Ambassadors are supposed to be discreet and tactful, especially when they are dealing with countries with which their countries have significant problems. The representative of the People’s Republic of China in India, Sun Yuxi, was neither when he made the claim in the course of a television interview that Arunachal Pradesh belongs to his country. The Chinese official spokesperson’s claim that Beijing had not seen Mr Sun’s interview is as clear an indicator as any that it is not particularly happy with its ambassador’s statement.
While Mr Sun was factually correct — in line with the fact that the Chinese dispute their entire border with India and have large territorial claims — he could have handled the question in a subtler manner. He should have realised that such a statement would needlessly roil the atmosphere between the two countries a week ahead of the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao. Both India and China have been making a great deal of effort to resolve the dispute over their 4,056-km border. Last year, the special representatives of the two sides signed an agreement on the parameters and guiding principles for settling the border question. Article VII of the agreement noted that the two sides shall “safeguard due interests of their settled population in border areas”. This was as clear a hint as possible that the Chinese would not rake up the issue of Arunachal Pradesh needlessly.
There is perhaps also a hint of asperity in Mr Sun’s remarks, coming as they do after some controversy over Chinese investments in India and the alleged Indian slowness in providing visas to Chinese businessmen. However, the job of the ambassador is to snuff out any sparks, instead of adding fuel to the fire. As it is, there is disquiet in New Delhi and other world capitals over the proposed nuclear agreement that President Hu plans to sign with Pakistan. While the Chinese have been irresponsible in proliferating WMDs in Pakistan, there were expectations that after the A.Q. Khan scandal there would be some sense of responsibility in Beijing. It seems that this is not the case. If so, it does not bode well for relations between the two Asian giants.