June 7, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

Chinese Chicken

It is unclear if India is ready to manage the new twists in the negotiations with China

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

With an overly ambitious and revisionist China on the offensive, Brahma Chellaney argues, India needs to discriminate between appeasement and diplomacy.

Sino-Indian negotiations, although rich in symbolism, have yielded little progress for three main reasons. First, China has sought to stretch the talks to keep India under strategic pressure. It has employed negotiations as a diplomatic tool to engage India, not to reach accord. This tactic dovetails with China’s broader strategy to present a friendly face while building up its capabilities to go on the offensive.

Second, China persuaded India in 2003 to shift from the practical task of clarifying the frontline to the abstract mission of developing principles”, concepts” and framework” for an overall border settlement. This shift was intended to release Beijing from its 2001 commitment to exchange maps with India of first the western sector and then of the eastern sector - a pledge it had already breached by missing the mutually agreed deadlines.

Third, India has needlessly retreated to a more and more defensive position, bringing itself under greater Chinese pressure. Rather than gain leverage by adopting a nuanced position on the core issue of Tibet, India continues to be overcautious in its diplomacy, even when Beijing acts antagonistically. New Delhi’s acquiescence to China’s annexation of Tibet has come to haunt it, as Chinese claims on Indian territories are openly predicated on their alleged historical or ecclesiastical links with Tibet. Seeking to territorially extend the gains from its Tibet annexation, Beijing pushes a bald principle: What is ours is ours to keep, but what is yours must be shared with us. [TOI]As recent events suggest, Chellaney is right: China does not see a settlement of the border dispute as being in its interests at this point in time. Yet, breaking off the negotiations—however barren they might be—is not in India’s. What this calls for is for India to signal to the Chinese leadership that not only is the window for settlement unlikely to be open forever, but that China’s actions and posturing will weaken public support for the process. India, in other words, needs to inject a degree of unpredictability in the game. Such a move will not be credible unless China is convinced that India is prepared to suffer its share of any pain that might result.

The question then becomes whether India’s current political leadership can manage to muster the tenacity and determination to see through such a course.



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