China’s decision to deny a visa to an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from Arunachal Pradesh should not come as a surprise, though it is regrettable. India and China not only contest land borders, but have major territorial disputes with each other. Beijing denies the validity of the McMahon Line that India says forms the border in the east. China also claims all of Arunachal Pradesh as its own. New Delhi says that China is illegally occupying large chunks of Indian territory in Aksai Chin and other areas of Jammu and Kashmir. However, it is also a fact that both sides are making efforts to resolve their dispute through a process of dialogue and discussion. After decades of sterile talks, the process has been handed over to two top-level Special Representatives who have been carrying out behind-the-scenes talks for the past four years. India’s political relations with China are fairly sound and the two countries have a burgeoning economic relationship.
This is why we find the Chinese action in denying the visa disappointing and over-the-top. When both sides have put in place an intricate set of confidence-building measures to reduce tension on the borders and improve relations across-the-board, the grant of the visa should not have been a major issue. It is true that the Chinese tend to be legalistic on these matters, but they are also famously pragmatic when required. For example, some years ago, before China formally recognised Sikkim as a part of India, it suggested that the trade route could be opened anyway if the customs formalities could be conducted at Kalimpong in West Bengal, rather than Nathu La in the state. But then, of course, such trade happens to be of great benefit to China.
The denial of the visa to the officer has led to the government of India to call off the visit of the 107-member delegation of IAS officers to China. Such a tour would have been extremely beneficial to our bureaucrats because they would have, like almost all other visitors to China, come away with a powerful impression of its achievements. In addition, interaction with their Chinese counterparts would have been an invaluable experience for both sides and been yet another factor aiding the steady improvement of Sino-Indian relations.