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Himalayan Diplomacy
Menon leaves for China
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 16
Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon left tonight for a crucial visit to China as the two Asian giant neighbours are going to be engaged in Himalayan diplomacy over the next two days.

Menon’s visit will throw up specific dates for the next round of Sino-India Special Representatives level boundary talks, which are to be held in Beijing. During the September 17-18 talks, the two sides will discuss Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China later this year. The Prime Minister may be visiting China in late November or December. Soon thereafter, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi would also be visiting China. She is expected to travel to Beijing early next year.

Menon’s visit comes in the wake of two major US-centric developments involving India which have rattled up the Chinese, the Indo-US nuclear deal and the five-nation military exercises in Indian waters, involving US,

Australia, Japan, Singapore and India. On both the issues, the Left parties of India have shown a red flag to the government and have openly opposed the Indian government in a language that must be music to Chinese ears.

China has lodged a strong protest with India on the military exercises and demanded to know the rationale behind the move. The exercises have come close on the heels of US, Australia, Japan and India declaring their intention to form a Quadrilateral Strategic Forum. Though the four powers have clarified that the forum was not a military block against China, Beijing is not convinced and sees the military exercises as a demonstration of its fears.

On the boundary issue, the two neighbours are going to hold the eleventh round of SR-level talks very soon and National Security Advisor M.K. Naraynan will be leading the Indian delegation to China. The specific dates are likely to be taken out in the next two days.

China claims its only outstanding boundary dispute is with India. However, this contention is not true and is seen to be a ploy to pressure India on the issue.

China still has serious territorial disputes with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, dispute with some of the South-east Asian countries over the ownership of the Spratley group of Islands in the South China sea and some problems with Vietnam. The Sino-Indian boundary dispute involves about 130 thousand sq. km of strategic territory between the two countries.

China had recently reiterated its claim over Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Tawang is very strategically located near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction looking down at the short strip, the Siliguri chicken neck. This is the only land link between the Northeast and the rest of India.

Earlier this year, the new Chinese foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made it clear that Article VII of the agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles, signed during premier Wen Jiabao’s India visit in April 2005, was not acceptable to Beijing. Article VII safeguards ‘the due interest of their settled population in the border areas’. The shift in Chinese position obviously has in its background their claim on Tawang in the Eastern Sector. The Chinese preference is for Article IV, which involves a number of parameters like consideration of each other’s strategic and reasonable interests and the principle of mutual and equal security. Both sides are well aware of the fact that the boundary dispute is not a mere cartographic exercise and it can be resolved politically only.

From China’s point of view, the Tibet question and the presence of the Dalai Lama are very important. For India, the inflow of arms from China’s Yunnan Province to Indian Insurgent Groups in the Northeast is equally important.

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