India China: Diplomatic Ping Pong in 2010
There is a certain dichotomy in therelationship between Indiaand China overthe years where officials and the governments are talking of closer cooperationbut media in Indiaand blogging community in Chinareportedly at the behest of hardliners in the Communist Party are constantlysniping at each other as was evident in the past one year. The media on bothsides seemed to have raised Sino Indian discord to a new level of animositywith a sustained “campaign” of sorts underlining tensions on both the sides.The approach of the Indian government on the other hand has been relativelyplacid, which is another reason why the media in Indiais taking the officials to task.
Onthe positive side President Pratibha Patil has been invited to visit Chinain 2010. External Affairs Minister Mr SM Krishna will be visiting the country in April. Mr S M Krishnawas optimistic about Sino Indian relations stating, "Next year 2010, willmark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Bothcountries are planning commemorative activities including the Festival of Indiain China andFestival of China in India.This would again highlight the intimate cultural ties shared by the twocountries”. Sino Indian synergy in Copenhagenleading the developing world is now part of the diplomatic lore of the year2009.
Moreover the defence dialogue is being carried forward with Defence SecretaryPradeep Kumar visiting Chinaon January 6 accompanied by senior military officials including arepresentative from the Eastern Command and Directorate of Military Operations.
Theboundary issue however remains contentious. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha theExternal Affairs stated, "There has been no increase in incidents ofincursions in the recent past," "there is nothing to be undulyalarmed about" [the Chinese incursions] and assured that the two nations,"maintain peace and tranquility all through the border." Heemphasised that, "Government considers the India-China boundary question apurely bilateral matter and does not advocate discussion on this issue withother countries or international bodies."
Violationsare taken up through established mechanisms as the Joint Working Group, ExpertGroup, border personnel meetings, flag meetings and diplomatic channels. MrKrishna also asserted that "Chinese government is free to buildinfrastructure in their own territory as much as we in our territory are freeto build infrastructure without external interference. Whenever there is adispute, there is a mechanism which is brought into action so that it isamicably settled."
On the flip side Chinese bloggerswere very active and of late there are more reports coming which have talked ofChina’s topcentral leadership having reached a consensus to teach Indiaa lesson and recover ‘Southern Tibet’ (ArunachalPradesh). D S Rajan of Chennai Centrefor Chinese Studies provides an excellent overview of these blogs in C3S PaperNo.418 dated December 23, 2009. Two blog assessments in Chinese language(www.warchina.com/n88582c21.aspx dated 1December 2009 and www.warchina.com/n8183c21.aspx dated 9 December 2009) predict the2010-2011 period as suitable for action against India.The logic is that of favourable political environment in China,receding of economic crisis and weakening of the USrole in international politics. Chinashould then be able to employ its comprehensive national strength to advantageclaim the bloggers. The source and credibility of these blogs remains dubiousbut the misinformation only adds to tension between both sides.
While Chinahas been very active in blocking social networking sites and search enginesperceived to be damaging to internal perceptions, surprisingly no action isbeing taken against these bloggers thereby raising some concerns of tacitofficial consent to such activity.
Indianauthorities have been discussing relations with Chinaduring bilateral talks with partners as Russiaas well. During the recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Russia it isapparent that this issue was discussed as was indicated by the ForeignSecretary Ms Nirupama Rao in response to a question thus, “I think theopportunity was availed of during the discussions Prime Minister had withPresident Medvedev to discuss the relationship that we are developing withChina, and of course the complexities in this relationship. The outstandingboundary question naturally figured in these discussions and the efforts thatare underway to seek a resolution to this issue and also, as I said, thecomplicated nature of the question as it exists today. We did not go intodetail about Chinese incursions. We talked about the rise of China,naturally, and the relationship that Russiahas with Chinatoday, the relationship that we are seeking to build with China,and also the Russia-India-China trilateral arrangement that we have put inplace”. The detailed response by the Foreign Secretary indicates that the issuehad certainly received some attention in Moscow.
India’sambassador to China S Jaishankar place the contentious nature of therelationship in perspective thus, “There are two sharp realities about therelationship... we are seeing parallel but not congruent rise of China andIndia which makes an already complex matrix even more dynamic.” He alsohighlighted that Indiaexpects greater sensitivity from Chinathus, “What are Indian expectations of Chinaat this stage? I would sum it up as displaying sensitivity on what matters mostto Indians, while accepting that we cannot agree on all issues just yet.”
Meanwhile Deputy Chief of GeneralStaff of the Peoples’ Liberation Army, China,General Ge Zhen-Feng called on the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in NewDelhi. During the meeting the visiting dignitary saidthat China isinterested in building cordial relations with Indiaon all fronts. Gen Ge also stated that the present generation of politicalleadership in both countries would solve the border dispute through politicalnegotiations and dialogue. Outlining his Government’s position, he said thatthe border dispute is a remnant of history. Shri Antony said that Indiadid not want to escalate differences and would work together to strengthen cooperationin various areas to the benefit of both countries.
Gen Ge, heading a Peoples’Liberation Army delegation on a six-day visit to Indiafrom December 01, 2009,said that the Chinese Government would observe the 60th Anniversary of theestablishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries in 2010 as animportant occasion to strengthen people to people contacts. He conveyed to ShriAntony an invitation on behalf of the Defence Minister of China to visit Beijingat an early date. General Ge also called on Defence Secretary Shri PradeepKumar and discussed matters of mutual interest.
Whilethe ding dong or ping pong political, diplomatic and media battles between Indiaand China arelikely to continue in 2010, our assessment is that an armed border clash oroutbreak of hostilities remains remote.