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It is good to be good with your neighbour than depend on an uncle 1,000 km away, said a Chinese minister during a meeting with Indian officials a few years ago.
China watchers feel Beijing — keen on not allowing India to come up as a regional superpower and the US piggybacking on Delhi — is keeping the 3,488-km-long border with India busy with incursions and territorial claims.
And for that, Beijing has an extremely effective tool – the absence of an eight-letter word in the draft of the 1993 border peace pact, called the agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquillity on the India-China border – to stop the bickering along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Since the issue, as always, was Chinese claims on Indian territories on the basis of past positions, India tried to prefix the LAC with the eight letters, ‘existing’, in the draft. But Beijing refused and the pact was signed later without the key word.
The background to the pact was the changing world scenario and political realignments following the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
The pact was considered to be crucial as diplomatic relations between the two countries — restored 14 years after the 1962 war —dipped again following the third skirmish between the People’s Liberation Army and the Indian Army in the Sumdorong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh in 1987.
The second skirmish, known as the Chola incident, had occurred in 1967 in Sikkim. After a daylong military conflict following an incursion – since India had a defence pact with Sikkim – the Chinese army left. Sikkim became part of India later in 1975.
Earlier, Beijing also refused to accept the existing McMahon Line, which was drawn up following an agreement in Simla in 1914, although a 1917 postal map of China showed the boundary almost similar to the traditional Indian alignments.
A member of the panel which drew up the 1993 pact and played a role in reclaiming the Sumdorong Chu Valley, said, “Border incursions are a Chinese ploy to keep India on tenterhooks, though they are half as intimidating as other forms of incursions – promoting Maoism from Nepal to Andhra Pradesh and providing weapons to militants.”
The member added that the panel was prepared to wait till China agreed to the word ‘existing’ but the government gave in to Beijing’s border perception based on the positions that existed in 1959 — the year the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet to seek asylum in India.
The Indian political establishment also downplayed the armed forces’ demand that the two countries exchange maps to iron out the possible cartographic mistakes.
It’s not hard to understand Beijing’s one-step-forward-two steps back strategy on the border issue. For, the second part of the proverb was that the uncle might be called Sam.