When the 18th round of talks between Indian and Chinese special representatives on boundary question took place in New Delhi on March 23, 2015, the first since Narendra Modi government came to power, state councillor Yang Jiechi played an old card to national security adviser Ajit Doval. Parroting an old move by his predecessor Dai Binggou, who headed the dialogue till 2013 for over a decade, Yang put Tawang on the table and said if India would compromise on this Arunachal Pradesh track, Beijing would make similar compromises in the western sector, thus paving a way for a boundary settlement.
It is said Doval told his Chinese counterpart that it was better to permanently close the boundary dialogue for the future rather than for Beijing to raise the issue of Tawang.
What Doval said in blunt terms was no different from what his predecessor, NSA Shiv Shankar Menon, said in a diplomatic fashion. Menon told that India would assume that China was not interested in settling the 3,488 kilometre-Line of Actual Control (LAC) if Tawang was ever brought to the table.
This was in consonance with the 2005 political parameters and guiding principles signed by the two sides with India led by then foreign secretary Shyam Saran. The documents made it clear that settled populations like in Tawang will not be touched in the run up to a final settlement. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second NSA MK Narayanan refused to go back on Tawang and made it clear that only adjustments could be made for boundary resolution.
Dai’s interview to a Chinese publication where he is quoted as saying that if New Delhi takes care of Beijing’s concern on the eastern sector, the Chinese side would respond in kind elsewhere is nothing new, as he had reiterated in his memoir published last year. What should be of concern is that Dai is reiterating the hardline view of the Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), which is currently being cleaned by President Xi Jinping of alleged corrupt generals.
Dai’s interview will further deepen Indian suspicions about China as the latter refuses to budge an inch over any issue raised by New Delhi. Beijing is aggressive in its demands, be it on the “One-China policy”, the status of the Dalai Lama, Taiwan, the South China Sea, Masood Azhar’s designation as terrorist or membership of the UNSC or NSG.
The fact is that the Chinese position on boundary resolution has been shifting depending on Bejing’s convenience and its strategic ambitions.
In 1960, then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai came to New Delhi and conveyed that Bejing would recognise the McMahon line in the eastern sector if India accepted its claims on the western sector. That the Chinese withdrew behind the McMahon demarcation in the eastern sector but stuck to its positions in west after the 1962 border war clearly indicated that Beijing wanted depth for its Tibet-Xinjiang highway (called 219) which was running through Aksai Chin and made in 1950s while Indian intelligence was in the dark.
This Chinese position was articulated by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to G Parthasarthi, Indian ambassador to China, in 1982. There was no question of the Indian side accepting the proposal as the PLA had moved beyond the 1959 line and occupied new positions in Galwan, Pangong Tso, Track junction and Spanggur Gap in the western sector after the 1962 war.
Further the compromise would mean that the boundary would move from Kunlun to Karakoram watershed and pass through Kongka La in Ladakh. The Chinese position changed again in 1985 after the Wangdung incident that led to the Sumdorong Chu stand-off with the Indian Army baring its teeth for the first time in the eastern sector. The Chinese interlocutors during the border talks conveyed that India would have to make concessions on both sides for a boundary settlement as by now the eastern sector had become important for Beijing with Nyingchi city coming up across the Arunachal border and the hardening of the middle kingdom’s control over the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Given the importance of Tawang in the four Buddhist schools in Tibet, particularly the Gelug-pa school to which the 14th Dalai Lama belongs, India cannot even think of giving it up to China. Further it will have to go through a constitutional amendment requiring the nod of two-thirds of Parliament, which will be politically disastrous for the government that moves the proposal.
Even though it’s foolish to assume that the Chinese rulers have a monolithic view when it comes to either foreign policy or the PLA, Dai’s interview shows that nothing has changed in Beijing’s thinking towards India.
When China has gone ahead with an economic corridor through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), it wants India to keep away from Taiwan or Tibet citing the “One China” policy. It is now openly dabbling in Afghanistan to undermine Indian interests with support from Pakistan, Russia and Iran in order to push Taliban towards Kabul.
Dai’s interview has ominous portents for the future of the India-China relationship.