May 28, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

Testing Chinese waters

India finds that China is unwilling to move towards a final settlement of the border dispute. (But let’s leave Taiwan out of it)

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

These days, it appears, official interactions between India and China are getting ever closer. Leaders are visiting each other more frequently, as are foreign ministers. The military establishments are trying to get to know each other better, both socially and professionally. On the other hand, China has continued to bolster Pakistan’s military and nuclear capabilities, while competing with India in and around the subcontinent, and indeed, in various other parts of the world. Officials charged with settling the border dispute negotiating the tourist trail but a solution appears to be elusive.

Given that negotiations have been in progress for several years now, the Indian side would no doubt want to get a sense of how much the overall development in bilateral relations has led to China being ready to move towards the end game of the border negotiations. You can’t simply ask, and China’s newspapers and television channels don’t really offer great insights into the workings of the Chinese leadership, at least not on such matters. So what you might do is employ a screening” device to test the waters. Like including an official from Arunachal Pradesh—an Indian state that China claims as its own—in an official delegation to Beijing. If China reacts with its traditional deliberate irrationalism, you know that there’s a long way to go. And as it turns out, there is indeed a long way to go before India can expect China to want to finally settle the dispute. Keeping India guessing, between direct conflict and abiding settlement, serves its current interests just fine.

India’s reaction to China’s refusal to issue the visa to the official from Arunachal Pradesh was apt. The entire trip was called off. The fact that this is being seen by the public as a demonstration of backbone is an unfortunate indicator of the perception that India has been too willing to bend over backwards to accommodate China’s positions. Yet, lapsing into an overdrive—like raising the bogey of widespread Sinophobia—is uncalled for. If anything, the Indian people have always been on guard against creeping encroachment (pun unintended) by the China, thanks to the popular post-1962 narrative. [See Maverick’s perspective]

Likewise, linking India’s relations with Taiwan to those with China is counterproductive. As two of Asia’s largest economies, there is a case for India to engage Taiwan more deeply in its own right. Doing so requires resolution and clarity of purpose if India is to prevail both over its own diffidence and China’s neurotic reaction. Connecting a Taiwanese politician’s visit to India to China’s granting a visa to an Indian official will unnecessarily complicate matters. India is playing host to Ma Ying-jeou, a charismatic politician from Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang party (that has drawn closer to China in recent years), not in response to the People’s Republic of China’s immigration policy, but because it will be difficult to host him after he wins the presidential elections next year, as he is likely to.

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