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Puzzling conduct

Print edition : Oct 08, 2010 T+T-

China's recent conduct with India unfriendly but just short of being hostile has been as fuzzy as India's response to it has been calibrated.

CRISIS is an inept word to use for the problems that have cropped up recently in the relations between India and China. They are obviously tied by a common thread; only its strength and source defy precise identification. The only redressing feature in this unfortunate turn in the relations is that both sides wish to keep things under control.

It is unnecessary to catalogue the none too friendly moves by China of late. The boundary dispute does not explain, let alone justify, them. What, then, is the cause? We know little because there exists not a single Indian work, by any of the few writers familiar with Mandarin, which translates Chinese writings into English, to present to the Indian reader a good glimpse of the mass of literature published in China on the boundary dispute, the decision-making process prior to the war of 1962, China's self-perception of its rise to power and its perception of India's growing power.

Professor M. Taylor Fravel, Associate Professor of Political Science and member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has made a valuable contribution to Princeton Studies in International History and Politics. He assesses China's boundary dispute with India, along with its disputes with other countries, to reflect on China's outlook on its boundaries, the policy it adopts and the diplomacy it pursues to effectuate its policy. His impeccable research helps in correcting false notions, for instance, on China's boundary agreement with Pakistan on March 2, 1963. It paved the way for the alliance that grew and is at play now before our very eyes as we wring our hands and scream rhetoric that no one heeds. It is based on a misreading of the facts.

The pact and the alliance were India's generous gift to its smaller neighbour which, almost from day one, sought an ally to counter India's superior might. The United States could help only up to a point. It needed India's friendship. A China estranged from India was a perfect ally. As far back as on May 16, 1959, China's Ambassador to India, Pan Tsu-li, read out to Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt a statement couched in language that clearly suggested Mao Zedong's authorship: As the Chinese proverb goes the strength of a house is borne out by the distance travelled, and the heart of a person is seen with the lapse of time'. Our Indian friends! What is [ sic] your mind? Will you be agreeing to our thinking regarding the view that China can only concentrate its main attention eastward of China, but not south-westward of China nor is it necessary for it to do so. Friends! It seems to us that you too cannot have two fronts. Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides. Will you please think it over? Allow me to take this opportunity to extend my best regards to Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of India (emphasis added, throughout).

Subimal Dutt read out a reply on May 23, 1959, which scolded the Ambassador as if he was a schoolboy. The Government of India have learned [ sic] of this statement with regret and surprise. It is not only not in consonance with certain facts, but is also wholly out of keeping with diplomatic usage and the courtesies due to friendly countries. It is a matter of particular surprise and disappointment to them that a government and people noted for their high culture and politeness should have committed this serious lapse and should have addressed the Government of India in a language which is discourteous and unbecoming even if it were addressed to a hostile country. Since it is addressed to a country which is referred to as friendly, this can only be considered as an act of forgetfulness.

We have no desire to enter into a lengthy argument about facts or opinions, much less about the discourteous language used in the statement made on behalf of the Chinese government. It has been the consistent practice of the Government of India to treat other countries with courtesy and friendliness.

This sanctimonious statement concluded with the claim: The Government of India do not consider or treat any other country, as an enemy country (White Paper I, pages 77-78). China's hint was not ignored. It was pompously rejected by one whose vaunted interest in international affairs did not educate him in diplomacy.

When Nehru drafted this reply he knew or ought to have known that the statement was written by Mao and his reply would be read by him. Mao's statement was not discourteous, but Nehru's reply was rude and patronising, explaining the document as an act of forgetfulness. Nor was he truthful in asserting that his government did not consider or treat any other country as an enemy country. His reply of November 18, 1950, to Vallabhbhai Patel's famous cautionary letter of November 7, 1950, said: I rule out any major attack on India by China and the fact remains that our major possible enemy is Pakistan (Durga Das edited, Sardar Patel's Correspondence, Volume 1, page 344).

For a whole year China ignored Pakistan's overtures for a boundary pact. It did not seduce Pakistan to harm us. In 1960-61, it was hostile to Pakistan, then a U.S. ally.

