Delicate dance of the emerging giants for China and India
In 2005, Chinese diplomacy promised great flexibility and suggestions of compromise in resolving longstanding border issues with India. During his 2005 trip to New Delhi, Premier Wen Jiabao talked of sponsoring a permanent seat for India on the U.N. Security Council. Fast forwarding to 2008, China's position on the border issues shows no flexibility, and there is no meaningful discussion of supporting an Indian seat on the council.
The border issues revolve around Arunchal Pradesh, an Indian state the size of Portugal in Northeast India, bordering China's Tibet Autonomous Region, and Aksai Chin, a 16,000-square-mile region bordered by India's northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir and both China's Tibet and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions. Arunchal Pradesh is controlled by India but claimed by China; Aksai Chin is controlled by China and claimed by India.
China's view is that India's claim to Arunchal Pradesh is invalid. The claim is based on the Simla Convention, a treaty between Great Britain and Tibet signed in 1914, that established the McMahon Line, a demarcation line separating Tibet from India. China holds that Tibet did not have sovereignty over the region and no power to negotiate a treaty. Moreover, no Chinese government or any sovereign government recognized Tibet's 1913 declaration of independence. In 1915, the British stated that neither China nor Russia accepted the Simla Convention and it was therefore invalid.
Chinese People's Liberation Army incursions across the border into Arunchal Pradesh are more and more frequently reported. Consequently, it has become clear to New Delhi that this remote part of India is ill defended and is further vulnerable due to poor roads and no rail or air service connecting it to the rest of India. The lack of infrastructure and connectivity is a major barrier in deploying Indian troops to the area in event of an emergency. On the Chinese side, the roads, availability of electricity and other facilities are much better.
Achieving no progress on border issues during a state visit to Beijing in January, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set about upgrading infrastructure in Arunchal Pradesh and creating educational and health care facilities.
Aksai Chin adjoins the Ladakh District of Jammu and Kashmir State. It is part of the Tibetan Plateau, largely uninhabited, with no permanent settlements and little rainfall. In the early 1950s, China encroached on Aksai Chin to build a strategically important road connecting Tibet and Xinjiang. India has recently reopened an old air force base in Ladakh.
Although China recognized Sikkim as an integral part of India in 2003 and changed its maps to reflect such, Chinese troops have made recent incursions into the mountainous Indian state.
Such incursions and stiffening of territorial demands during the last two years are seen as an attempt to put pressure on India to bolster Beijing's claim to the disputed areas, according to the Times of India.
The purely territorial motivation has validity. However, other factors help explain China's actions.
India is a rising regional and global economic and political competitor. India's "Look East" policy of cultivating economic and security relations with Southeast Asian nations strikes at what China normally sees as its strategic underbelly and a region where it has traditionally had great influence. China has actively courted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and opposed the inclusion of India in ASEAN Plus Three (China, Korea and Japan). The Chinese showed no interest in Indian ideas about creating a regional security apparatus as outlined by Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in a June speech at Beijing University.
India recognizes China's claim to Tibet; however, it hosts the Dalai Lama-led Tibetan government in exile and 100,000 Tibetan refuges. Given the harsh measures employed by Chinese security personnel in quelling the recent Tibetan riots, China is clearly worried about the possibility of Tibet spinning out of its control. Tibet, on one hand acts as buffer zone between China proper and India, while on the other hand the Chinese are worried about a chain reaction. A Tibet that slipped out of China's grasp could well cause the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to declare independence.
China also is concerned about India's chumming up with the United States. Of particular concern is growing security and economical cooperation, plus possible transfer of U.S. civilian nuclear energy technology. It is clear that the U.S. is joined by Japan and Australia in seeing India as a potential security and economic counterweight to China. China is perpetually worried about being surrounded by unfriendly nations and alliances, especially if the U.S. is involved. As a result, it sees cooperation such as the 2007 Malabar naval exercises joined by the U.S., Japan and Australia as an attempt to encircle it.
If Chinese fears have substance, then the Indians have an equal right to be concerned about being surrounded by China. After all, Tibet borders India. China has naval advisers in mainland Myanmar (Burma), intelligence-gathering facilities on Great Coco Island in the Bay of Bengal and is planning to build an army base on Little Coco Island. China also built ports in Bangladesh and in Sri Lanka. There is fear that the Chinese navy might use the ports, just as there is worry that China might use the Pakistani naval facilities at the port of Gawdar, Pakistan, that it is helping to build. The Chinese claim that the ports are for strictly commercial purposes, yet it is clear that China wants to have the means to protect the sea lanes to ensure unimpeded transport of crude oil from the Middle East to China.
To the Indians, China's posture in South Asia and on the Indian Ocean represents an intrusion into an area where Indian influence has gone unchallenged. India's naval buildup hopes to add one carrier this year and another in 2011, plus build its submarine fleet to control the Indian Ocean from East Africa to Australia.
The one positive aspect to Sino-Indian relations is the steady growth of trade, which could top $40 billion this year and could grow to $60 billion by 2010. China might become India's largest market, replacing the United States.