Opinion / Analysis

Shrouded in Mystery: Indo-China Border Issues

Naorem Bhagat Singh

After the 17th Chinese Communist Party Congress National Meeting 2007, China started focusing on South Asia, specifically India. Both have been favorably disposed towards multilateralism, with India joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as an observer, while China joining SAARC summit in April 2008, also as an observer. Besides, people to people diplomacy expanded with mutual tourist visits.

While largely symbolic in nature, the “Hand in Hand” (HiH) Sino-Indian combat drill launched at Kunming in China in December 2007 was a major confidence building measure between two Asian countries. The second HiH at the Belgaum, Commando School in Karnataka took place in December 2008 with the pledge that it would be a regular feature to boost ties between the world’s largest and third largest armies. But, suddenly in the third HiH, to be held at Maground (China) was cancelled.Incidentally, China’s massive build up of infrastructure along the 4057 km LAC (Line of Actual Control) has the potential of swiftly massing troops at the border for offensive operation against India.

Chinese objectives include developing strategic missile and space-based assets and of rapidly entrancing its blue-water navy to conduct operations in distance waters. It also included infrastructure, reconnaissance and surveillance, quick response and operational capabilities in the border areas. These steps will have an effect on the overall military environment in the neighborhood of India.

On the Indian side of the border, the army has been increasing and upgrading its presence in the region to place two army divisions, each comprising around 25,000 to 30,000 personnel as also squadron of frontline Sukhoi Su-30MKI, combat jets at a key airbase in North-east India. India has also been pursuing closer relations with the United States, something that worries China. China also has a large number of standing army according to official figures and defense industry estimates.

Today, Chinese power is manifested in the entire three sectors, like in western (Ladakh), middle (Uttarakhand and Himachal), and eastern (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) of the LAC. Chinese embassy has been issuing separate visas for Indian passport holders from Jammu and Kashmir on a separate sheet of paper and stamping them, illegally. They also have given stapled visas earlier to resident of Arunachal Pradesh, over which China claims its sovereignty. It is the large interface of border issues which will have to be settled, so that peace and tranquility on Indo-China border is maintained.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said in September this year that the two countries have to face off at multilateral forums, including Chinese’s objection to a 60 million dollars Asian Development Bank loan for the Watershed Management Project (WMP) in Arunachal Pradesh. As per China’s claim, the Tawang region in Arunachal Pradesh which was the birth place of the sixth Dalai Lama, has to be returned to China. In September 2009, two jawans of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), were injured in bullets fired from the Chinese side. This firing in the area indentified as Kerang in northern Sikkim took place recently but has been kept under wraps. It was confirmed by highly-placed intelligence source which was not authorized to give information to media. The ITBP officials at its headquarters in New Delhi declined to confirm the incident.

Over the last year, Beijing has protested the visits by Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil, to Arunachal Pradesh to reassert its territorial claim over the state. China accuses New Delhi of occupying some 90,000 sq km of Chinese territory most of it located in Arunachal Pradesh. But this was quickly rejected by New Delhi making it clear that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. According to Army sources, there is PLA (People Liberation Army) build-up across the border, but what worries the Indian top brass is the definite edge the Chinese have in terms of infrastructure, particularly road communication. Because of this, they can move reinforcements to the LAC at a short notice, which is difficult for India. Asaphila, the last road on the Indian side end, is 50 km away from the LAC.

One prominent political leader from Arunachal Pradesh, former M.P. Kiren Rijiju, has been vocal against the Indian policy of not developing infrastructure. Western Arunachal Pradesh M.P. Takan Sanjay also said that due to Chinese incursions, the local people felt unsafe. People of Arunachal Pradesh do not want to face 1962 war all over again.

Thus, it shows that the present tenuous relations between India and China can create serious problems in the future. But in media and newspapers, one finds that leaders of both sides continue to have friendly bilateral relationship amongst them. In international affairs, the two sides have maintained effective cooperation and coordination within the framework of the China India-Russia Trilateral mechanism, the G-20 and other forums. Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, on his part, stated that the Indian government would give top priority to its relations with China and there is enough room for two countries to achieve development. Indian leaders should concentrate in solving vexed issues between China and India for the sake of their own citizens.

Author Note
Naorem Bhagat Singh, Research Scholar, Department of Political Science Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.