Mo-Xi’s Border Dilemma

Shailesh Kumar,
New Delhi, 14 May 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to set his foot on Chinese soil in next few hours. He is not novice to China as he has been in China on three occasions earlier including when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. India and China share a disputed border. Chinese forces often transgressed into the Indian territory. With Modi’s maiden visit as PM, all eyes are set on him if India and China could possibly cross diplomatic milestone to solve the border issues. In this backdrop, it is pertinent to understand as what this border dispute actually is?

 April 2014: Chinese intruded and pitched tents into Raki Nala in Daulat Beg Oldie Sector on Aksai China- Ladakh Line of Actual Control just before the Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s India visit.
September 2014: Chinese intruded and pitched 9 tents in Gongkyir area near Nelung Nala in Demchok area. President Xi Jinping was on India visit.

September 2014: Face off between PLA and Indian Army in Chumar Sector in India. At least 1000 PLA soldiers intruded into Indian border. PLA was boldly encountered by Indian Army without firing a bullet.

These were just a few instances of Chinese intrusion and transgressions. Chinese PLA often transgressed into Indian boundary. According to Union Ministry of Home Affairs’ figures, China has transgressed into its boundary for over 1600 times during January 2010 to August 2014. They would often go back but not all the time. Now the question arises as why China resorts to such incursions? Slowly and gradually China has occupied hundreds of Kilometers of Indian territory without firing a bullet.

“China has occupied 3600 square kilometers of Aksai Chin during 1962 war. Chinese PLA has occupied strategic territory deep inside the line agreed upon between Tibet, China and India post 1962 truce”, says Thupstan Chhewang, MP from Ladakh.

The border issue erupted in 1950 when China occupied Tibet. China remained silent from 1950 to 1954. It was in 1954, India – China signed trade agreement, when for the first time China claimed Tibet being part of Chinese territory. There were 6 passes selected in this trade agreement which were in middle sector. The then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru thought that the border issue is settled. In the same year when India signed Panchsheel agreement with China, Jawaharla Nehru coined the slogan “Hindi – Chini Bhai – Bhai”. “But soon after signing the agreement, first intrusion took place in Barahuti area. The indication given that China was not prepared to accept our border alignment”, says Ambassador Ranjit Kalha, who was also the Secretary in Ministry of External Affairs at South Block.

In 1959, Tibetans revolted against China. Chinese suppressed the uprising. Dalai Lama had to run and took shelter in India. Sino- India relations were under dark clouds owing to asylum given to Dalai Lama. In the same year Chinese fired on Indian troops in Longju, Kongka Pass and at places in Western Sector. A few Indian soldiers were killed in these firing incidents. This low intensity conflict blown into full fledged war in October 1962 in Ladakh and across Mc Mahon Line. Chinese soldiers took possession of territories in Aksai Chin. China had intruded fairly deep inside India. All of a sudden China had announced ceasefire on the night of November 20- 21 in 1962 fearing American Air support to Indian forces as India made a call to US on 19 November. Thereafter, the Sino – India border dispute deepened further.

Professor Sujit Dutta, who holds the Gandhi Chair in Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Jamia Millia Islamia University believes “This is not just a border issue. This is way beyond border as 38,000 square kilometer in involved in Ladakh sector and 90,000 kilometer is involved in Arunachal Sector. Thus, this is a big area. It is simply not a border dispute but a territorial issue”

China does not agree to 1914 Shimla Accord between Britain, Tibet and India. India accepts the Mc Mahon line under the agreement but China refuses it claiming that Tibet did not had sovereignty to sign accord. To patch up Sino- India relations, the then External Affairs Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China in 1979. Let aside the talks being fruitful, China had announced war against Vietnam even before Vajpayee could have left Chinese soil. In 1985 China has propagated a new theory. China wanted India to give concession in Eastern Sector and it was ready to reciprocate in Western Sector. But China never specified as how much concession would she need. China instead was adamant that India should consent in principle to its concession theory. “How can anyone expect India to negotiate and be ready to give concession to China without knowing the actual figures in terms of area”, added Ranjit Kalha.

