Days before the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao, its Ambassador to India has said that his nation wants the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh even as the joint working group (JWG) scheduled November 9-10 was called off because of other disagreements. While China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations Professor Ma Jiali said that Tawang should be part of China, Chinese Ambassador Sun Yuxi said that all of Arunachal Pradesh should. In New Delhi, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee angrily rejected these Chinese comments and claims saying that the state is an integral part of India.
India says that China occupies 38000 square kilometers (sqkms) in mainly in Akasi Chin, illegally ceded to it by Pakistan, and another 90,000 sqkms in the East. Another 5,180 sqkms under Pakistani control in Northern Areas of Kashmir was also illegally ceded by Pakistan to China which Beijing refuses to even acknowledge. While India wants China to give up its claim on Arunachal Pradesh and Mount Kailash along with Manasarovar in Tibet for religious reasons, China wants India to accept the illegal transfer of Akasi Chin.
According to academics, Chinese control of Akasi Chin is important for Chinese control over Tibet and a quick access to Xinjiang while Indian control of the Southern slope in Arunachal Pradesh is important to its defense of the North East. While Akasi Chin by itself is not of great value to India it does serve as a buffer between India and China and access to Ladakh. China claims Tawang because of a Tibetan influenced Buddhist Monastery in 1681 and the administration of the area by Tibet since 1681. In 1913-14, British Administrator Sir Henry McMahon negotiated with Tibetan authorities to cede Tawang and other Tibetan areas to British India along a 550 kilometer border which thus became to be called the McMahon Line. In 1951, the Indian Army assumed control over this area in response to Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 and was not claimed by China till 1962 border war. Besides, since the 1962 war, the population, mostly belonging to the Monpa tribe and some Tibetan families, has repeatedly expressed their desire to stay with India because of Chinese brutal suppression of Buddhism and repressive measures in Tibet. Since 1962, Arunachal Pradesh was administered as the North East Frontier Agency until 1972 when it became a union territory. In November 1986, it was given a full state status after taking into consideration the security situation in the east and Sino-Indian tensions.
After the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to set up a Government in exile in India in 1959, China demanded that India hand over the Dalai Lama to its ruthless Army. The refusal by India coupled by a idealistic approach to war by Indian leaders led to a tactical victory for the poorly armed and trained Chinese army against a better trained but inferiorly prepared and badly planned Indian Army. While the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took the blame for his brash “forward policy” and for the defeat, it was his incompetent Defense Minister V.K. Menon who is seen by many as responsible.
Despite China being India’s third largest trading partner after the US and United Arab Emirates (UAE) at USD 18 billion and 8 rounds of discussion between 1981 and 1988 followed by 15 joint working group meetings between 1988 and 2005 besides six rounds of meetings between the special representatives from 2003 to 2006, the border dispute seems to hog all attention. China has shown goodwill in many respects but also remained two-faced in others. It released all prisoners of war in 1962 unconditionally, unilaterally withdrew its forces to the Line of Actual Control, and also seems to recognize Sikkim as part of India. However, its covert support to Pakistan supplying it with military and nuclear weapons, its own “forward policy” of naval bases in the Indian Ocean and one in the Bay of Bengal, its lack of support for Indo-US civilian nuclear deal while proposing a nuclear deal for Pakistan, are all inconsistent with its public position of wanting to improve ties with India. For these reasons, India is retaining several cards that it may use as leverage such as the non-recognition of Tibet (which is an emotional international issue), non-isolation of Taiwan, and bar on foreign direct investment (FDI) from China, and Honk Kong, and restrictions on trade.
The question is why are two prominent experts on Indo-Sino relations raising this issue only days before Jintao’s historic visit? Unlike India, China is big on symbolism and does not send messages unless it meant something. Yet, the foreign ministry in Beijing has refused to openly support these controversial assertions only to say that “An early solution to the border issue between China and India is the strategic goal of the two sides.” Jintao himself talked about turning a “new leaf” in bilateral relations and seems eager to want better relations.
One explanation is that Yuxi was parroting the traditional line while Chinese interlocutors had for a long time dropped demands to the whole state and instead focusing only on Tawang—Even Jiali referred only to Tawang. Another is that Yuxi is probably raising the pitch of argument to gain leverage points on FDI, trade concessions, and also force a solution to the border dispute. Yet another advanced by Arunachal Pradesh Governor S K Singh, a former foreign secretary, is that Yuxi’s attitude was arrogant that the Chinese had done this before—Yuxi’s recent lobbying on FDI and trade and division of Indian polity by courting the communist parties and media are excellent examples of such aggressive methods to work the system.
No matter what the reasoning is, there is no question on India ceding Arunachal Pradesh or any part of it. At the same time, this should not become a barrier to continue with trade and peace talks with Beijing. In fact, a more intense engagement with China on non-border issues is required.