast through the promotion of insurgency and mass migration into the Northeast, and to drive a further wedge between southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent through Myanmar.  In this case, the ‘dialogue’ between the two special envoys is the testing ground for a package deal between China and India across the entire border.  Without such a package deal the dialogue is just smoke and mirrors the form of ‘progress’ or ‘good progress’ in inter-governmental meetings like the officials’ working group.  Note that there are clear time limits to the economic dialogue but none for the border issue.  Why not?  Our expectation is that China will stall because its thought process has not gone beyond the Nehru days and it is not ready to give up its territorial aims against India.  This is why China has difficulty in producing the maps to back up its claims about the border.  So even though its territorial case is not convincing, time is on China’s side if it is convinced that the Indian political leadership is weak and confused, the American embassy in India is tied to the China lobby, the China lobby in India is strong, the lure of the China market will keep Indians looking for goodies, and the core strategic issues can be sidelined by soft words and a hard position on the territorial question.

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