Negotiating with China requires art and not policy. The style and tactics require a corresponding understanding that is often missing from the Indian side. Dealing with China does not require supporters or critics, but a set of complex internal deliberations derived through various tracks.
President Hu Jintao’s forthcoming visit assumes significance on many fronts. First, it marks a new comfort level between Beijing and New Delhi. Second, the visit will test how ‘hard’ the UPA’s so-called ‘soft’ policy is and whether the ‘borders-cannot-be-altered’ policy for Pakistan will be applied to China as well. Third, Hu comes to Delhi after strengthening security and infrastructure (railway) along the Himalayan frontier. Fourth, he is visiting India after gaining full control at home.
Hu will first review China’s relationship with India in the changed strategic and international context — how to trim the potential impact of the growing US-India strategic nexus being of prime importance. In the past, Beijing applied its ‘Mutual Understanding’ principle to adjust borders with neighbours (Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mongolia). Beijing’s post-Cold War terms ‘Mutual Understanding’ and ‘Mutual Benefit’ were coined against the backdrop of the Soviet collapse, Nato expansion, the Theatre Missile Defence, while the lingering boundary disputes with former Soviet republics were resolved in the interest of securing energy, of weapons procurement, of anti-terrorism policies and entry into the WTO. Only in the case of Vietnam did Beijing opt for a ‘provisional agreement’ while using the term “normalise relations first”. Importantly, Beijing withdrew Deng Xiaoping’s ‘package deal’ with India based on ‘Mutual Understanding, Mutual Accommodation and Mutual Adjustment’ principle soon after the Soviet collapse.
The 2005 Sino-Indian Strategic and Cooperative Partnership (SCP) also called for ‘Democratisation of International Relations and Multilateralism’, a euphemism for countering US unilateralism. Beijing remains wary of the Indo-US nuclear deal and doubts its success. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury’s assertion for converting Sino-Indian ‘Strategic Cooperation’ into a complete ‘Strategic Partnership’, and assuring not to let India become a party to the US containment of China, is important in this context.
The SCP puts under wraps contentious issues (from the Indian point of view) but adequately serves to address Beijing’s worries. The SCP neither seeks to dilute the Sino-Pakistani strategic nexus nor reduce China’s growing presence in India’s neighbourhood. It does not offer obligatory specifics on terrorism either. In the Sino-Russian context, for example, the two sides show full conformity on supporting each other on terrorism — China on Chechnya and Russia on Xinjiang and Taiwan. India’s belief in the ‘One China’ policy receives no Chinese reciprocity. Beijing does not recognise terrorism in Kashmir, let alone conceding Kashmir as India’s ‘integral part’. China has also not foreclosed the option of subversion in India’s North-east.
China’s strategic goal remains focused on maximising entry into India’s economic and market space. In the run-up to Hu’s visit, the Chinese are pressing for the removal of protectionism against Chinese FDI and visa restrictions for their employees in India. Beijing has raised this to elicit a response, anticipating India restricting Chinese participation in critical Indian defence-related infrastructure projects. Hu may reiterate a larger Indian role in world affairs but will not commit to India’s entry into the United Nations Security Council. Beijing remains wary about India’s naval modernisation and doubts its ‘nexus’ with the US on Tibet.
Beijing’s hardening of its position on Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, followed by frequent transgressions and intrusions there has persisted since the sixth Joint Working Group-level talks. Their historical and sentimental claims over Tawang can only get heightened once a settlement is reached with the Dalai Lama. Correspondingly, India will have to go for a diversionary move should the negotiation prolong further. Pressures will inevitably mount from J&K for the hitherto buried issue of reclaiming the ownership of Minser Enclave that lies deep inside Tibetan territory on the bank of Mount Kailash. Minser was part of Ladakh since the 1684 Treaty of Temisgang signed between Tibet and Ladakh. Since then and during subsequent Dogra rule, British India rule and up to Independence, it remained under India’s sovereignty. Minser became a forgotten case due to New Delhi’s apathy and it deserves a revisit before the final boundary settlement. A forward position for opening the Demchok route to Kailash is also essential.
A cue from recent Sino-Russian negotiations is noteworthy. Moscow avoided the euphoria of interdependence, conceded where it saw benefits, rejected where it saw potential threats, sought conformity on terrorism, curbed energy supplies after having entered a fast track economic partnership, insisted boundary demarcation as a pre-condition to promote SCP and rejected a free-trade zone in Eurasia. China conceded, for securing energy needs, and proceeded on a ‘peaceful rise of China’ campaign.
Is India ready for China’s tough talk? Will it gain something substantive this time? We’ll see.
P Stobdan is Director, Strategic and Regional Studies (CSRS), University of Jammu.