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Sino-Indian Ties:MILITARY ANGLE TO HU’s VISIT, by B.K. Mathur,27 November 2006 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 27 November 2006

Sino-Indian Ties


By B.K. Mathur

Yet another round of talks between the top leaders of India and China in New Delhi the other day ended in the same tone as it should be: sweet words from the two neighbours, strategic competitors, or even adversaries in a balance of power game in Asia.  Chinese President Hu Jintao offered to India trust and friendship.  He went a step forward than statements by other Chinese leaders in the past.  He saw relations with India not as a matter of political expediency but from “a strategic long-term perspective”. Hu used the same words in Islamabad the very next day, but with a difference, as seen from the military point of view.

In Pakistan, Islamabad and Lahore, Hu’s body language was entirely different. The Chinese President was given a red carpet welcome reserved only for royalty from Saudi Arabia. He was also given the highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Pakistan. The Pakistan-China relations worked on a plane completely different from Beijing’s ties with New Delhi, with which long-standing disputes remain pending. With Pakistan there is no outstanding issue. It is always cementing to new levels military and strategic relationship between the two countries.  Pakistan and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a long-term collaboration in defence production.

The defence projects include the production of an airborne early warning surveillance system (AWACS). The two countries have also agreed on collaboration and co-development of military aircraft manufacturing and related fields. Already, the Pakistan Air Force is collaborating with a Chinese aviation company, CATIC, in the co-development and production of JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft. Pakistan is actually set to get the first batch of eight medium-technology fighter jets from China next year and would start its production indigenously from 2008-09. Pakistan is also reportedly providing China logistic support from the military angle.

In fact, this may turn out to be a dangerous development in the region. China is talking with Pakistan to build a rail route and an energy pipeline linking the two countries and eventually turning the Chinese-built Gwadar port in Pakistan into a landing point for international cargo bound for western China through Baluchistan. Beijing which built the 800-km Karakoram highway connecting the two countries in 1978 has also agreed to rebuild and broaden the highway to carry more load. The purpose obviously is to link both Qasin and Gwadar with Xinjing province of China.  The railway and highway plans have more strategic objectives than commercial moves.

Against this backdrop, President Hu’s visit to Pakistan provides sufficient cause for worry to India’s defence planners--- and the need for early resolution of the long-standing border dispute. Ever since Rajiv Gandhi visited China as the Prime Minister in December 1988, after a gap of 24 years, the Chinese efforts have always been to delink the territorial dispute with the overall relationship between the two countries. And this is exactly what President Hu sold to the Indian leaders last week.  But the fact remains that the boundary dispute continues to be a major irritant, because it is over the region’s most strategic territory over the mighty Himalayas from the military point of view. Evidently, therefore, it is in the interest of both Beijing and Pakistan to keep the dispute pending and under negotiation for “early settlement”, as Hu “hoped” last week.

 The Chinese have taken an “offensive” on this issue in an attempt to claim a large-chunk of Indian territory and make India to agree on a package deal. The latest move on these lines was made by the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi on the eve of Hu’s visit. Beijing’s stand is thus required to be studied in its historical perspective.  Presently, the whole issue is being examined by “Special Representatives” of the two countries.  These representative need to go back to historical facts and prolonged correspondence between the two governments, as contained in as many as eleven White Papers, published by the Government of India from March 1954 to January 1965.

In its effort to gain military advantage, Beijing does not accept the McMahon Line in the eastern sector, despite the fact that India had made it clear in 1959 that it does not accept the claim that the entire Sino-Indian boundary had not been formally drawn and that the western sector of the boundary was worked out way back in the 17th century.  As to the eastern sector, the Chinese argument is that the boundary was drawn up at the Simla Convention in 1914 between Britain and Tibet local authorities. Documents now available show that the parties at the Simla Convention were Britain, China and Tibet.  All three had accepted the Mcmahon Line, China now describes it as “imaginary” and says that it never recognized Britain’s territorial claims of Tibet.  At that time a claim of 90,000 Sq. km of territory was never made.

At the Simla Convention, the task of defining the boundary in the eastern sector was entrusted to Sir Henry McMahon, Secretary to the Government of India in the Foreign and Political Department. The Line drawn by Sir Henry is 1040 km long from the trijunction of Bhutan, India and Tibet to the trijunction of Burma, India and Tibet. It runs through the crest of the Himalayan ranges which forms part of the watershed of the Brahmaputra. The Line’s continuity is, however, broken by the Lohit, Dihang, Subarnasiri and Nyanjang rivers. Sir Henry’s boundary was accepted by the Tibetan Government in 1914 without any reservation. The Chinese too did not raise any objection until 1954, since when they are having their own maps.

Beijng wants a negotiated settlement on the basis of its maps which keep on changing every now and then. The latest map shows 90,000 sq. km territory in the eastern sector, meaning the entire Arunachal Pradesh. All this to offer some concession in the eastern sector which could be balanced in the western sector. The latter sector suits the Chinese, because militarily the Ladakh area and the Aksai Chin region provide them some kind of control over the Himalayas for strategic reasons. Evidently, therefore, it becomes strategically necessary for New Delhi to resolve the boundary dispute at the earliest, without playing into the hands of the Chinese.

It is encouraging that President Hu at least showed during his visit to New Delhi his keenness to resolve the border dispute as early as possible. Equally encouraging is that both India and China believe that their border problem cannot be resolved by force.  But any initiative for a negotiated settlement must be taken in its proper perspective, keeping the historical and other factors in view.  Expression of mere sentiments will not suddenly resolve a long-standing problem which has defied solution so far.  The early settlement of the dispute can open the door for a genuine friendly Sino-Indian relationship and a lasting peace in the region. ----INFA

                                     (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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