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Deal with the Dragon better

Deal with the Dragon better

India’s relation with China hit a new low when China renamed six places in Arunachal Pradesh, which it refers to as South Tibet. India has objected to the renaming of Indian territory by China and asserted that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India.

China’s move came after Dalai Lama’s recent Arunachal Pradesh visit, to which China has strongly protested. To placate China, India said that the visit was purely religious and apolitical.

Mincing No Words
However, once he reached Tawang, the frontier town of West Kameng region of Arunachal Pradesh, the Dalai Lama alleged that the Chinese government had unleashed inhuman torture on the peaceful Tibetans in Tibet and compared China with the Pol Pot regime of Cambodia, which killed millions of Cambodians.

In an interview with John Oliver’s show ‘Last Week Tonight’ on HBO before his Arunachal visit, criticising China the Dalai Lama said, “Our brain has the ability to create common sense. The Chinese hard-liners … that part of the brain is missing.” Such harsh criticism from the Dalai Lama angered China. Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu’s remark that India shares boundary only with Tibet and not with China further rubbed it in.

The Dalai Lama has visited Arunachal six times since 1983 to 2009. China protested every time but the Chinese reaction this time was much stronger. Political analysts point to several factors that evoked the Chinese fury.

Going Downhill
The Indo-Chinese relation received a big jolt when Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Lobsang Sangay, Prime Minister of Tibetan Government-in-Exile, to his swearing-in ceremony in 2014.

In 2015, China started construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $62 billion trans-border economic infrastructure with modern transportation network, energy projects and special economic zones, a part of which would go through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

India has raised its concerns on certain sections of the CPEC. China, however, allayed the Indian concerns by saying that the CPEC has no links with any political or boundary issue like the Kashmir dispute. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on April 18 asked India to participate in the CPEC, which is a part of China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road project.

Despite support from the US and some of its allies for entry of India in the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), China had blocked India’s entry showing the rulebook and citing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a pre-requisite.

China also twice blocked India’s bid to get Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) Masood Azhar — declared as a UN designated terrorist in the UN Security Council (UNSC). China has defended its action in the UNSC. In a veiled reference to India, China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong commented that there should be no double standards on counter-terrorism, nor should one pursue political gain in the name of counter-terrorism.

China’s Claim
Notwithstanding China’s claim of entire Arunachal Pradesh, especially on Tawang and Kameng region as a disputed area, China has never tried to occupy this territory. During the Sino- Indian war of 1962, Tawang and Kameng region fell briefly under the Chinese control.

Even Tezpur, a historic town of Assam and the gateway to Tawang, was under Chinese occupation for a few weeks. But, China voluntarily withdrew its troops at the end of the war and these areas returned to the Indian administration. But China has not relinquished its claims on most of Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang.

Border Bonhomie
Now near Bum La, ‘a heap of stone’ demarcates the territory of the two countries. The troops of both the countries meet near this point where they have their own huts and celebrate India’s Independence Day and Diwali by exchanging pleasantries. Armies of both the countries also celebrate the Chinese National Day on October 1 as well as Indian Independence Day on August 15 at Kibithu, a border town in Anjaw district.

China had earlier hinted that it may relinquish its claim over Arunachal Pradesh in exchange for the disputed western border Aksai Chin, which is controlled by China’s Xinjiang autonomous region. This implies that they are more interested in the western border than the southern part below the McMahon Line.

The Shimla Accord, which defined the McMahon line was signed in 1914 between British India and the Tibet government. Tibet relinquished Tawang and adjacent several square kilometres of the area under the treaty to the British. Tibet became a part of newly-established People’s Republic of China (PRC) following the signing of a 17-point accord between the government of Tibet and PRC.

Respond Responsibly
The geopolitics in Asian continent is changing with diminishing influence of the US, China’s increasing influence in south central and west Asia and rising influence of China-Russia-Pakistan axis in South Asia.

India must rejig its diplomatic policy to respond to the new alignment of the international forces. India’s strained relations with China, Nepal and Pakistan cannot be compensated with its apparently improved relations with Bangladesh alone.

It is evident from various speeches of the Dalai Lama that he himself has lost hope of an independent Tibet. His greatest dilemma is on the reincarnation issue, which he has failed to resolve.

Since India has officially recognised Tibet as an integral part of China and China’s ‘One China’ policy, it should not encourage any activity that undermines that policy. India’s current foreign policy and its diplomatic engagement with neighbouring countries must be redefined to derive maximum strategic dividend, for provocative and divisive internal policies may be beneficial within the country but foreign and diplomatic policies need a different pragmatic approach altogether.

(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)

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