This is what the boundary pact of March 2, 1963, accomplished, according to Fravel: China maintained control over more of the disputed territory, but the agreement overall was more favourable to Pakistan. China kept roughly 5,309 square kilometres it contested in the Shaksgam valley. However, it transferred control of some 1,942 square kilometres of territory in the Oprang valley to Pakistan, which also maintained control over an additional 1,554 square kilometres of territory it already held. On balance, Pakistan seems to have gained more from the deal, as the final borderline followed closely the line of actual control advocated by Pakistan. China not only abandoned its claims to the Hunza, but Pakistan also received grazing areas in the Prang and Bund Darwaza valleys, the Kharachanai salt mine, and the town of Sokh Bulaq. In addition, Pakistan kept control over three-fourths of K2 as well as six of seven disputed mountain passes. Finally, Pakistan transferred no territory already under its control to China. More than any other dispute, China's compromise with Pakistan was linked to the China-India conflict. Upon discovering the forward policy, China moved to open talks with Pakistan despite rebuffing earlier Pakistani efforts toward negotiation dating from the late 1950s. Four field teams surveyed the border, erecting 40 boundary markers. Demarcation work was completed and a protocol signed.

This reflects China's style of diplomacy which was in play also with the former Soviet Union and others agree on the broad principles at the political level; conclude a boundary agreement, and, last, a boundary protocol running into over a hundred pages.

If Nehru had adopted the same approach with Zhou Enlai the boundary dispute would have been settled at their summit in April 1960 in Delhi. India's charges of Pakistan's cession of territory in Kashmir to China are false. On the contrary Pakistan acquired 750 square miles of administered territory from China. It only waived claims on obsolete maps. It is necessary to emphasise this for two reasons. Of late some Kashmiri leaders have begun to repeat this charge in a singularly unwise attempt to make China a party to the Kashmir dispute.

Stance on West Kashmir

The facts of history no less than the progress in the India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir should prompt a more circumspect stance on West Kashmir. The stand of old, on the law and the rest, need not be waived. The stridency of old should cease.

If India erred in the past, China has made its own contribution to complicating matters. Its stand became harder still after the war of 1962. In 1960, Zhou Enlai was prepared to recognise the McMahon Line and regarded the western sector as one of greater importance. On February 17, 1979, Deng Xiaoping told Foreign Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that it was the eastern sector that was more important.

On June 21, 1980, the Chief Editor of Defence News Service, Krishan Kumar, met Deng Xiaoping and his aide Wang Bingnan. Deng proposed settlement in a package way I mean, according to line of actual control. If both of us stand [ sic] to this point, then this question can be solved with one sentence. I think you can pass this message to Mrs. Gandhi He made a significant remark: In the past there were many points of difference but they are narrowing. Incidentally, Wang said: Our leaders have never stated publicly whether Kashmir belongs to this or that country ( Vikrant, July 1980).

What baffles one is that just as the differences were being narrowed, China's pronouncements and actions widened them, on the boundary issue as well as on Kashmir. No one has been able to explain convincingly why. What is encouraging is the resolve on both sides to keep the differences under control. This is the only encouraging feature in this turn of events.

On August 27, 2010, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said India had very close ties with China and they would continue. China's Defence Ministry made much the same point the next day. Some action was taken. Two Army Captains and a Colonel were refused permission to visit India as earlier planned ( The Hindu; August 28). This was in retaliation for the refusal to allow Lieutenant-General B.S. Jaswal to join a military delegation to China.

China's denial of Selig Harrison's piece in The New York Times, on its deployment of 11,000 troops in Gilgit-Baltistan, was swift. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jian Yu's characterisation of this area as the northern part of Pakistan was made in the course of her statement of denial on September 2, rather than as a statement supporting Pakistan's title to it. It was an obvious slip. Not surprisingly, it was deleted from its website, which provided a transcript of the rest of her press briefing.

India's Ambassador to China, S. Jaishankar, did the adroit thing by asking his hosts whether China's moves indicated a fundamental change in its policy on Kashmir. This recorded China's recent shift in India's favour, from its earlier pro-Pakistan statements, and put the onus on China to indicate a change. China's Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun offered the assurance that there was no change in China's position that Kashmir was a dispute to be solved by India and Pakistan. On the issue of stapled visas for Kashmiris, China has unwisely painted itself into a corner. This is a matter on which India cannot possibly compromise any more than China can on Tibet or Taiwan.

It is, however, the pattern of Chinese behaviour that is perplexing. The boundary question is part of this pattern. After a visit to Tawang in October 1986, Ghanshyam Pardesi reported that the area is fully integrated with the rest of the country. It is represented in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly. The children do not understand the Tibetan language but speak chaste Hindi. Whatever happened to Article 7 of the Sino-India Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question signed in New Delhi on April 11, 2003? It said: In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard the due interests of their settled populations in the border areas. There exists only one south of the McMahon Line, none at all in the Aksai Chin. The Article was drafted with the Line in mind and as a distinct criterion. Articles 5 and 6 mention the others (historical evidence and natural geographical features).

