Journalist | Writer | Analyst
Beijing is upping the ante on Arunachal Pradesh
Chinese media asks if India can “afford consequences of potential confrontation” with China
Using unusually harsh and direct language, a leading Chinese newspaper has described the Indian decision to station 60,000 troops in Arunachal Pradesh as a “military provocation” and warned India that it “needs to consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China”.
In a triple whammy of sorts, the June 11 edition of Global Times, the influential world affairs daily of the Communist Party of China, published an editorial entitled ‘India’s unwise military moves’, a news item about the crash of an Indian Air Force plane in Arunachal Pradesh in which analysts say “the continuous Indian military expansion along the border” is creating tension, and the results of an online survey under the headline “90 per cent … believe India threatens China’s security”.
Although the newspaper on Wednesday had correctly but critically reported the Indian decision to station two divisions in Arunachal Pradesh as a prospective rather than immediate deployment, Thursday’s editorial began by saying, “In the last few days, India has dispatched roughly 60,000 troops to its border with China, the scene of enduring territorial disputes between the two countries”.
The editorial linked this move to a statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his government would “make no concessions to China on territorial disputes” despite cooperative India-China relations. This “tough posture” may win Dr. Singh “some applause among India’s domestic nationalists,” the newspaper said, but warned that this “is dangerous if it is based on a false anticipation that China will cave in”.
“India’s current course can only lead to a rivalry between the two countries. India needs to consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China”, the editorial noted.
Global Times has a very large circulation in China and recently launched an English edition as well. Though the newspaper’s comments on the proposed Indian deployment is very much in keeping with Beijing’s heightened rhetoric on Arunachal Pradesh, what has raised eyebrows in diplomatic circles is the hyped-up packaging of the issue as well as the harsh editorial tone in which the superiority of China over India in terms of power and global influence is openly celebrated.
If in the past, officially-sanctioned commentary would charge India with buying in to the “China threat” theory of the West, the Global Times editorial now finds fault with New Delhi’s unwillingness to gang up with other countries in an attempt to contain China:
“Indian politicians these days seem to think their country would be doing China a huge favor simply by not joining the “ring around China” established by the US and Japan”.
Taking note of India’s rise, the Chinese newspaper said this growing power would have “a significant impact on the balance of this equation” and this had led India to believe China would defer to it on territorial disputes out of “fear and gratitude for its restraint”.
This was pure “wishful thinking” on India’s part, it noted. “China won’t make any compromises in its border disputes with India. And while China wishes to coexist peacefully with India, this desire isn’t born out of fear”.
India, it argued, was “frustrated” that China’s rise has captured much of the world’s attention. The country likes to brag about its “advanced political system” and “sustainable development” but “can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas like international influence, overall national power and economic scale” as well as domestic stability. “India apparently has not yet realized this”, it said, but still feels superior to China.
In the online poll reported by Global Times, 74 per cent of respondents believed China “should not maintain friendly relations with India anymore after its military provocation”. And 80 per cent said China should provide either open or covert support to “anti-Indian separatist forces”. The newspaper said 65 per cent of those who took part in the poll felt India’s “unfriendly attitude towards China” would hurt New Delhi more than Beijing. Half the respondents said the “recent anti-China voices” in India catered to the interests of “international anti-China groups in order to gain more political capital for the country”.
Disturbed by the tone of today’s Global Times, especially the editorial, I wrote to a leading Chinese academician, currently on sabbatical in North America, who has always been quite balanced in his approach to Sino-Indian relations.
This is what he replied:
“Thanks for your mail. It has disturbed you and it has disturbed me too. Much misunderstanding and misconception from both sides.
Anyway, don’t see any writings in the Global Times as the official message. This only represents the author. But these views also react to the commentaries in the Indian media.
Our two countries are rising under the circumstances of tough international pressure.
Why Indian analysts are thinking less of this? Chinese analysts have actually not seen India as a threat and are always looking to the US…
The American, Japanese, and European officials and scholars have been selling “China threat” in India for so many years. Why? And they have come to China, selling “India unreliability”. Why? But they are working hard to seek cooperation with both India and China. Please remember, China-US bilateral trade, China-Japan bilateral trade, Chia-EU bilateral Trade are the largest in the world.
