India’s painful history dealing with bellicose, deceitful China – Vinay Kaura

Vinay Kaura“India has been forced into boundary negotiations with a revisionist state whose own claim to the territory in question is highly debatable and defies all logic. Chinese claim on Tibet is akin to Saddam Hussein’s claim, following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. … If Indian response to China’s guile continues to be a mixture of complacency and skittishness, Tawang is inevitably destined to become a forgotten footnote in the long, painful history of India’s humiliation.” – Prof Vinay Kaura

Ajit DovalRepresenting India in the special representative-level boundary talks with China, national security adviser Ajit Kumar Doval is performing the most challenging diplomatic trouble-shooting tasks on behalf of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Only a few days after Narendra Modi’s China visit, Mr Doval, while delivering the annual K. F. Rustam Lecture on May 22, exposed China’s double standards in boundary negotiations with India. Expressing surprise that China had recognised the McMahon Line only till erstwhile Burma, but did not accept beyond it, he sounded worried: “We are particularly concerned about the eastern sector, where the claims have been made on Tawang, which is totally in contravention of accepted principles”. Predictably, China reacted strongly. Terming the McMahon Line as “illegal”, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying reaffirmed Beijing’s claims on Arunachal Pradesh. Obviously, China has once again demonstrated its commitment to ruthless pragmatism while negotiating long-standing boundary dispute.

Hua ChunyingChinese leaders, absorbed by China’s phenomenal economic success and driven by the inflexibility of their strategic orientation towards India, will find it extremely difficult to reconsider their “approach on issues that hold us back from realising full potential of our partnership”, as Mr Modi would like them to. If past is any guide to the future, China is not likely to mind if their diplomats would keep talking to their Indian counterparts — already 18 rounds of negotiations between special representatives — and do not seem to be getting anywhere. Mr Modi’s appeal for clarification of Line of Actual Control (LAC) has fallen on deaf ears as China’s deputy director general of the Asian affairs at the foreign ministry, Huang Xilian, has openly expressed Chinese reservations on clarifying the LAC and instead shown preference for a pact with India on a code of conduct to maintain peace along the border. In other words, China wants procedure should take precedence over substance. For India, procedural details should not make the contending parties lose sight of the bigger picture.

Indian and Chinese SoldiersAccording to Mr Doval, for improving “the bilateral relations with China, border is the critical and vital issue”. For those who have assumed that a growing economic relationship between India and China would lead to strategic stabilisation and an eventual resolution of the two countries’ border disputes, the latest expression of Chinese bellicosity immediately after Mr Modi’s “landmark” China visit may have come as a shock. Predictably, expectations of a transformation have given way to profound disillusionment and a cloud of pessimism again seems to be enveloping Sino-India relations. Last year’s military face-off in Ladakh during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit, growing maritime competition in the Indian Ocean region, and the absence of progress on resolving the boundary dispute, have all given strength to those sceptical about the optimistic premises on which India’s China policy is built.

Sino-India relations remain a prisoner of the past. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past”. Having won power in 1949, by defeating the Kuomintang in conventional military battles, Communist China became a highly secretive, authoritarian and militarised society. Like all militant nationalists, they too desired to restore China’s borders to former historical levels. The People’s Liberation Army forcibly entered into Lhasa in 1950 and occupied Tibet. Not only this, they also marched into Xinjiang and plunged into a series of major conflicts over the former Qing dynasty tributary states of Korea and Vietnam. The Chinese armies finally invaded in October 1951, overwhelming the poorly equipped Tibetan troops.

14th Dalai Lama in 1950, when he was asked to take charge of the Tibetan state in the face of a Chinese invasion.  The greatest surprise of the Tibetan collapse was not that it happened — though that was shocking, strange and startling enough — but the absence of a credible strategy to counter it. The de facto takeover of Tibet was made de jure when the Dalai Lama was made to accept the 17-point agreement of May 1951, which consisted of unenforceable commitments from China. This crucial agreement became the basis of the nullification of all Tibetan claims to independence. Consequences for India were decisive: the buffer zone provided by the Tibetan plateau disappeared overnight. Nehru’s efforts to convince the Chinese to maintain a relationship of suzerainty over Tibet failed miserably. To cut the long story short, the Panchsheel Agreement, subsequent diplomatic negotiations, empty slogan of “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai”, and finally the ill-conceived “forward policy” could not help India reach a just and peaceful conclusion on the contentious border issue. And finally, China inflicted a crushing defeat on India in 1962, thoroughly exposing the incompetence and inadequacy of its defence preparedness.

As the cliché goes: it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. India has been forced into boundary negotiations with a revisionist state whose own claim to the territory in question is highly debatable and defies all logic. Chinese claim on Tibet is akin to Saddam Hussein’s claim, following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Tibetan demonstration against ChinaChina is a tough negotiator whose obdurate positions and tough demands have always slowed down the negotiation process. Chinese claims in the eastern sector have changed from some parts of the state of Arunachal Pradesh to the entire state. What is the basis of China’s claims on Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh? The answer has continued to perplex all sensible observers except diehard communist supporters. The Chinese demand on Tawang is premised on its historical and cultural importance to Tibetan Buddhism, which is hardly convincing.

During the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in April 2005, India and China had signed an agreement on the political parameters and guiding principles for the settlement of the India-China boundary question, whose article VII read: “In reaching a border settlement, two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in border areas”. It was interpreted as softening of China’s stance on Tawang, whose population is favourably inclined towards India.

Narendra Modi during his visit to Terracotta Warriors Museum, in Xi'an, ChinaChina upholds international norms when they are in sync with its national interests, but if they are found to be at odds with China’s strategic aims, they are brazenly and conveniently “forgotten”. Sensing the strategic significance of Tawang in maintaining complete ideological control over Tibet, the Chinese have retracted from the 2005 agreement, as is clear from their renewed insistence on Tawang. India’s lament is understandable, as reflected in Mr Doval’s statement: “the fact is there is settled population in these areas particularly in Tawang and other areas which have been participating in the national mainstream all through”.

While dealing with as dominant and deceitful an adversary as China, there is no escaping the past mistakes on Tibet. If Indian response to China’s guile continues to be a mixture of complacency and skittishness, Tawang is inevitably destined to become a forgotten footnote in the long, painful history of India’s humiliation. – Asian Age, 14 June 2015

» Prof Vinay Kaura is an assistant professor in the department of international affairs and security studies, and coordinator at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Jodhpur.

Tawang Town

One Response

  1. China’s claim on Tibet is bogus.

    Culturally Tibet is part of India—like Nepal. Politically it should be independent—like Nepal.

    India should withdraw its recognition of China’s claims on Tibet and ask other UN member states to do the same.

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