Bonnie S. Glaser, a consultant for the U.S. government, interviewed Chinese officials in October and November 1992 and reported: Chinese analysts expect that a resolution of the Sino-Indian border dispute will not be possible until New Delhi has a strong government that is able to compromise with Beijing ( Asian Survey, March 1993, page 267). This has been a constant refrain since 1963, if not earlier.

Jing-dong Yuan, then at the Monetary Institute of International Studies in California, reported the views of various groups of Chinese analysts whom he met in 2001. They identified the unresolved issues between India and China as the six T's territorial disputes, Tibet, threat perceptions, trilateral relationship between India, China and Pakistan, trade, and India's accession to the NPT/CTBT.

On the territorial issue, he held that India must first make some concession in the eastern sector, in particular the Tawang area. He added that resolution also requires that both countries have strong governments at the moment neither is strong enough to overcome the still-enormous domestic popular sentiment (more so in India than in China) for a settlement.

Jing-dong was fairly even-handed. Analysts from the military and the defence industrial complex (in China) manifest a different strand of thinking on India and Sino-Indian relations. While they by no means openly challenge current government policy, they nevertheless devote greater attention to developments in India's nuclear doctrine and are more sensitive to Indian defence modernisation efforts, occasionally exaggerating the scale and scope of Indian military build-up, for obvious reasons. The Liberation Army Daily, Conmilit, Ordinance Knowledge, the World Military Review, International Outlook, and the publishers affiliated with the PLA are prominent outlets for the views of such analysts.

In this context, recent developments in China deserve particular attention. The PLA has increasingly asserted its voice in national security policymaking, especially in the aftermath of the U.S.-led NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] military intervention in Kosovo and the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Other notable issues include the growing Sino-U.S. confrontation over arms sales to Taiwan, and U.S. plans to develop and deploy theatre missile defence (TMD) systems in North-East Asia, including the integration of Japan and Taiwan into such systems. Even U.S. concern over Chinese nuclear espionage has given the military greater weight in Chinese national security policymaking.

These developments have intensified an internal debate on the relationships between, and balance among, external security environments, economic liberalisation, and military (in particular nuclear and missile) modernisation. The PLA's views increasingly focus on the necessity of building a strong army in light of U.S. hegemonism and the uncertain security environments with regard to Japan, India, Taiwan, and the South China Sea. Within this context, one could suggest that China's nuclear and missile modernisation programmes likely will assume greater importance, with emphasis on survivability of strategic nuclear arsenals and the ability for escalation dominance in regional conflicts. While Beijing may regard its actions in response to U.S. hegemony as irrelevant to Sino-Indian relations, the consequences of some of the policy choices could seriously threaten Indian interests. Most notable is Beijing's resumption (or, as some argue, intensification) of nuclear and missile-related transfers and assistance to Pakistan as retaliation against a particular U.S. policy (e.g. arms sales to Taiwan or theatre missile defence).

If one accepts the thesis that the PLA is gaining increasing influence in national security policymaking, as a number of recent analyses would suggest, then the second, military-oriented school, would be expected to have a greater say in China's policy toward India. He notes also an improvement in the relations ( Asian Survey; November-December 2001; pages 993, 998-1000).

In this context, Fravel's overview of China's policy on territorial disputes is relevant. Three main findings emerge from this study of China's territorial disputes. First, China has not been highly prone to using force in its territorial disputes, the issue over which states are most likely to go war. China has been more likely to compromise in its territorial conflicts and less likely to use force.

Second, counter-intuitively, political instability within a state can create strong incentives for peace, not war. In China's many disputes, internal threats to regime security explain the majority of its territorial compromises. Ethnic unrest in China illustrates how internal threats to a state's territorial integrity create incentives for it to cooperate with its neighbours. The 1959 revolt in Tibet, for example, altered the context of China's disputes with its Himalayan neighbours, leading to concessions in conflicts with Burma, Nepal, and India in 1960.

Third, decline in bargaining power in a dispute can create strong preventive motivations to use force in territorial conflicts. In its disputes, China has demonstrated a clear sensitivity to negative shifts in its claim strength, using force when it faced militarily powerful opponents that could weaken its position or when it controlled little or none of the land that it claimed.

