India, China take a measure of each other at border row talks
China and India are sitting down for another round of talks this week on their unsettled border, a nearly 50-year festering row that in recent months seems to have gotten worse.
China’s Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo and India’s National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan are unlikely to announce any agreement on the 3,500 km border, even a small one, but their talks this week may well signal how they intend to move forward on a relationship marked by a deep, deep “trust deficit”, as former Indian intelligence chief B. Raman puts it.
While the entire Himalayan border is disputed, including the Aksai Chin area, it is the row over large parts of India’s Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern stretch of the mountains that has strained ties in recent months.
The Chinese, says Raman, are demanding that at least the Tawang tract of Arunachal Pradesh, if not the whole of it, should be transferred to it. They are apparently adamant that if that doesn’t happen, there won’t be any border settlement, he says.
India’s position is that there can’t be a transfer of populated areas in any border settlement. Tawang is a populated area, its citizens are Indians, New Delhi says.
So firmly have the Chinese dug their heels in, that they refused to endorse an Asian Development Bank irrigation project in Arunachal Pradesh in June on grounds that it was its territory. Last month, India’s Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna confirmed to parliament in a question-answer session media reports about the Chinese objection to the project which appeared to have stung India.
So where do they go from here ? India’s decision to deploy additional troops along the border in Arunachal Pradesh and beef up its air defences in the region have deepened the sense of unease, more so by making a public announcement of the military moves. It might be concerned about Chinese buildup in the area and of growing border violations, but to talk openly of the Chinese threat and moves to counter it hardly inspires confidence.
There is a history to this: in the months leading up to the 1962 war between the two countries, India, according to some people at least, took fairly strident positions in public against China, only to be humiliated in the brief conflict.
There are some signs of a calmer, more measured stance in New Delhi and Beijing ahead of this week’s meeting in the Indian capital. There was no need to “demonise” China as a potential threat, India’s top level cabinet committee on security headed by the prime minister concluded last weekend at a preparatory meeting, acording to a report in the Indian Express. But New Delhi will be watching China closely, it said.
Beijing for its part said the two countries must exercise the “greatest political wisdom” to arrive at border settlement. The People’s Daily quoted China’s ambassador to India Zhang Yan as saying: notwithstanding the “twists and turns” in ties, the two countries had the same responsibilities of developing their economies and improving people’s lives.
Bilateral trade, as the People’s Daily in a separate article notes, has flourished despite the strained political relationship. “China has become one of India’s largest trade partners, and India is now one of the most vital investment and overseas project contracting markets for China,” it says.
So is trade going to be the glue holding the world’s two most populous nations together?
(Photographs of India’s Manmohan Singh and China’s Wen Jiabao and Nathu-La on the border between India and China)