Millennium Post

Indo-China spat continues

Beijing and New Delhi are involved in an almighty spat. On Friday, the Chinese government dismissed India's concerns over its decision to rename six places in Arunachal Pradesh and said that doing so was its "lawful right". Just days after Beijing lodged protests with India over the Dalai Lama's recent 10-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh, China's Ministry of Civil Affairs had announced "standardised" official names for six places in the North Eastern state, which is an integral part of India. In response, New Delhi said that the announcement did not "make an illegal occupation legal". The Chinese tactic here is to issue "legal claims" to delegitimise its adversary (India, in this case). Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India, and Beijing has no business naming territory in another sovereign nation. Democratic elections are held in this state in accordance with the Constitution of India. As noted above, the spark for this almighty spat between the two Asian giants was the recent visit of the 14th Dalai Lama to the Buddhist-majority district of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. This sentiment was echoed in a recent opinion piece published in the Beijing-run Global Times. "It is time for India to do some serious thinking over why China announced the standardised names in South Tibet (what China considers Arunachal Pradesh to be) at this time." "Putting the Dalai Lama into its toolbox against China is another trick played by New Delhi lately. New Delhi would be too ingenuous to believe that the region belongs to India simply because the Dalai Lama says so," the column said. The frontier state belongs to India, and her sovereignty over the area is internationally recognised. Moreover, the state's residents have not shown any inclination to leave India. Unlike past governments, which were cowed down by the scars of the 1962 war, the current ruling dispensation has shown some appetite in taking on Beijing's imposing tactics.

During the Buddhist leader's recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh, New Delhi very nonchalantly rejected the Chinese warnings and threats. Its stated position is very clear: China should not interfere in India's internal affairs just as India does not interfere in China's internal affairs. "There is no political angle behind His Holiness's visit to Arunachal Pradesh. It is completely religious. Arunachal Pradesh is an inseparable part of India and China should not object to his visit and interfere in India's internal affairs," said Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju. "We respect Beijing's 'One-China' policy, and we expect China to reciprocate," he added. Tibet has remained a bone of contention between the two Asian countries ever since the Dalai Lama fled China in 1959, culminating in the Indian defeat in the 1962 Indo-China war. The Chinese occupation of Aksai Chin and its claim on Tawang district, and now the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh have further complicated matters.

In fact, the Dalai Lama rejected accusations that India was using him to undermine China's interests. He has long conceded that Tibet belongs to China. In his recent visit, he said that while Tibet wants to remain part of China, Beijing must grant some degree of autonomy to Tibetans, and desist from impinging on their religious, social and political rights. However, the Indian government's decision to afford full state facilities for the spiritual leader during his recent visit and give him space to speak freely is a clear sign of New Delhi's unhappiness with Beijing's concessions to Pakistan and attempts to undermine Indian security interests. Why not use the 'Tibet card' if China plays the 'Pakistan card'? Both Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that trans-national terror is a major security concern. But Xi has provided no assurances of dropping Beijing's resistance to UN sanctions against Pakistan-based terror mastermind Maulana Masood Azhar, who India holds responsible for the terror attacks in Pathankot and Uri. While the JeM had been listed as a terrorist organisation since 2001, the group's chief and motivator have suffered no sanctions. China also continued to stall on India's application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Several countries, led by China, had blocked India's entry to the body last year, saying it was not a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and thus ineligible. It means that either India signs the NPT or stays out of the NSG. Although Beijing's argument based on procedural reasons is valid, it is no secret that their actions come from a desire to support Pakistan, which has also applied for membership. China's decision to club the membership of both countries to the export control regime is an apparent attempt to scuttle India's chances. The international community will never let Pakistan become a member of NSG, owing to its poor record on nuclear proliferation. China is well-aware that Pakistan's nuclear program is India centric. China has also decided to use Pakistan to not only further their economic interests in the region but also as a buffer against potential security threats. On the economic front, it is heavily invested in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which stretches between Chinese province of Xinjiang and Pakistan's Gwadar Port and goes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Strategic experts believe that this "economic corridor" will give China quicker access to markets in both Europe and the Middle East. As argued in these columns, it is also using Pakistan as a buffer against the spread of transnational Islamist terror. Beijing's desire to undermine India's security and strategic interests on multilateral forums at every possible turn and New Delhi's subsequent response in playing the 'Tibet card' has soured relations. New Delhi, however, should not be cowed down by China's threats and in fact, should assert itself to protect Indian interests. Brahma Chellaney, a professor at the Centre for Policy Research, best describes the current state of affairs in a recent column.

"Far from being vulnerable to Chinese economic blackmail, India is in a position to employ trade as a political instrument against China, given the lopsided nature of bilateral commerce. Fattened by a rapidly growing trade surplus with India that now totals almost $60 billion yearly, China has been busy undermining Indian security, either directly or through its surrogate Pakistan. China's surplus has doubled since Narendra Modi assumed office. India not only needs to fix the increasingly asymmetrical trade relationship with China but must also reclaim its leverage on the Tibet issue—a leverage it remains very reluctant to exercise. Had China been in India's place, it is unthinkable that it would have shied away from employing the Tibet card or the trade card. Tibet is to India against China what Pakistan is to China against India. But China has had no hesitation in playing the Pakistan card against India, including by building Pakistan as a military balancer on the subcontinent through continuing transfers of nuclear-weapon, missile and conventional-weapon technologies," Chellaney writes.
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