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Atal?s kowtow in China

A reality check on Vajpayee's China visit is needed because of the hype. No breakthrough has been achieved or claimed on the core issues, writes Brahma Chellaney.

india Updated: Nov 06, 2003 21:44 IST
Brahma Chellaney
Brahma Chellaney

A reality check on Vajpayee's China visit is needed because of the hype.

First, no breakthrough has been achieved or claimed on the core issues. China has neither agreed to present maps of its version of the full line of control nor has it pledged to forswear further WMD transfers to Pakistan or stop strengthening its flank against India via Myanmar.

Second, in the absence of political progress, India has settled for window-dressing to showcase the visit.

Third, such is the uneasy state of relations that the visit has centred not on substance but on defining mere principles on how to move ahead. And that the last-minute accords on general principles and Sikkim-Tibet border trade were sealed entirely because of Indian concessions.

What made the Vajpayee team change its mind after reaching Beijing? Not only did it forget that reciprocity is fundamental to diplomacy, it also agreed to part with whatever leverage India had been left with. Consider Vajpayee's following kowtows:

Kowtow 1: Nehru's 1954 mistake to accept Tibet as a part of China was diluted by subsequent governments, which consistently held that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), as China calls it since 1965, is an "autonomous" region of China. Now, instead of further leveraging India's stand on Tibet, Vajpayee has flatly accepted TAR as "part of the territory of the People's Republic of China", delighting Beijing. In justification, Vajpayee's spindoctors have cited Nehru's very sin that all other PMs sought to correct.

Return: India got nothing in return. In fact, having made India forfeit its remaining leverage, China is less likely to accept Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and J&K as parts of India. A smarter India would have used its stand to leverage Tibet with J&K, and Taiwan with Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Kowtow 2: China's long-standing demand for opening the ancient Sikkim-Tibet trade route — resisted by previous governments — was conceded. This trade route was used to supply Chinese troops invading India in 1962 and will now aid Chinese military logistics in TAR.

Return: Beijing has denied this new route signifies de facto Chinese recognition of Sikkim's merger with India. Having got what it wanted, why would China stop showing Sikkim as independent? India first handed China a card by building up Sikkim as a major issue and then meekly settled for no formal recognition.

Kowtow 3: Bailing out China from its reluctance to map the line of control, Vajpayee has agreed to Beijing's diversionary proposal to "explore" anew the framework of a border settlement. This alleged new "political" exploration would be led at the same Chinese level as the protracted, 22-year border talks-vice foreign minister.

Return: Nothing. India has been waiting since Chou En-lai's 1954 "forget-the- Kuomintang-maps" statement for the Chinese version of the Indo-Tibetan frontier. Instead, India has had to bear with shifting Chinese claims designed to keep it under military pressure.

First Published: Nov 06, 2003 21:44 IST