M.L. Sondhi & Ashok Kapur

Times of India, June 11, 2003

The Indian Prime Minister in his recent China visit compounded Jawaharlal Nehru’s mistake by conceding on Tibet without reciprocity from China.  India further agreed to open the trade route through Sikkim without Chinese agreement on the border.  It is a fact that China has refused to negotiate on Sikkim, given that a boundary settlement is neither required nor expected.  So the situation on the ground remains the same.  The armed forces will have to keep an eye on the borders, Sikkim will continue to be talked about and there is no breakthrough in sight.  The visit confirms that China’s strategy is to play a waiting game till the Dalai Lama passes away and the time is ripe to deal with “unequal treaties”.  Evidently, 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 is its proxy in the west.

The view expressed in the joint statement that there is no China threat to India is deceptive.  Take China’s territorial claims in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir, its nuclear and missile supply to Pakistan, China’s arms aid to insurgents in the Northeast and military build up in Mandalay, Coco Islands and Gwador, the demand that India relinquish its nuclear and missile programme, and the opposition to India's bid for a permanent seat in the Security Council.  There does not appear to be any substantial change in China’s attitude to India.

Chance for diplomacy 

There is no doubt that discussions with China have to be on a fast track.  Diplomacy has to be given a chance, but it has to be made time-bound.  India should not leave it to China to decide when the time is ripe for settlement.

The prospect of Sino-Indian economic cooperation is appealing but there is still no indication about its potential.  Who in India is pining for the Chinese market?  Tangible evidence must be presented by the Indian government and by non-governmental Indian economic groups about trade possibilities.  There should be a paper that shows the economic realities, not pious rhetoric.

Moreover, 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 territorial issue to the political level by announcing the appointment of two special envoys.  With Brajesh Mishra as the Indian special envoy, the issue will now be dealt by the prime minister’s office.  But then China has been talking the border issue with India for about 22 years.

Ambitions remain

There has been no significant progress on the border issue except the acceptance of peace on the line of actual control.  So far 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.  Its policy is to drive a wedge between Bangladesh and India 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 deal the dialogue is just a smokescreen.

Note that there are clear time limits to the economic dialogue but none for the border issue.  Why not?  China will try to stall the border settlement because its thought process has not gone beyond the Nehru days and it is not ready to give up its territorial ambition in India.  That 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 the Indian political leadership proves to be weak and confused.  If the American embassy in India is tied to the China lobby, the China lobby in India is strong, the lure of the China market continues to entice Indians, the core strategic issues can be sidelined by soft words.

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