Chinese policy on Kashmir

Ma Siwei, a Chinese scholar who spent some time at Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1983, wrote an excellent survey of China's policy on Kashmir in which he mentions its overlay with the boundary question. If China's Kashmir policy at one time focussed on consolidating its strategic ties with Pakistan, and at the present is focussing on promoting balanced relations with both India and Pakistan, then, in the future, when the deadlock of the Kashmir issue may be broken through, it is likely to focus on the border issue. This is a question of what China's fundamental interests lying in the final settlement of the Kashmir issue are. In other words, what would China hope to get from and prevent in the settlement?

The most important thing which China hopes to get, it could be assumed, is the final acceptance of the status quo of its borders with the two parts of Pakistan-held and India-held Kashmir. On the one hand, under the Boundary Agreement of 1963 between China and Pakistan, the sector of the border west of the Karakoram Pass has been provisionally settled. And the Agreement itself includes such a possibility: Provided that, in the event of that sovereign authority being Pakistan (after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India), the provisions of the present Agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People's Republic of China and Pakistan.'

On the other hand, under the Line of Actual Control Agreement [LOAC] of 1993 between China and India: Pending an ultimate solution to the boundary question between the two countries, the two sides shall strictly respect and observe the Line of Actual Control between the two states.' It can be believed that China is satisfied with these arrangements and would like to see that both the provisional arrangements would become final settlements one day in the future. However, if the sovereignty over the whole of Jammu and Kashmir goes to either India or Pakistan, it would be likely to make the border question alive once again, and that might not be what China would like to happen. And in case the two parts of Kashmir unite and get independence, then a new question will inevitably be raised: whether or not the new sovereign entity will accept the border legacy left behind by India and Pakistan?

What China hopes to prevent, it also could be presumed, is the possible adverse impact of the growing Kashmiri nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism on China's Tibetan and Xinjiang areas. In this regard, an independent Kashmir is not the choice which China would appreciate, as it would morally inspire separatism in China and practically provide a model from insurgency to independence. Ma Siwei opted for a settlement on the basis of the LOAC. ( China and the Kashmir Issue; Strategic Analysis, March 1995, pages 1592-93).

The 1963 agreement itself provides for its renegotiation if the status quo changes. Hence China's interest in the status quo.

Professor John W. Garver, Professor at the Sam Nunu School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is an authority on China's foreign relations. He has surveyed China's policies in meticulous detail and concluded: Beijing has clearly distanced itself from Pakistan as Sino-Indian rapprochement progressed. Beijing has attempted to disentangle itself from the India-Pakistan conflict.

This shift was manifested first and foremost in a shift in Beijing's position on the litmus-test issue of Kashmir. During the 1990 crisis over Kashmir and Khalistan'/Punjab, Beijing responded to strong Indian pressure by dropping its long-time endorsement of a plebiscite in the Kashmir region in accord with United Nations resolutions of 1948-49. It stopped referring to the United Nations and its resolutions in the context of Kashmir (except when Beijing wanted to needle New Delhi, as, for example, in the aftermath of India's China threat' justification of its May 1998 nuclear tests). Beijing, instead, began extolling peaceful settlement of the issue via talks between India and Pakistan.

With the onset of Sino-Indian rapprochement, Beijing also began expressing private disapproval and public non-endorsement of some of Islamabad's more assertive efforts to challenge India. During the 1990 crisis, militants in Pakistan attempted to force their way across the border into India, and Indian forces responded by firing on them. Tension spiralled rapidly. In this situation, China urged moderation and abstention from violence on all sides. Beijing also declined to support Pakistani efforts to bring the Kashmir issue before the United Nations (Garver's essay, The Future of the Sino-Pakistani Entente Cordiale in Michael R. Chambers (ed) Strategic Balances and Alliances; Strategic Studies Institute; U.S. Army War College; pages 398-401). China did not support Pakistan during the Kargil crisis.

In a paper on The China-India-U.S. Triangle 2001-2007, read at an international conference in Kochi, India, on January 21-23, 2008, Garver remarked that China's courtship of India was intended to convince New Delhi that China was not a threat. But Beijing reacted sharply to India's participation in the Quadrilateral security arrangements in 2007 and to the 0-ship quadrilateral war game in September that year in the Bay of Bengal (pages 24-25 and 31).

China looks askance at India's growing closeness of relations with the U.S. and also at its military programme while eager to assure India that its own rising military strength poses no danger to its neighbour. Kashmir and the boundary question are affected by this calculus of power.