With an intention to thaw the ice fallen between the two countries, the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China. He met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Both agreed to promote bilateral relations without waiting for the boundary settlement. Amid this to maintain peace along the border India and China signed 1993 Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control agreement. Under the agreement both countries agreed to downgrade the number of soldiers along border and be cautious not to cross the boundary of each other. And if crossed, return to their positions after other nation alerts. “There have been intrusions time and again. So to scuttle such unpleasant instances, it is necessary to define the LAC” suggests Sujit Dutta, who insists Modi should move further in this direction while he visits China.

Because of the difference in perception of Line of Actual Control, which is largely not demarcated, soldiers of India and China transgressed into each others’ territory. To resolve the border issue, a Joint Working Group was also formed, which also advocated the early demarcation of boundary between the two giants. “Once both the countries exchanged maps of Ladakh Sector in 2001. However, the Eastern Sector was kept out of purview” informs Sujit Dutta.

Duing the visit of China, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee along with his counterpart Wen Jiabao constituted a Special Representative Group in 2003. The Special Representatives of both the countries carried out 18th rounds of talks without having been successfully resolved the issue. The latest 18thround SR meetings were held in New Delhi about a month back between the National Security Advisor Ajit Dobhal and the State Councilor of China, Yang Jeichi. Chinese Military also represent in the SR meetings but Indian counterpart is missing in SR meetings, points out Dr. Abanti Bhattacharya, who is currently a scholar in Chinese Studies at Delhi University. She was earlier associated with Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis.

“SR meetings were conceived for the political resolution of border dispute but during the India visit of Premier Wen Jiabao, one agreement was signed with China in which it was decided not to disturb the population settlement along the border. This clause has not gone in favour of China. China is avoiding SR meetings to take up the issue politically but now taking SR focused only as trade and economy” informs Abanti.

China has been changing its policies time and again. Now China uses coercive strategy against India. China has started to lure and appease Tibetans living in exile in India, which may create demographic security issues for India in trans-Himalayan region. In 2005, China has suddenly picked up Arunachal Pradesh as an issue.

It is not easy to solve border dispute with China; as the issue becomes complicated being linked with many other issues. Now the Prime Minister after blowing the trumpet world over faces a challenge to align and persuade the Chinese leadership to resolve the issue. Would Mr. Modi be able to get a dignified solution of the border issue?

Actually, China went through nationalism under current from 2005 onwards. To appease the Tibetans, China has played a diplomatic coup. The Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh is very dear to Tibetans owing to its religious fervor. For this reason only, China started addressing Arunachal Pradesh as “Southern Tibet” in their official documents. China has also used the same glass to look through Aksai Chin to appease Tibetans. This has created problems in the negotiations as Arunachal Pradesh is part of India. There is elected Government and in Lok Sabha elections majority of them voted. Now this has turned out to be a practical issue. China also understands that border solution would trigger the drifting of Indian soldiers from Chinese border to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, which may mount pressure on Pakistan, China’s strategic ally in the subcontinent.

“China says that we do not want to resolve Arunachal Pradesh dispute as it is linked with Tibet. And they cite the same reason for Aksai Chin. For this reason only 18 rounds of Special Representative Meetings in last 11 years did not fructify”, says Srikant Kondapalli, a well known expert on Sino- India Affairs and Professor in JNU.

There are about 90,000 registered Tibetans and equal number may have been living without being on paper. China desired Dalai Lama to compromise on autonomy issue and go back to Tibet. China also fears that if the next successor of Dalai Lama happens to be from India then there could germinate a demand for independent Tibet. China has already taken Dalai Lama chosen Panchen Lama into ‘protective custody’. China has created confusion amongst Tibetans, which would finally help serve the Chinese interests at last. And if successor of Dalai Lama is born in China then India will face a trans-Himalayan border security threat, which may become unmanageable.

“Tibetans are getting confused as which Panchen Lama they have to embrace. The China is to exploit this confusion in their favour. But, India is at risk as this may encourage arms transfer, destabilization tendency in trans-Himalayan region”, cautions Srikant Kondapalli, Professor in Chinese Studies in prestigious Jawahar Lal Nehru University.

