More than just a territorial row

Published: November 11, 2017
The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

The writer is a syndicated columnist and a former member of India’s Rajya Sabha

This is a familiar exercise. China resents India’s rule over Arunachal Pradesh. New Delhi, on the other hand, ignores the protests and treats the northeast territory its own. Beijing has been irked by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. The noise was, however, louder when the Dalai Lama went there earlier.

China and India have seldom agreed on where the actual border line lies. Beijing attacked India in 1962 when New Delhi tried to get back its territory. However, this time India showed its muscles with the stand-off at Doklam. China had to withdraw its forces behind the present border. Prime Minister Narendra Modi for BRICS in September after the face-off, did reduce tension.

The positive side of the trip is the reiteration by the two countries to fight against terrorists. But here too Beijing elucidated its own. It has again renewed the proposed UN resolution which sought to put a ban on Azhar Masood. He could not be punished. The friendship of China and Pakistan is only getting stronger to the concern of New Delhi. Not long ago, Beijing had begun stapling visas of Indians visiting Arunachal. China wanted to indicate that it was a “separate territory” not part of India.

New Delhi bore the humiliation quietly. In the past was China had accepted without demur the maps showing Arunachal Pradesh as India’s territory. To recall the dispute is over a small territory lying between Arunachal and China’s border. The status of Arunachal Pradesh has been seldom questioned.

Tibet for China is like India’s Kashmir which too has raised the standard of independence. There is, however, one difference: the Dalai Lama is willing to accept an autonomous status within China. Kashmir today wants independence.

Maybe, the Kashmiris will come round to accept a similar status one day. The problem is so complicated that a minor change can lead to a major catastrophe. It is not worth risking.

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh has brought back the memories of the days before the Chinese annexed Tibet. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, did not raise any objection at that time because he was on personal terms with Chinese Premier Chu-En Lai.

The Dalai Lama’s visit may not have raised doubts about Tibet but it renewed the debate of its annexation by Beijing once again. China called his visit a “provocation”. Its warning to India that the Dalai Lama’s visit would affect the normal relations between the two countries. It intensified with Doklam. Yet, India managed to hold its own.

In fact, China’s problems with India have roots in the British demarcation of the India-China border. China refuses to acknowledge the McMahon Line that demarcates Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of India. Any activity that takes place in this area is viewed by China skeptically.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to the “disputed’’ territory despite Chinese protest showed that New Delhi was prepared for hostilities if it comes to that pass. Then the Indian soldiers did not have shoes for a mountain combat. India is now a power to reckon with.

It looks as if China would go on provoking India to exhaust patience. When war is ruled out this is the only option China has. How to retaliate, without resorting to hostilities is the situation India faces.

Beijing is trying to revive the India-China Bhai Bhai scenario. New Delhi cannot trust Beijing, particularly when it is trying to encircle India. China has given a big loan to Nepal. The port which Sri Lanka is building is at the behest of China.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is happy that China is trying to placate her. All should realise that India is no pushover now. Apart from war, India has many options. Taiwan is a trump card. It can revive the debate on two Chinas.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th, 2017.

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