Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

China is upping the ante on Arunachal Pradesh

The Global Times, a sister publication of China’s Peoples’ Daily, has just published an editorial attacking India for planning to beef up its military strength in Arunachal Pradesh…

Beijing is upping the ante on Arunachal Pradesh
Chinese media asks if India can “afford consequences of potential confrontation” with China

Siddharth Varadarajan

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:

Article IV

The two sides will give due consideration to each other’s strategic and reasonable interests, and the principle of mutual and equal security.

Article V

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.

Article VI

The boundary should be along well-defined and easily identifiable natural geographical features to be mutually agreed upon between the two sides.

Article VII

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.

23 comments on “China is upping the ante on Arunachal Pradesh

  1. Anonymous
    July 23, 2009

    Chinese government executes 196 Uighurs

    Chinese court sentenced 196 Uighurs to death on July 18 accusing them in participation in the unrests.

    The court decision was immediately executed and all accused persons were shot dead. It is not clear where the execution took place and did the government hand over the bodies to their relatives or not? According to the official statistics, 184 people were killed last month in the unrests in Xinjiang-Uighur autonomous province of China last month, but unofficial figures showed more than 1000 people dead and nearly 2000 arrested. The Chinese officials didn’t rule out that the arrested people would be executed.

  2. Anonymous
    July 15, 2009

    India needs to develop a nuclear capability allowing her to eliminate the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai within a matter of hours. The Chinese only understand force and will only learn to be less aggressive once millions of them have been killed.

    It's going to be hard, but China needs to be encircled and defeated.

  3. Anonymous
    July 9, 2009

    China needs not use military force to retake Arunachal Pradesh, it could simply dam up the Brahmaputra River to benefit the dry northern part of China. See

    While China's ally Bangladesh would suffer from the diversion of the Brahmaputra River north to the Yellow River, the fact of the matter is that Bangladesh's low-lying geography is already doomed from global warming and rising sea levels. Most of Bangladesh's huge population will have to take refuge in India. Checkmate!

  4. Siddharth Varadarajan
    July 9, 2009

    Ram – Started doing some reading on Chinese IR stuff and got sidetracked. Loads of interesting things. But the immediate moment passed. Will come back to this is 3-4 weeks for sure. Stay tuned.

  5. Anonymous
    July 7, 2009

    Hi Sid,

    Never did get to see your balanced analysis on India and China in The Hindu in the last one month. Did I miss it?

    Or is it because a 'balanced' view failed to go through the editor's desk at The Hindu especially when it concerns China? Just curious!


  6. Anonymous
    June 17, 2009

    Hope for the best but put in place plans for the worst. Thats the smart way to do it.

  7. Ganesh
    June 15, 2009

    We are being counseled patience, calm and all of those nice virtues. We are told there will always be 'hotheads' and we should look beyond them and be nice saintly Indians we are. We are now asked to believe that just because a govt controlled party mouthpiece says so, it does not have to be official policy.

    Noble sentiments indeed, and perhaps laid out with noble intentions. But I wonder what the reaction of these very same leftists would have been if a US govt official, however petty, however informally, had issued similar statements. All hell would have broken loose and we would never have heard the end of it. Suspicions would have been 'confirmed', hostile intentions 'proved' and so on..we would have our dear marxist student unions organising protests in front of US embassy.

    The clear warning by PRC communists about economic costs (instead of using plain military threat) to India points to a reality we need to acknowledge. The Chinese communists are right. We cannot afford the economic costs of challenging them. This is because they enjoy an advantage we dont. They can, at any moment, issue a command and their puppets will start organising hartals, strikes and create economic chaos in key sectors.

    So the battle is not with the Chinese, they can be our friends, once they get rid of the commies. The battle is within – with their agents and saboteurs masquerading as liberals, intellectuals, protectors of workers rights, spokesmen of the aam-aadmi and so on.

    BJP is useless in challenging them. The past elections have shown victory in this battle for India is possible if Congress can get its act together and not allow free ride to anti-national forces in exchange for staying in power. If it can convince workers and others misled into creating chaos in the name of their interests, we too can take on anyone not just the Chinese. Not that we would want to, we want to be friends. But not slaves.

  8. Ravi Kiran
    June 15, 2009

    Neither India nor china can achieve any political objective through war without unacceptable collateral damage . These provocative articles does not even deserve a discussion ….

  9. Srinivasan Ramani
    June 13, 2009

    As Siddharth's conversation with his Chinese contact points out, there are thankfully a few sections in the Chinese intelligentsia (and hopefully elsewhere) who don't share the editorial writer's bellicose “attitude”. I suppose the trouble with the Chinese is that the insecurity over India has been ingrained because of the strong nationalism that has been fed to its citizens – especially the influential Chinese middle class. A converse of that would be the anti-Sino antipathy that has been fed by our own chest thumpers.

    The editorial writer at Global Times might be haughtily dismissing India's uneasiness with the US' containment/encircling strategy; but with China equally becoming affected by the global financial crisis – I suppose those who are rational and have more fair understanding of the potential of India-China better ties would not be so dismissive.

    In essence, while the bellicose and hostile impressions on the border issue could continue, their eventual easing down will be related to better economic ties – which are now more necessitated because of the global financial/economic crisis.

    Siddharth, am I making sense when I say this? I hope your forthcoming article will lay out *the* perspective.