China has used all sort of policies including one that of repression, suppression, coercion and development too. But it failed to pacify the Tibetans. In last two years alone 140 Tibetans have self immolated in protests against China. India concedes Tibet being part of China. But in Tibet, there is hardly any religious or educational freedom. For the same reason, Tibetans do not want to go back. So the China has resorted to coercion strategy of intrusion against India. “We have to use Tibet card very creatively. We should not loose as this is the only card with us. China has got many cards like the Pak-China nexus, border issue. But we have to understand as how to use this card”, advises Dr. Abanti Bhattacharya.

So Tibet is the root cause of Sino-India border dispute. By the time Tibet issue is resolved, the border dispute will continue. Would Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be able to make a breakthrough during his visit? Would China discuss Dalai Lama or Tibet with PM Modi? Is China adopting a coercive strategy against India because of Tibet? These are some questions need to be answered.
China and India have signed five agreements in view of the border dispute. The latest is the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement signed in October 2013. The agreement sought border patrols of both countries to maintain a distance and discourage them from shadowing each other. China also wants India to sign a new agreement for “Border Code of Conduct”, which would determine the behavior of force along the border.

“These agreements may help in defusing the tension but despite this we have seen an increase in intrusion attempts, which I believe is part of China’s coercion strategy”, say Brigadier (Retd.) Arun Sehgal, a well known Strategist.

Successive agreements do not seem to catapult a final stop into intrusion incidents. Since the border dispute is linked with multiple issues, both countries do not seem near a border resolution at the moment.

India believes that its border stretches from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to Eastern Sector via middle sector. But China does not acknowledge PoK being the part of India. According to Supreme Court of India, while settling boundary dispute if the Government decides to part it’s land with other country then it requires a constitutional amendment. But the present Modi Government does not has majority in Rajya Sabha. On the other hand China claims strategically Arunachal Pradesh. So how would Chinese President face public in China?

“On the one hand you claim to be powerful on the other hand, you have surrendered 90,000 km territory to India. What was in your mind while you surrendered the land, asks Ambassador Ranjit Kalha.  What answer will Chinese President tender to it’s public. Off course there is no democracy in China but public opinion do exist there”, explains ambassador Ranjit Kalha.
The middle sector and Sikkim boundary is settled. Rest of the disputed boundary needs to be delineated and demarcated. “If we have to settle border with China, we have to give and take. We seems to have been prepared to take but what are we prepared to give. We have to understand our case in Western sector is not very strong”, claims Admiral Raja Menon, ex Navy Chief.

India and China both are nuclear powers. Indian armed forces are very strong. India has upper edge in Indian Ocean Region; Whereas, the Chinese economy is the second largest economy of the world. In this backdrop, both countries denied the possibility of any potential war in future. But intrusion is a big issue. To an extent that in presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping in India, PLA has pitched tents in Indian territory in Demchok. In Chumar there was a faceoff between Indian Army and the PLA. When PM Modi raised the issue with Xi Jinping than President Xi feigned ignorance.  Is it possible that PLA make such a drastic move without the knowledge of Xi Jinping, who is also the chairman of Central Military Commission which governs the PLA.

“After going back, Xi has reprimanded PLA and subsequently, we saw force withdrawal. The latest information suggests that large number of senior PLA members including the Deputy Regional Commander of PLA was sacked for disobedience of orders. This may be because of either of two reasons, one PLA was orchestrating and second could be CMC leadership was ignorant”, says Brigadier (Retd) Sehgal.

Nine months after President Xi’s  Delhi visit, Prime Minister Modi embarks on China visit. There he would be meeting President Xi Jinpng again. According to sources the tents still exist at the same place in Demchok. Now the question arises if PM Modi will force Chinese leadership to rule the roost. “Like Narendra Modi has added honour and brought laurels  by visiting other parts in the world, we can expect from him that we will reach to an important decision and why should be leave our claim to Aksai Chin”, claims Thupstan Chhewang, MP from Ladakh.

Because of difference in perception about the line of control, forces transgressed into each other territory. When BJP was in opposition, it used to make hue and cry as why only the Chinese PLA enters into Indian territory and hold Indian soil. Now we have to watch as how Narendra Modi contains the silent march of Chinese PLA.

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