Beijing is likely to hit back over the Tawang move
This could be through PLA incursions across the line of actual control, raising the Kashmir issue in the UN, arming Pakistani military with Russian made weapons or even using the Gwadar or Hambantota port in Sri Lanka for rest and recreation of PLA Navy’s nuclear submarines.analysis Updated: Apr 19, 2017 09:31 IST
In basketball parlance, a full-court press is an aggressive tactic where the team members cover their opponents throughout the court and not merely contest them in a region or area near their own basket. If this term is extrapolated to diplomacy, then it aptly describes China’s play towards India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over in 2014. Apart from the fact that the resolution of the 3,488 kilometre border has not moved an inch, China has gone out of the way to provoke India by going ahead with the $ 46 billion corridor through Pakistan- occupied Kashmir (PoK) to Gwadar port in Balochistan. It has consistently blocked India’s membership to Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and vetoed all attempts by the UN to designate the emir of the proscribed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.
If all this was not enough, Chinese foreign ministry spokespersons and state-controlled media have hyper-ventilated over the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh this week. Declaring a verbal war over this move, Chinese spokespersons have threatened India with intervention in Kashmir and negative impact on the frozen border dispute resolution. They have questioned India’s commitment to the Tibetan question using the Dalai Lama’s Tawang visit and have even inexplicably downgraded its representation in a trilateral meeting between the Indian, Russian and Chinese defence ministers later this month.
It is not that India is not concerned about the disproportionate responses from Beijing and believes that China will retaliate over the Tawang visit, just to set an example to other countries in the region still not willing to toe the Xi Jinping or Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) line. Even though China covets the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet, it is more worried about the role of the Tawang monastery—where the sixth Dalai Lama was born—in the future of the institution of the Dalai Lama after the biological life of the 14th incarnation.
While China feels that India deliberately provoked it by allowing Dalai Lama to visit Tawang despite protestations, the fact is that the first shot came from Beijing itself. Former Special Envoy to the India-China boundary resolution, Dai Bigguo went on record saying that Beijing would be willing to compromise on the border dispute if India was flexible on the Tawang question. Simply put, Dai said that China would be flexible to Indian claims in middle (Barahoti Plains) and western (Aksai Chin) sector if Tawang was handed over to Beijing. Faced with a comment from a responsible member of the Chinese Communist Party, the Modi government would be foolish not to allow Dalai Lama to visit Tawang or else risk a question mark on India’s just claims on Arunachal Pradesh. While the Dalai Lama requires government permission to move out of his seat at Dharamsala, it would have put India’s claim on Tawang in jeopardy if the Modi government allowed his holiness for instance to visit Bengaluru but not Tawang or Arunachal Pradesh.
This is not the first time that the 14th Dalai Lama was visiting Arunachal Pradesh. He has been in the state six times between 1983-2009. It is not difficult to fathom that all this Chinese diplomatic orchestration was to test the will of the Modi government as even their junior diplomats have had the temerity to question the Indian defence minister in the previous UPA regime. Given China’s aspirations to global power, it is certain that Beijing will avenge the Tawang move as it sees this as a challenge to its might. This could be through PLA incursions across the line of actual control, raising the Kashmir issue in the UN, arming Pakistani military with Russian made weapons or even using the Gwadar or Hambantota port in Sri Lanka for rest and recreation of PLA Navy’s nuclear submarines.
President Xi Jinping should not fall into the trap of retribution as India has not contested the rise of China. It is merely emphasising its own strategic limits. Both Prime Minister Modi and President Xi need to directly talk and support each other’s core concerns as there is an urgent need to de-escalate the bilateral tensions. As far as the Tawang question goes, the last word belongs to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. He told his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi during boundary talks that just because his grandfather used to make the Mansarover pilgrimage without a passport in the past, India cannot lay claim to all of Tibet.