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Why China has an Arunachal fixation

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  • Pradip Kumar Datta
    Why China has an Arunachal fixation Sentinel Assam 01.03.08 New Delhi on Wednesday made official something which we all know — that China has indeed laid
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2008
      Why China has an Arunachal fixation
      Sentinel Assam 01.03.08
      New Delhi on Wednesday made official something which we all know — that China has indeed laid claim on 90,000 square kilometre of territory in Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang. While making a mention of Beijing’s position, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha that Arunachal Pradesh was an integral part of India and that China’s claim was illegal.
      China’s dream about owning Tawang (perched at an altitude of 3,500 metres above mean sea level and an important seat of Buddhism) or the whole of Arunachal Pradesh for that matter is without doubt the main stumbling block in a possible resolution of the protracted Sino-Indian border dispute. The two of the world’s most populous Asian neighbours share a 3,500-km (2,200-mile) border, most of it located along the icy Himalayan heights.
      That they fought a brutal 42-day war in 1962 along India’s eastern Himalayan front in present Arunachal Pradesh is history, but the ‘trust deficit’ between New Delhi and Beijing continues to this day. India has been contesting Beijing’s rule over 38,000 sq km (15,000 square miles) of barren and uninhabited land on the Tibetan plateau, which China seized from India during the 1962 war. And, China has been pushing ahead with its claim on Arunachal Pradesh.
      China has for sometime been making veiled suggestions about a swap of Tawang in lieu of Aksai-Chin. But, in recent months, Beijing has been vocal with this suggestion, indicating that it is bent on keeping India on the defensive or even confused. The following to my mind are some of the reasons for China’s Arunachal fixation:
      • Arunachal Pradesh can give China access to the Brahmaputra Valley and the rest of north-eastern India
      • China will gain contiguity with Bhutan in its eastern flank also if Arunachal Pradesh could be gained
      • Unlike the Aksai-Chin, India has the benefit of all-weather communication lines to the Chinese frontier through Arunachal Pradesh
      • The Tibetans have an emotional attachment with the famous Tawang Monastery, founded by the Merak Lama, Lodre Gyatso, in 1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Nagwang Lobsang Gyatso. Moreover, the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in Tawang.
      The most blatant statement about Beijing’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh was made by Ambassador Sun Yuxi in an interview to an Indian television channel just ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to New Delhi from 20-23 November 2006. The Chinese envoy to India had said: “In our position, the whole of the State of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. And Tawang is only one of the places in it. We are claiming all of that. That is our position.” New Delhi politely refuted that claim on that occasion as also later to similar claims by the Chinese.
      What needs to be remembered is that the frontiers of these two Asian giants met for the first time in history only when China annexed Tibet in 1950. China then decided to wage a war against India, and that too within just a little more than a decade after becoming the latter’s neighbour.
      The Chinese People’s Liberation Army had occupied Tawang, among other stretches, during the war in 1962 and had even destroyed parts of the Tawang Monastery, but after the ceasefire in November that year, the Chinese withdrew and moved back to the British-drawn MacMohan Line that New Delhi recognizes. After keeping quiet for years, China has started talking openly about its intentions to lay its hands on Tawang or Arunachal Pradesh as a whole.
      On 11 April 2005, during the visit to India by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, India and China had signed an agreement on the ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question.’ Article VII of this agreement says, “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.” China has since blatantly violated the spirit of this agreement by repeatedly renewing its claim over Tawang or Arunachal Pradesh as a whole.
      This may be a game of military and political diplomacy, but the fact remains that the people of Arunachal Pradesh are emotionally and physically integrated with India and its ethos. “Not a soul in Tawang will ever support China. We are an inalienable part of India and the Indian society,” said Sangay Jampi, secretary of the Tawang Monastery, in an interview to a leading newspaper.
      When he met Chinese President Hu Jintao in June 2007 on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to underplay the visa fracas (the case of China denying a visa to an IAS officer from Arunachal Pradesh in May 2007 on the ground that the State was an integral part of China) and described China as India’s ‘greatest neighbour’ aside from stating that relations between the two nations were passing through a ‘constructive phase.’ What New Delhi and Beijing seems to be doing now is to push ahead in improving contacts or ties in all other areas by delinking such matters with the contentious border issue.
      Yes, India would never like the ‘settled populations’ to be disturbed while resolving the border dispute, but right now the focus is on bilateral trade. Trade had grown 56.8 per cent in the first four months of 2007, and had crossed $11.4 billion. “We are well on track to doubling trade to $40 billion a year by 2010,” India’s Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said recently.
      The question uppermost among the minds of the Indians is whether China is interested at all in resolving the border dispute with India. Yes, Beijing is talking of a swap of the Aksai-Chin area in lieu of Tawang, but are the Chinese serious even on this (not that India will ever concede giving up Tawang)? The answer most observers would like to give is that China will not really give up its hold on Aksai-Chin because the heights in this area controls its access to Xizang and Xinjiang autonomous regions through a strategic highway that Beijing has built.
      Does China then expect New Delhi to gift away Tawang? Not really, because Beijing is aware of that fact that year 2007 is not 1962. Suppose one is to agree to the view that Beijing is making it a habit to raise the Tawang or Arunachal Pradesh issue on and off because it could be one way of expressing its displeasure over the growing India-US strategic ties, the question arises how does one solve the border dispute then? Many feel the two nations have missed their chance during the time in the late seventies when Deng Xiaoping had emerged as the unchallenged leader in China. Hu Jintao, this section of observers say, is not Deng Xiaoping who could have done something on the border front, ignoring his comrades. Again the question of trust comes to the fore.
      The border issue may not be resolved anytime soon, but the fact remains that the Chinese PLA soldiers are not likely to embark on an adventure to march across the Tibetan mountains into Arunachal Pradesh. This is the perception of experts and the authorities in India. This is because Beijing may not really be interested in real war games at a time when it is busy in further boosting its economy and trying to match the US in every sphere. New Delhi, of course, is not complacent and rightly so.

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