Through the Beijing meet, the Chinese have emphatically conveyed that Tawang is non-negotiable in a final settlement of the border issue. Located strategically at the Bhutan-Tibet-India tri-junction, a transfer of Tawang to China will bring this point further down south to the slender Siliguri corridor joining the Northeast to the rest of India. With Beijing’s claim in Bhutan also inching closer to the Indian border, the Chinese threat needs no elucidation. If China’s minimum demand in the eastern sector has been defined ‘unofficially’ to a certain extent, the so-called offer of concessions in the western sector remains vague. Mostly, this offer has been qualified by the phrase, "China will consider".
Worse, China can deny even these messages from the Beijing meet. This has been its habit, its history. Deng Xiaoping offered in 1988 a package deal on the border. It was withdrawn as "just a concept" when Indian officials sought clarifications. And yet, many in India swallow the Chinese propaganda that New Delhi has always rebuffed Beijing’s reasonable overtures for resolving the border issue!
The Chinese are only interested in resolving the border issue on their terms. And these terms extend beyond Tawang to cover all of Arunachal Pradesh, which appears linked to Beijing’s Tibet policy. They feel their control over Tibet is incomplete without Arunachal. Didn’t ambassador Sun Yuxi declare that the whole of Arunachal belongs to China? Should they not manage to regain Arunachal now, they’d encourage the Tibetans to lay claims to the state once a deal is struck between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. Completion of the ongoing railway project in Tibet is expected to only harden Beijing’s position in the eastern sector.
"Hide your strength and bide your time" is an old Chinese strategy. This involves lulling their opponent into disarming, while they acquire overwhelming strength. Then they suddenly pounce upon their foe. For decades, China worked behind the veil of being a Third World country, implementing the theory that says development and security must go together; that in the absence of one the other can’t be achieved.
The veil is now slipping off. The Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations, a think-tank supported by China’s external intelligence agency, recently unveiled the "Greater Peripheral" theory of emerging as an "independent big power". This was most recently showcased through a commitment of $5 billion in assistance to 48 African countries. The scheme was earlier applied in its immediate periphery (East and Central Asia) where it had used a varied mix of instruments—diplomacy, political support, economic allurement and military aid—to acquire heft and influence.
The greater periphery strategy includes both big and small nations. Of the several US-led alliances in the region, Beijing perceives the following as vital: US-Japan, US-Australia and US-India, which can coalesce into a US-Japan-Australia-India alliance to encircle China. Independent interests of the US, Japan and India in Central Asia are also viewed as catalysts for an anti-China coalition. India is seen as the weakest of the above actors. But then it straddles the Indian Ocean and, along with the US, controls the sea-lanes to the Malacca Strait and beyond. Most of the ASEAN countries are also increasingly looking at India to balance China’s force projection in the region.
The standard Chinese policy, therefore, is to ensure that India is surrounded by inimical neighbours. Thus, Pakistan was elevated to a nuclear weapons power through illegal proliferation. Bangladesh is the new sparkling pearl in Beijing’s "garland of pearls" strategy against India. Not only is it arming Bangladesh, it is assisting Dhaka to build a nuclear reactor. This Chinese strategy is expected to only accentuate.
No big-ticket deals are slated for President Hu Jintao’s visit, unless New Delhi decides to appease him. We have a history of appeasing China. Our think-tanks have become ardent aficionados of China, whom they view as a benign power whose ‘peaceful rise’ to eminence is an opportunity for India. When China wants anything from India, the Left is there to echo it.
President Hu Jintao flies off to Pakistan from Mumbai on November 23. He is poised to sign a couple of dozen agreements there. Don’t you think his visits to Pakistan and India provide an interesting contrast, pregnant with meanings?
(Professor Stobdan is the director of the Strategic and Regional Studies, University of Jammu.)