Later this week, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is expected to visit Beijing for the 19th round of the Special Representative talks, which now cover the original subject – the border dispute – as well as the gamut of economic and political relations between the two countries.
His visit on Wednesday will follow that of Defence
Minister Manohar Parrikar, who will be in China from Monday. While
Parrikar will focus on the military-to-military ties, especially the
follow-on of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, Doval will look
at wider strategic issues, which includes the border dispute. However,
the Indian side is currently cut up over the hold that has been placed
on India’s application
in the UN Security Council committee
to have Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar designated as an
international terrorist. China is a member of the council.
first visited China for talks on the eve of President Xi Jinping’s visit
to India in September 2014. However, this time, he will be going under
the rubric of the Special Representative process. The 18th round of
Special Representative talks, the first involving the Modi government,
were held in March 2015 in New Delhi between Doval and his Chinese
counterpart State Councillor Yang Jiechi. The outcome was fairly
anodyne, with both sides being content to express their satisfaction
over the pace of negotiations and emphasised their commitment to obtain
“a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable” resolution of the border
question “at an early date.”
Defining the border
talks are now in their second phase in which the two sides are seeking
to work out a framework settlement based on the 2005 agreement on the
political parameters and guiding principles of a border settlement.
After 17 rounds, they had worked out a 20-point consensus on what the
framework should involves – such as the basic principles like
watersheds, crest lines and river valleys through which they intend to
define the border.
The last phase, and the most difficult, is
where they would sit and apply these principles to delineate and
demarcate the Sino-Indian border, which is disputed in its entirety at
present. Insiders say that the decisions in this phase are entirely
political and will be part of a bargain that the two sides will work out
as per the logic of the Special Representative process.
Special Representative process began following Prime Minister Atal
Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing in 2003, when the two sides abandoned
their previous and futile method of negotiations based on historical
claims and maps. The decided to negotiate across all the sectors of the
border and arrive at a settlement through a political package deal. The
at that time Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and NSA Brajesh
Mishra and State Councillor Dai Bingguo
– were charged with working out that deal. There was rapid progress in
the beginning indicated by the 2005 agreement which signalled that the
settlement would be on an “as is, where is” basis.
But soon the
good feelings evaporated. Chinese power, economic and military grew
sharply in the wake of the economic crisis in the west in 2008-'09, and
Beijing did not take too kindly to India getting closer to the United
States. The result was a more vociferous assertion of Chinese claims,
including the insistence on terming Arunachal Pradesh as “southern
Tibet”, as well as physical incursions along the Line of Actual Control.
Modi government appears to have decided that since the Chinese are
unlikely to be particularly accommodative on the border or Pakistan,
they might as well up the ante by developing closer ties with the US and
with countries in the Pacific periphery of China. The Modi government
has taken a step forward by defining a common Indo-US Joint Strategic
Vision for the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The Indian decision to
tilt towards the US cannot but be viewed with some concern in Beijing.
India may not be able to bring much military aid to the party in the
South China Sea, but its presence in the coalition of countries that are
working under US auspices to confront Beijing, does make a political
and diplomatic difference.
While teaming up with the US and Japan
is a perfectly legitimate power play considering Beijing’s dealings with
Pakistan and India’s neighbours like Sri Lanka and Nepal, there is a
certain gaucheness in the Modi government’s dealings with China. Last
May, in his KF Rustamji Lecture, Doval termed the need for settling the
border dispute as critical for Sino-Indian relations. He criticised the
Chinese position for a “complete contravention of accepted principles”,
adding that Beijing had “accepted the McMahon Line while settling the
border with Myanmar and then say[ing] that the same line is not
acceptable in case of India, particularly in Tawang”.
flat wrong in this assertion. The Chinese had accepted what they say is
a “customary alignment” that is virtually the McMahon Line, but with
some give and take to underscore China’s refusal to accept its legality.
Further, they had got the Burmese to categorically disavow the McMahon
Line, which they have consistently declared illegal. At least twice
in 1960 and in the 1980-'81 period
the Chinese offered India a similar deal where India would concede some
minor areas south of the McMahon Line in exchange or India’s acceptance
of the Chinese claim, which they had already occupied, in Aksai Chin.
time, too the Chinese spokesperson Hua Chunying emphatically declared
that “the Chinese government does not recognise the ‘McMahon Line’,
which is illegal”. But she did speak of the efforts of the two sides to
resolve this dispute “left over from history”.
according to some reports, the Chinese did not take too kindly to Prime
Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to take up the issue of the border
settlement directly with President Xi Jinping last year during his
Beijing visit. The Chinese viewed this as a breach of protocol and
ticked off the Indian side.
Now, New Delhi is publicly raising
temperatures over the Masood Azhar issue. It is one thing to raise the
issue of terrorism in world capitals in a near-hysterical fashion that
the government of India has been doing for the past year and more. But
it’s quite another to try the same tactic with China, which is likely to
remain quite unfazed by it.
The third issue which the Modi
government is raising is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,
especially since its origin point lies in the Gilgit-Baltistan region,
which India claims in its entirety. From the legal point of view India
is right and no government in New Delhi can afford not to publicly
uphold the Indian claim. But in practical terms, New Delhi has signalled
more than once that it would be more than happy to simply partition the
state of Jammu & Kashmir on an “as is, where is” basis. So while
the claim is a useful in chastising Islamabad, it is counterproductive
as a stick to beat Beijing with.
A multi-pronged approach
dealings with China comprises a mix of cooperation, conflict,
competition and containment. No policy towards China can afford to be
based on only one of these elements. The trick is to create the right
amalgam. The prospects for a border settlement with China at this
juncture are slim. For the Chinese the value of the disputed border lies
in their ability, by virtue of their superior communications, to put
pressure on India when required. Given the dynamics of the border, a
minor incursion in Depsang as in May 2013 or Churmur in 2014, becomes a
major political issue in India, while it has little or no play in China
a) because it is in a remote part of the Chinese heartland, and b) the
Chinese can control the narrative in their media.
Pakistan pose a serious military challenge to India, but China’s
economic profile as a global industrial powerhouse and trading power
makes it useful potential partner for India, especially since China
possesses vast amounts of investible money. Likewise, China may be a
thorn in the flesh when it comes to undermining India's position in its
own region, but it is also a useful partner in multilateral dealings on
issues like world trade and climate change. China is a member of P-5
and is far more important to the US, European Union or even Saudi Arabia
and Iran, than India is. It has diplomatic leverage in, for example,
being able to deny us membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It
would be hazardous to adopt a truculent approach to ties with Beijing.
dealing with China, India needs to take a comprehensive approach.
First, it must rid ourselves of the illusion that it can compete and
contain China by itself. China is decisively ahead of India in all
elements of what it calls “comprehensive national power”. What India
needs to do is to collaborate and cooperate with China where it can to
promote economic growth at home, as well as develop asymmetrical
strategies and capabilities to deter Beijing from militarily and
diplomatically harming New Delhi's interests.
scroll.in April18, 2016