Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Soothing words and provocative actions

Less than two months ago it was all handshakes and smiles. Chinese President Xi Jinping, on a state visit to India, said he was committed to resolving the border dispute between the two countries “at an early date”.

“China has the determination to work with India through friendly consultation to settle the boundary question,” he told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Seven weeks later it is now clear that on the border question at least Xi brought nothing to New Delhi except empty words. Chinese incursions and provocations have continued, both on the borders with Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

China has sent troops by boat and land well across the Line of Actual Control (LOC), which serves as an unofficial border, in the Pangong Lake area of Jammu and Kashmir and has reacted angrily to Indian plans to build border posts along the LOC in Arunachal Pradesh.

In response to the latter initiative Beijing once again mouthed the usual slogans. “China’s position on the China-India boundary question is consistent and clear. We are committed to finding a solution to the boundary question with the Indian side through friendly negotiation as soon as possible and working together to safeguard peace and tranquillity along the border,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

China’s position is anything but consistent and clear: A mixture of soothing words and provocative actions. Modi obviously has little faith in any negotiated settlement over a dispute which has dragged on since the 1962 war between the two countries and indeed goes back to an agreement signed between the British Raj and the then Government of Tibet a century ago.

In announcing the new border posts, the Indian Prime Minister also called for a considerable strengthening of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) which guards the frontier.

Indeed it is believed that a beefed-up and more aggressive ITBP faced down the latest Chinese incursions on Pangong Lake.

It is quite clear that by an overwhelming majority the inhabitants of Arunachal Pradesh regard themselves as Indian and would prefer to be sending their elected representatives to the State capital in Itanagar and the Lok Sabha in New Delhi than having to obey diktats from far-off Beijing.

A settlement there and in Jammu and Kashmir can never be reached in the face of constant flare-ups and heightened tensions.

The thinking among some Indian observers is that Beijing wants nothing more than complete annexation of the disputed territories and is simply dragging things out until it can find an Indian Government it can bully into acceding to its demands.

With the Modi Government at least, that is a forlorn hope.  

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