Who can encircle whom in today’s world? So naive, if not intentionally, for these socalled strategists! The developed world is playing India and China with their amusement. The emergence of India and China in Asia has transformed the geopolitical landscape in Asia and will eventually change the dominant position of the developed world in Asian econimic and security affairs.
India has hosted the Asian Security conference for a decade, the ASEAN-hosted ARF for 15 years, but the Non-Asian Powers have hosted the Shangri-La Dialogue which has been named the Asian Security conference. So many defense ministers are competing to go. It is a shame for our Asian leaders. The Asian security conference is being hosted by non-Asian powers. We Asian countries cannot work together for their own security!”
I think there is much food for thought here.
I do not disagree that a lot of what we might read in the media in both countries is reactive; and that editorials, even in China, should not be equated with official communiques. But they do give us a sense of the dominant mindset and discourse in society.
For me, the hardening Chinese stand on Arunachal is not surprising. They regard the state as disputed, there is an ongoing negotiation and it is obvious why they would wish to take a hard line at this juncture. India, too, is paying the price for having delayed infrastructure and defence modernisation in Arunachal all these years. But the tone of the Global Times editorial is contemptuous, especially the bit where it says don’t think you are doing us a favour by not ganging up against us. In 2007, India was criticised by the Chinese for taking part in the ill-considered quadrilateral naval exercise with the U.S., Australia and Japan. But now that New Delhi is cool to any talk of containment, the Chinese media says don’t think you are doing us a favour! It is almost as if the Indians are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Asia is passing though a difficult time and India and China need to make sure they do not tread on each other’s toes or allow outside powers to encourage and then take advantage of mutual insecurities and suspicions.
On Arunachal itself, some in India see the growing Chinese assertiveness as evidence of Beijing’s duplicity given that China and India agreed in 2005 inter alia to safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas in reaching a border settlement.
As a former Indian diplomat put it to me in an email:
“What I find surprising is that in 2005 Wen Jiabao agreed to a settlement taking into account settled populations, making it clear there would be no change in the status of populated areas like Tawang. He then goes back on his word with the Chinese assertively claiming the whole of Arunachal and saying there can be no compromise on this…”
There is plenty to object to in China’s claim to and attitude on Arunachal but I am not sure I agree with the diplomat’s line of reasoning.
In fact, accepting the principle of safeguarding due interests of settled populations did not mean the Chinese were relinquishing their claim on Arunachal or Tawang. If that were the case, what are the two sides still talking about? The boundary settlement could have been finalised in 2005 itself. Look at the formula in reverse: is India prepared to declare today that it is willing to give to China the uninhabited areas in Arunachal, of which there are vast tracts? Or the whole of Aksai Chin? As Ma Jiali of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations told The Hindu in 2008 last year: “From China’s point of view, the issue of population is an important one but it is not the sole criterion for deciding anything.” Indeed, four articles in the 2005 declaration list out the factors to be taken into account:
The two sides will give due consideration to each other’s strategic and reasonable interests, and the principle of mutual and equal security.
The two sides will take into account, inter alia, historical evidence, national sentiments, practical difficulties and reasonable concerns and sensitivities of both sides, and the actual state of border areas.
The boundary should be along well-defined and easily identifiable natural geographical features to be mutually agreed upon between the two sides.
In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.
Based on the parameters and principles embodied in these four articles, India can and will mount a compelling defence of its case in Arunachal Pradesh. But the negotations will be difficult and even nerve-wracking and the outcome will defend on a wider set of factors such as the relative weight of India and China in the Asian and global power balance. The Chinese may be contemptuous of India today; but it is clear that the economic and military gap between India and China will narrow in the years ahead.
As responsible powers, India and China must continue to respect each other’s phyical possession of territory and not seek to alter the territorial status quo through any means other than negotiations. In the meantime, nothing prevents either side from creating “facts on the ground”. China is is within its rights to argue about the eventual status of disputed or undemarcated boundaries but should not waste political bandwidth objecting to India stationing aircraft or troops in Arunachal Pradesh. Similarly, the alarmism we see from time to time in the Indian media about Chinese incursions is also nquite unnecessary. It is clear that neither side is interested in settling the bounday through military means.