Fencing with the dragon
China seems keen on continuing its political checkers with India. Why else should the Chinese leadership disapprove of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh? Beijing lodged a verbal protest over the visit, during which Mr Singh described Arunachal as “our land of the rising sun”. New Delhi’s reaction to this latest Chinese frown has been uncharacteristically sharp, as External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee asserted that “Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part” of India, and that “the PM can visit any part of the country”.
This is a welcome change from the past, reflecting a measure of self-assurance seldom seen in South Block. In a sense, New Delhi has only itself to blame for looking over its shoulder every time it mentioned Arunachal, fearful of allowing the Sino-Indian boundary question to overshadow the narrow meeting ground between the two countries on various confidence-building measures. Till Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to India in 2006, Beijing routinely used to refer to Arunachal as Chinese territory. The latest protest suggests China is in no mood to change its stand and wants to use its claim on Arunachal as a bargaining chip in the border talks. Although Beijing gave up its territorial claim over Sikkim in 2003, it still subscribes to its longstanding view that a large swathe of Arunachal is actually Chinese real estate. The McMahon Line — an imaginary border that is now considered the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — separates India’s 650-mile unfenced border between Arunachal and China. The absence of maps from the inscrutable Chinese delineating their version of the LAC is a major sticking point in the boundary talks.
So it is high time India insisted on Beijing producing these maps — unless, of course, Beijing doesn’t really want a border settlement. In which case, perhaps, Mr Singh should have spent some time in Tawang — the strategic corridor between Lhasa and the Assam valley, where several Indian soldiers died during the 1962 Sino-Indian war — as well. For that would have emphasised, unequivocally, Arunachal’s status as an integral part of India.