Xi Jinping leaves contentious issues unresolved
by Ashok B Sharma on 29 Sep 2014 0 Comment

The face-off between Indian and Chinese troops at the line of actual control (LAC) in Ladakh has been averted. Thanks to efforts of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart Wang Yi at the margins of the UN General Assembly. The Chinese troops have begun withdrawing from Chumar in Ladakh following the flag meeting between the two sides. The Indian side has agreed to dismantle its observation posts in the area, while the Chinese agreed to discontinue the construction of a road there. Around 750 Chinese troops began incursions into Indian territory about a fortnight ago and remained there even Chinese President Xi Jinping was on a visit to India.


During last year’s Depsang plain stand-off, the Chinese had demanded that India dismantle its positions at Chumar. The Chinese game plan of repeated incursions and  rhetoric of “regional war” came out of Beijing just after President Xi Jinping returned after a receiving a warm reception in India during which over 16 agreements relating to cooperation between the two countries were signed. There were also MoUs between Indian and Chinese companies for 24 contracts worth $3.43 billion in sectors such as aircraft leasing and financing, telecom, chemicals, wind power components, cotton yarn and fabric, synthetic fibre and seafood.


But the Chinese behaviour at the border was no surprise; it was expected. Similar thing happened when Vice President Hamid Ansari was on a visit to Beijing in June and three agreements on cooperation were signed. China then released a map claiming large chunks of Indian territory. One should not forget Chinese expansionist policies and its ambition to dominate the entire Indo-Pacific region, if not the world. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of an 18th century mindset without directly mentioning China during his recent trip to Japan.


During Xi Jinping’s visit China pledged to invest $20 billion in industrial and infrastructure projects in India within a span of five years and $10 billion to other countries in South Asia. But Japan has promised more – $35 billion for building smart cities and next generation infrastructure, in the same period. In addition Japan has pledged ODA loan of 50 billion yen to India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd for a public-private partnership infrastructure projects in India.


Japan’s attitude towards India and China’s relationship with India are on a different footing. China considers India more as a rival than a friendly neighbour. India has a longstanding unresolved border dispute with China which Xi Jinping terms as “a leftover of history.” The Chinese President has demanded that India sponsor China’s membership of SAARC in return for India’s membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). This reveals China’s ambition to play a dominant role in South Asia, of which it is not a geographical part. Xi Jinping also fell short of supporting India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the expanded UN Security Council.


However certain agreements signed between the two countries are worth mentioning like setting up of industrial parks near Pune in Maharashtra and in Gujarat, cooperation between Gujarat and Guangdong province, cooperation between Mumbai and Shanghai and between Ahmedabad and Guangzhou, MoU for increasing the speed on existing railway line from Chennai to Mysore via Bangalore, providing training in heavy haul system to 100 railway officials, redevelopment of existing railway stations and setting up of a railway university in India and cooperation on high speed rail project. China agreed to construct an alternate route for Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar lake through Nathu-la pass in Sikkim, co-production of films, cooperation on exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes, cooperation in culture and specific measures to enhance market access to Indian agro and pharma products in China.    


But the longstanding issues of border dispute, Chinese insistence on issuing stapled visas and water management of trans-boundary rivers still remained unresolved.


While India’s boundary with then independent Tibet was fixed by the erstwhile British colonial rulers by drawing the Johnson Line in the western sector and McMahon Line in the eastern sector, China is not inclined accept this part of history.


China has forcibly occupied thousands of kilometers of Indian territory in the western and eastern sectors, including 5,800 sq km of Gilgit-Baltistan illegally ceded by Pakistan. In total China occupies more than 20,000 sq km of Gilgit-Baltistan covering Shaksgam, Raskam and Aghil valleys, apart from a large chunk in Ladakh. Even after illegal occupation China has disputed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries.


The Border Development Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) signed during the last visit of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Beijing was the last nail in the coffin of Indian diplomacy. First, the agreement admits there is no common understanding of the LAC. In face of this blatant admission of differing perceptions of the LAC how can there be border cooperation between the two sides? This exposes the hollowness of the agreement.


The agreement says that the two sides shall carry out border defence cooperation on the basis of their respective laws and relevant bilateral agreements. India had earlier signed a number of agreements with China on border issues, but China has violated these agreements on many occasions by repeated incursions. Further the BDCA says that the two sides agreed that they shall not follow or trail patrols of the other side in areas where there is no common understanding of the LAC. Chinese have always been of the view that they can walk into Indian territory as they had recently done in Chumar, Depsang in Daulat Beg Oldi sector.


In such “a doubtful situation” of perception of LAC, the BDCA says that either side has the right to seek a clarification from the other side and clarifications and replies should be exchanged through established mechanisms.


India has stopped patrolling in some areas along the LAC. Adequate infrastructure and border outputs have not been set up at many places. This gives the Chinese an added advantage to infiltrate into Indian territory and the BDCA forbids India to follow the Chinese patrol. Each time Chinese intrusion took place, our leaders were in the habit of denying and going further to cover it up saying it was due to “differing perceptions about LAC.”


Strangely the Henderson-Brooks report has wrongly accused then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of initiating “forward policy” to the annoyance of the Chinese that resulted in 1962 war. A foreign journalist who had accessed some portions of the report also echoed the same view. The leaked report has 65 pages missing. The fact is the Nehru government could not build any adequate infrastructure in the border areas along Johnson Line and McMahon Line.


India has not yet understood the Chinese ploy of Sun Tzu – the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. China has been playing this game since 1962 and India has not been able to give a fitting reply, despite having the military potential. The former Chief of Air Staff NAK Browne had rightly said that had Indian Air Force (IAF) been directly involved in the 1962 war, the Chinese could have been pushed back beyond the border. The IAF had been successful in pushing back Pakistani intruders from the Kargil sector.

In 1865, the British rulers sensing likely expansionist plans of then Czarist Russia and the middle kingdom of China drew India’s northern boundary in the Ladakh region with the then independent Tibet which extended beyond the Kuen-Lun (Kunlun) mountains up to Khotan and included the Aksai Chin desert and linked Demchok in the south with the 18,000 feet high Karakorum pass in the north. This is popularly called the Johnson Line drawn by WH Johnson of the Survey of India. It included Shahidulla in far off Karakash valley about 400 km from Leh.


The British declared Tibet as a buffer state. The Johnson line, therefore, became the northern boundary between India and Tibet. In 1907, the British and the Russians came to an agreement to leave Tibet “in that state of isolation from which, till recently, she has shown no intention to depart.”


After the British annexed Assam, mainly the Brahmaputra valley in 1826, they took over the control over the hills in 1886 when an expedition went up the Lohit valley at the far end of today’s Arunachal Pradesh. In September 1911, the British decided that the Outer Line, including the entire tribal belt and Tawang tract, should be the boundary with Tibet-cum-China. This came to be known as McMahon Line. China should wake up to this reality. 

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