The tilt in favour of Pakistan is never absent even amidst professions of even-handedness. Thus after the attack on Parliament House in New Delhi on December 13, 2001, Rong Ying, Deputy Director of South Asian, Middle Eastern and African Studies, China Institute of International Studies, accepted denials by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad and made light of evidence: Some analysts are of the view that the available evidence is generally indirect and circumstantial and has more holes than a piece of gruyere cheese ( Beijing Review; January 10, 2002).

In the same journal on February 7, 2002, Wang Guoqiang, at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defence University, noted the coincidence of Chinese and Russian interests in South Asia's stability, in the context of Operation Parakaram, only to add: However, China and Russia have different aims regarding this issue. China's development cannot be isolated from the rest of the world. A sound international environment and a relatively stable security situation in surrounding areas have been important conditions guaranteeing the sustained and rapid development of China over the past 20 years. While promoting western development, a major strategy for ensuring sustainable national development, China has a higher demand on the international security environment especially the situation in regions neighbouring west China. Therefore, it does not expect the deterioration of strained relations between India and Pakistan to produce negative effects on China's development, nor does it want to see the India-Pakistan conflict turning into a war by extremist religious forces, which will affect the internal stability of China. It also hates to see that the escalation of the India-Pakistan conflict will lead to military interference by external forces, which will worsen the threat to the security of China. For Russia, South Asia has always been a key region in its external security strategy.

Therefore, the easing of India-Pakistan tensions and the settlement of disputes through political means are not only in the fundamental interests of the two countries, but also conform to the strategic interests of China and Russia.

Rong Ying wrote in the same journal on February 28, 2002: India is one of the biggest munitions market of Russia with close arms-sales ties with both the U.S. and Russia. India has always aspired to be a big power.

The U.S. and, to some extent, Tibet influence Chinese appraisals of India. It is incontestable that its terms for a boundary settlement have mounted. It could not possibly be unaware of the fact that no government in India can yield on the McMahon Line now, 60 years after Nehru's famous declaration on the McMahon Line in Parliament on November 22, 1950, and survive. The agreement of 1954 has no bearing on the western sector since India's maps were revised later that year. It is, however, decisive on the McMahon Line.

What, then, is the objective underlying a clear pattern of conduct that is unfriendly but stops just a bit short of being hostile? Is it to force the pace on the boundary negotiations or to send a message on the power equation in the relationship with the U.S.?

India's calibrated response

Whatever be the reason, India's policy of a calibrated response, while striving to keep the relationship on an even keel, is sound. At the same time, it must adopt a coherent policy on China with a focus on the boundary settlement.

In this, it will receive support only from the Left parties. Ram Manohar Lohia's heirs in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh will parrot his slogans and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), those of the Jan Sangh. The Swatantra Party, the Jan Sangh and the Socialists bear a heavy responsibility for urging Nehru to take the hard line. Not one of their leaders of today has the foggiest idea on how to deal with China. Sample this from the BJP's last Foreign Minister, Yashwant Sinha. On August 30 in Chandigarh he asked New Delhi to exert international pressure on China and Pakistan against the deployment of Chinese troops in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

Chinese entry in these areas is strategically dangerous for India, he told a group of reporters. India should make all efforts, including those at the international level to oppose the Chinese presence ( The Times of India, August 31, 2010).

Precisely what can New Delhi do to exert international pressure on Beijing and Islamabad? Move the U.N. Security Council? Appeal bilaterally to the other four permanent members? Which of them will give asylum to this Don of Indian Diplomacy? Russia? France? Britain? The U.S.? Will Indonesia or Iran help?

The record shows that Nehru's intercession with the Soviet Union to exert pressure on China in the boundary dispute aggravated the dispute and so thoroughly spoilt Sino-Soviet relations that Moscow all but washed its hands of the affair thereafter. It gave the green signal to China on October 12, 1962, on the war that was launched on October 20.

Whether it is the boundary dispute or Kashmir, the Government of India owes a duty to the nation not to allow constructive initiatives to be stymied by the Yashwant Sinhas or L.K. Advanis of the opposition. Consult them but act decisively. The people will support the cause of peace. Has the BJP, the main opposition party, any constructive ideas to offer on the boundary dispute or Kashmir? From Advani downward, none has expressed any sympathy for the victims of the firings. All they seek is use of the forces to crush the unarmed protesters.

In George Kennan's words, History does not forgive us our national mistakes because they are explicable in terms of our domestic politics. A nation which excuses its own failures by the sacred untouchableness of its own habits can excuse itself into a complete disaster ( American Diplomacy 1900-1950; 1953; page 73).