India: Learning To Deal with Assertive China
China’s,“assertiveness” continued to raise attention in Indiaover the month. The Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh, interacting withthe media after his USvisit indicated that he had told President Obama that like other countries Indiawelcomes the peaceful rise of China.He said, “We ourselves are engaged with China.For the last five years we have been discussing the border problem. In themeanwhile our economic relations have grown in their intensity. Chinais one of our major trading partners. Therefore, we are all in favour of therest of the world engaging China.I did mention that during recent weeks and months we have noticed a greaterdegree of assertiveness on the part of China,but I did not seek any help from the UnitedStates. We just reviewed the worldsituation. I am confident that through purposeful negotiations between our twocountries we can resolve all outstanding issues”.
The Defence Minister AK Antonydelivering the Presidential address at the 44th Foundation Day Celebrations ofthe Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on 27 November focused onthe nexus between Chinaand Pakistan inthe military sphere. Shri Antony said we have to carry out continuous appraisalof Chinese military capability. He hoped that Chinawould reciprocate India’strust-building initiatives. But there seemed to be no such hopes if Indianmedia reports are any indication.
ATimes of India-Times Now report highlighted that the Chinese had forced theIndian side to stop a road project under the National Rural EmploymentGuarantee Scheme (NREGS) in Demchok in south-east Leh in Ladakh. “Demchok isright on border which is our last post. People of this village were building aroad under the NREGS scheme. There is a nala (drain) coming down from themountains. The western side of the nala is our territory and the eastern is theTibetan border. On the other side (Chinese) have already built a road alongthis nala upstream. On our side villagers were building a road. They hadcompleted 4 kms and suddenly the Chinese came from other side and stopped thework - so now the road is incomplete,” said Chering Dorjay, chief executivecouncilor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council as per the report.
The media always active on the Chinafront thus took up the issue of stoppage of construction of a road on the Lineof Actual Control in Ladakh. While the government claims that the road wasstopped because of cold weather conditions though there were also some threatsfrom Chinese soldiers across the border, the media is indicating that this is asurrender of sorts to Chinese pressure. Such pressure tactics are generallyadopted by soldiers on the border from time to time and have been known in the pastby both sides.
Thuswhether construction has been stopped based on pressure at the borders or ingeneral because it had become impossible to continue the same due to coldweather would be known in the next summer season. What is however very clear isthat there is sustained media pressure to keep the Chinaissue alive from to time.
Officiallythe Indian government position on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is thatsince there is no is that since there is no common delineation betweenIndia and China there is a problem butthere has been no significant change in the Chinese activity along the LAC overthe last few years.
The mention of Chinaas a third party arbitrator in Indo Pakistandispute in the US-China Joint Statement of November 17, 2009, led to another furore in the country.This time there was an official reaction. The Ministry of External Affairsofficial spokesperson said, “Government of India is committed to resolving alloutstanding issues with Pakistanthrough a peaceful bilateral dialogue in accordance with the Simla Agreement. Athird country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary. We also believethat a meaningful dialogue with Pakistancan take place only in an environment free from terror or the threat ofterror.”
This perhaps placed the issue inperspective and particularly brought the strong resentment from Indiato Chinese notice. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, "Chinahopes for a gradual improvement in the relations between Indiaand Pakistan.As long as it is good for the stability of the region, Chinawill support the relevant moves," Qin said at a press briefing, "Webelieve that Indiaand Pakistanare important countries in South Asia," he added.
Ina similar vein Chinaalso confirmed that it would have no mediatory role in Kashmirthough the issue of stapled visas to Indian citizens from Jammuand Kashmir remains unresolved. Mirwaiz Omar aKashmiri separatist leader is slated to visit Chinaand had given an impression that he would seek Chinese assistance in resolvingthe Kashmir issue but the Chinese quickly refuted thisassertion.
Commentingon the same, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao stated, “As far as the reportedvisit of Mirwaiz to Chinais concerned, we have stated on many previous occasions that we have notprevented Kashmiri leaders to travel abroad. Now if you are talking about hisgoing to Chinain the context of the approach taken by the Chinese Government on issue ofvisas to Indian citizens resident in Jammu and Kashmir,on that issue our view is very well known. We do not subscribe to this approachwhich discriminates against our citizens on the basis of their domicile andtheir ethnicity”. [Based on MEA IndiaPress Release].
China’s partial retraction of thepurport of the US China joint statement which called for virtual Chinese carteblanche to negotiate a settlement in South Asia was possibly due to pressurefrom India as well as the US where adverse reaction from New Delhi would havecaused a lot of concern for the State Department given that there is animpending visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Washington on 24 November. Thiswould have greatly weakened the Indian Prime Minister who is seen politicallyweak given the various foreign policy “faus pax” made by his administrationfrom time to time. Never the less the trend may have to be observed in thefuture as well for it would be a matter of concern if a defining role isascribed to Beijing in SouthAsia by Washingtonwhich New Delhi has always regardedas its sphere of influence.( DEC 2009)