M A I N   N E W S

Border talks with China yield little
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 12
The four rounds of Special Representatives-level talks so far on the boundary dispute between India and China do not appear to have had a breakthrough or a headstart the way the bilateral trade between the two countries has had.

China has adopted shifting positions on the border issue, enunciating principles but not explaining them. This deliberate opacity and springing surprises are typical of Chinese negotiating tactics to keep the interlocutor in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

The NDA government under Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee had taken Sino-Indian relations to a new level and raised the talks to the political level. But there was a major weakness in their negotiating approach, analysts say. There was an urgency to conclude an agreement and hence pay a price by conceding strategic territory in the Easter sector.

At that time, some Indian intellectuals were also selling the idea that it would be better to conclude a boundary agreement now at some cost, or India would have to pay more dearly later to a much stronger China. That India was also growing stronger was totally lost sight of.

A brief review of the Sino-Soviet/Russia border negotiations could suggest some lessons. Here also China laid maximalist claims stating that a strong Russian empire had forced unequal treaties on a weak China, very similar to Chinese claims that British India had nibbled at Chinese territory, and that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had built upon the British policy.

Between 1982 to 1989 there were 12 rounds of political level talks between China and the Soviet Union. Then only substantive talks started. The main treaty was signed with a weak Russia, and both Mr Mikhail Gorbachev and Mr Boris Yeltsin gave in to the Chinese pressures.

In the Indian context, China is ready for an early settlement of the border dispute if India concedes strategic territory. That is why the Chinese have come up with a new principle of “substantive adjustment” along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the eastern sector.

China’s claim along the LAC are growing, and hence the reluctance to exchange maps on western and eastern sectors. There also appears to be a return to the Arunachal Pradesh issue in the official Chinese writings.

In the latest issue of international review, Mr Zhao Gancheng, Director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, has raised a new point while discussing Sino-India relations. He says that if the South-East border of Tibet is no more than the LAC in the eastern sector, it would mean recognising the legitimacy of Arunachal Pradesh, which is difficult for China to accept. It is a known fact among the Sinologists that Professor Zhao writes with authority as part of the Chinese establishment.

In the context of the China-India territorial and boundary issue, two points are coming out clearly. Quoting Mao Zedong, it is being said “territory is a flesh and blood issue”. And, referring to 1962 border war, China has reiterated that had not India been taught a lesson, the border would not have been peaceful for so many years. The conclusion is obvious.

It appears the border issue is in for a long haul. China has a distrust of India in real geo-politics.

This involves the status, power, role and ambition of each country. China does not want India as an equal partner, and without equality it is difficult to resolve sensitive territorial issues.

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