  10. Anonymous
    June 13, 2009

    Is it a coincidence that the Chinese are getting aggressive just when the India-US relationship seems to be cooling? They sense weakness in our isolation. If we want good relations with China we need good relations with the US. Kudos to the Congress government for building up the neglected frontier defenses. The chinese must realize that India of 1962 is not the India of today. Perhaps The Hindu editors need to reflect on their unquestioning praising of the Tibet conquest by China. It was always a bit embarassing, now it is even more questionable

  11. Anonymous
    June 13, 2009


    Thanks for the response!
    And yes, I find the post very balanced. That is why the question related to whether it will make it to print. I am sure you would agree that more people read the paper than visit your blog.

    And I look forward to the same balance in the analysis in The Hindu that you have promised.

    Cheers – Ram

  12. Jay
    June 12, 2009


    Great blog. Look forward to your longish piece in the Hindu. Will you touch upon the alleged chinese origins of the fake 'Made in India' drugs scandal in Nigeria ?

  13. Anonymous
    June 12, 2009

    India must fence the Arunachal / China Line of control . Thus it will remain IB. Another reason India MUST mantain Nuke Weapons to deter any Chi-Com incursions. Freedom is NOT free one Has to fight to Keep it. It more than business and account books.

  14. Siddharth Varadarajan
    June 12, 2009

    @ Ram

    This article is a classic blog post, one of the few I do incidentally, with extensive quotes and hyperlinks… I don't think it will lend itself to print. But I will do a long piece on India, China and Arunachal for The Hindu, perhaps next week.


  15. S
    June 12, 2009


    I go along with most of what you have written. A balanced view. Only additional point to be made is that in BOTH countries you have 'balanced' and 'extremist' views. In China too there are hotheads. We must NOT see what comes out of China in monolithic terms. There is increasing pluralism on some issues – and I think India is one of them. The Chinese are quite happy to blow hot and blow cold, and our media goes into a tizzy each time.

    But I think PM himself has always had a 'balanced' and sober assessment of China. I don't think China can risk a 1962 type confrontation with us, nor would we want to provoke them.
    Each time a Chinese hot head barks, we must allow our hot heads to bark too.

    More than the US relationship, it is the China and the Pakistan relationships that have the potential to stir up political storms in India – one more reason why Parliament should not be getting into foreign policy!

  16. MJ
    June 12, 2009

    There are many other issues involved. Why are the Chinese not moving on the 1993 agreement to define the Line of Actual Control ? Basically, Beijing is calculating the pros and cons of dealing with India in a real-time basis. So you have shifts occurring within a year. The other thing is which faction of the power structure in China does the Global Times represent ? There are major differences within the party, the army and the bureaucracy over dealing with countries like Japan, India, US and some of this is reflected in the shifts.

  17. KS
    June 12, 2009

    China is deliberately raising the ante in the east to avoid an early resolution. It does not suit them to release pressure on India. They want to protect Pakistan too. The resolution of the border conflict will change the dynamics of Sino-Indian realstions. The claim on Tawang is unreasonable. China knows India will not cede Tawang, The inclusion of reference to settled populations was included by us specifically in the Tawang context. The Chinese accepted it. They seem to have had a rethink late and are now relying on specious arguments to negate the import of this parameter..

  18. Anonymous
    June 12, 2009

    Dear Sid,

    I wonder if this this piece would make it to the pages of 'The Hindu'?

    Just curious to know!


  19. Anonymous
    June 12, 2009

    PRC has given clear notice to India debunking a myth that the communists and their media, including Hindu, Frontline et al, have been propagating for years now. That is if India were to subordinate its foreign policy and relations with the west to suit Chinese strategic interests, hang the Dalai Lama and disband our army, and not do anything that even remotely annoys the Chinese communists, all will be fine and we will be rewarded with free gifts like Arunachal.

    What PRC is telling us is that they will still treat us as inferior no matter how low we stoop to please them.

    If anyone still promotes this line after this clear warning by the ruling elite of China, and their official mouthpiece, are leaving no doubt about their own loyalties.

  20. Anonymous
    June 12, 2009


    There is a book by Neville Maxwell called 'India's China War' accounting the events leading up to the 1962 war and its aftermath. It is quite an eye opener. Please read it if you have time. It will give you more material to consider on this subject.

  21. Anonymous
    June 12, 2009

    When our ex-defence minister George Fernandes described China as India's enemy number one, he did it for valid reasons.

    It is another story that the Congress party that has been ruling India for the most part can not see it.

    India will pay a heavy price for the state of denial of the Congress party in dealing with China threat.

    In the event of any futher war with China, the Indian communists should be kicked out of the country, as a minimum step.

  22. Vikram
    June 12, 2009

    Barring strategist and military experts, people in India have little knowledge that why China does not accept Mac Mohan line when it is dealing with us while in case of Burma it shows little or no qualms in accepting the same. When Nehru ji pointed out to the visiting Chines dignitary that the chines maps show nearly whole of Arunachal( then part of NEFA) as part of chinese territory, he responded by saying that these maps belong to previous Komentiang regime. Later we suffered a humilating defeating in 1962 Sino-India war.

    In the current scenario India can't afford hostilities in both its eastern and the western boarders. Resolu
    tion of border dispute with china is more important to us than to china.

  23. chandrakant
    June 12, 2009

    Media,whether in India or China ,has a great responsiblity towards maintainig peacefull relations between the countries.They must prusue their journalism with proper atention towards the harmonious relations between the countries.Mutual suspicion can lead to another warlike situation.
    Reader too have to mature and show care and intellegence while forming opinion about sensitive issues.People should understand that Media controlled by State or other interest groups can never be impartial.They might be showing only one side of the icture.Thinking readers should keep their mind open for such shortcomings.They mus evaluate things properly without subscibing loyalty to any particular view.After all we always do have a choice.

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This entry was posted on June 12, 2009 by in China, Indian Foreign Policy.



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