Published On: Thu, Apr 27th, 2017

Pitching China Might Just Be Shooting the Breeze by Ishaal Zehra

It all started with the visit of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, ‘Dalai Lama’ to Tawang district in Arunachal Pradesh earlier this month. For those who do not know the geographic importance of Arunachal Pradesh, it is an eastern Himalayan state administered by India but claimed by China as Southern Tibet.

China lodged a diplomatic protest with India when the Dalai Lama began his visit to Arunachal Pradesh on April 4, noticing that his visit will rather have a negative impact on Sino-India ties, visibly cautioning New Delhi not to use the exiled spiritual leader to undermine Beijing’s interests. Iterating its displeasure at the visit almost a week after it ended, Chinese foreign ministry clearly indicated it has not bought what India has been saying– that the trip was religious in nature or the Tibetan leader is free to travel and doesn’t plan his itinerary at the behest of the Indian government.

As if this was not enough, the Indian chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu, told Reuters on April 5 that he regarded the land on the other side of the border as Tibet, not China. “As far as the boundary issue is concerned, I have also maintained that we don’t share our boundary with China, but we share our boundary with Tibet,” Khandu said.

This isn’t the first time India provoked China. India has been repeatedly doing so over the past year. Last year, in October, it was Modi inviting US Ambassador Richard Verma at Tawang for the monastery’s annual festival. He even established the official nature of the invitation by appointing minister of State in Home ministry, Kiren Rijiju as his escort. This was the first time a US ambassador to India visited Arunachal Pradesh.

In April 2016, again, China was deliberately provoked with the statement of US consul general in Kolkata, Craig L. Hall who said that “US is absolutely clear that Arunachal is Indian territory”. Chinese foreign ministry strongly objected to it, saying “China is firmly opposed to the US diplomat’s actions, which will damage the hard-earned peace and tranquility of the China-India border region. Any responsible third party should respect efforts by China and India to seek peaceful and stable reconciliation, and not the opposite”. Here ‘peace and tranquility of the border region’ was a clear diplomatic reference (or may be a caution) to the Sino-India border agreement of 1993.

This provocation is not happening again and again without intention. There is a reason why Verma visited the northeastern state. The Dalai Lama did not suddenly woke up after a hibernation of few years and realized that he should visit his birth place. This all signifies at a time when New Delhi’s ties with Beijing have been strained not only over the Chinese raising obstacles to Indian membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), but also for the cover provided to Pakistan in multilateral bodies – the OBOR – the CPEC.

Interestingly, China reacted back to India on Wednesday after it announced that it has “standardized” official names for six places in Arunachal Pradesh and termed the move as a “legitimate action”. Though Indian media dubbed this move as China’s revenge against Dalai Lama’s visit to the disputed region, Long Xingchun, Director at the Centre for Indian Studies at China West Normal University, said the standardization of names demonstrates China is less likely to make concessions in border negotiations with India. Writing in the state-run Global Times daily, Long said Beijing was magnanimous in not retaliating against New Delhi’s provocations, rather it was a way to convey Beijing’s resoluteness in not making any concessions to New Delhi in border talks.

Prem Shankar Jha in his article on the subject thoughtfully analyzed what India can conceivably gain from forcing China to take a stand on an issue that would much rather bury Sino-India calm? “What will India do if China decides to seize some part of Arunachal — the Tawang tract for example — by force? Will it fight another border war with China in terrain where, apart from having a much larger army, China enjoys all the advantages of terrain and logistics? Given the hyper-nationalism that has begun to grip the Indian middle classes today, Modi will have no option but to do so”, suggests Jha.

Carrying the same thoughts in mind, Long Xingchun said some “radical” Indians were naive in thinking that New Delhi could out-do Beijing in armed clashes. In fact, India, which had more advantages in the 1962 war with China, should learn from its “erroneous strategic judgments”.

This leads to the question, does India has any chance of winning such a war? Jha says one does not have to look far to see that a war against China is the very last thing that this war weary and nearly bankrupt country now wants. So why is Modi taking India into such dire peril? When logic fails to provide an answer, one must turn to illogic. The only explanation that makes even a modicum of sense is a bruised ego. China has ignored repeated attempts by India to make it withdraw its objections to India joining the NSG, and to the UN Security Council declaring Masood Azhar an international terrorist. Apparently rejection is something that Narendra Modi is unable to take. Now the real catch in all this scenario is that the question which failed to strike Modi’s mind is, how it all will conclude if Xi Jinping might also have the same problem?

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