What is it that is wrong with China? Why is it in an aggressive mood? It is, to say the least – a little disturbing to realise that the Chinese incursion into Indian territory in Ladakh was as much as 10 km and what is equally disturbing is that it has coincided with the murderous attack on Sarabjit Singh in a Pakistan jail. Were both the events pre-planned? If so, to what purpose? Is it to keep India engaged when both our neighbours are upto planning some mischief? If China’s Consul General in Mumbai, Dr Liu Youfa is to be believed, as many as 14 landlocked neighbours of China have “minor problems with defining their border” with his country and it is no secret that China is presently having a dispute with Japan over the Sankaku Islands, a group of uninhabited islands controlled by Tokyo in the East China Sea. What does China intend to do? Start a war with Japan? According to a western expert, Edward Luttwak, a military strategist, if the Chinese go in for a military operation, they will be “decimated by the Japanese Navy.” But that thought evidently does not bother China which, according to Luttwak, “keeps sending ships, making aggressive statements, printing maps claiming 3 million square km of sea,” and being “provocative every day by advancing long-dormant territorial and maritime claims, including most of Arunachal Pradesh.” Is it because with barely another year to go for general elections, China thinks it can get away with anything with India presently under the rule of a weak and corrupt government and probably the weakest Prime Minister the country has had in the last 65 years?
Is this the strategy that is being pursued in Beijing? Some insight was recently provided by China’s Consul General in Mumbai, Dr Liu Youfa in an interview to a Mumbai daily. As he put it, the current dispute in Ladakh is not a big issue. It is well to remember that China insists, with some cheek, that it has not broken any boundary rules and that the tents some of its soldiers have put up are in land under Chinese jurisdiction.
He told the media: “This is a political legacy left over since 1962. We cannot sleep over the legacy of the past….”. This is an issue that can be discussed and resolved. The political leadership of both countries know that this is not something that needs to be blown up or made excitable”. May be not. But China has been on the offensive since 2006 when first, the then Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi, made some unacceptable remarks about Arunachal Pradesh that created a storm.
Four years later, China denied a visit to Lt. Gen BS Jaswal, the then Northern Command Chief on grounds that he was responsible for the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. China does not accept India’s suzerainty over the state. If China can refuse Gen Jaswal a visa, then it can as well refuse visas to all Indians. Again in 2012, China denied a visa to an IAF officer, Capt M Panging from Arunachal, who was to be part of a team set to go to Beijing.
Worse still, in 2012, the Chinese government started issuing new e-passports with watermark Chinese maps, including Arunachal and Aksai Chin as part of Chinese territory. India felt compelled to counter this by issuing visas with a map of India including Aksai Chin and Arunachal as part of Indian territory. We may dismiss all this as fun and games, but that doesn’t take us anywhere. There have been 15 rounds of discussions on the border issue with no solution yet in sight, with both countries sticking to their stands.
To make things easy, China should withdraw its men from the territory India claims as its own. But instead of being accommodative, China has set up more tents in the space they have already occupied, which speaks for itself. How will that help to come to an agreed solution? There are other issues, similar, if not of greater importance.
In its latest White Paper on Defence, China has apparently made no mention of No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons, a matter of concern to India. An Indian official statement is quoted as saying that the NFU doctrine, which has been part of China’s earlier policy has failed to find explicit mention in its current official statement “which is a matter of concern”, especially in the context of current Beijing behaviour of showing increased aggression and muscle-flexing towards its neighbours in the region, among the Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, over competing claims on the South China Sea.
Will all these matters come under discussion when the new Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang comes to India for a 3-day visit from May 20 to 22 May in a visit described as his first to any country since taking charge of his office? That has its own significance, but may it be remembered that much was expected when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister and China’s then Premier Chou En-lai came on a visit to Delhi, and was given a very warm welcome. That visit turned out to be a failure.
Incidentally, China’s consul general in Mumbai, quoted earlier, is reported to have said: “When I …come …to your house as a ….guest, would you expect me to throw a stone at your window before coming in?” Good question. Was he speaking for his own prime minister? There is much that India and China can do to improve bilateral relations but obviously things are not working towards that end. Dr Liu Youfa himself is sad that Sino-Indian trade which had reached a peak of $ 73 billion in 2011 has come down to $ 66 billion which is barely 2 % of the total bilateral ……trade …..volume of China.
India has a problem. Its trade with China is to the latter’s advantage. India buys more from China than the other way round, And previously, what India sold was largely iron ore and not any manufactured goods. Any ore is a precious commodity, which India should not sell to any country, let alone China. We do not need to be indebted to China as the US is.
One suggestion that has been recently made is that the Karakoram Pass, which is now closed, should be opened for trade, not only for improving better relations with China but also for direct export of Indian manufactured goods to the neighbouring Chinese province of Xinjiang and for strengthening the case for setting up an oil pipeline. But what can India do if China’s approach is one of ceaseless bullying? Power, it seems, has gone to its head that is not conducive to meaningful negotiations.
But is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh capable of conveying it to Beijing? Sadly, not to one’s knowledge and this is where China may triumph.