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Comment: China's Denial of Visa to the Indian General: Not So Incomprehensible

August 31, 2010

Prashant Kumar Singh
The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA India)
August 30, 2010

Last week the Indian media reported that China
had denied a visa to Lt. General B. S. Jaswal,
General Officer Commanding Chief, Northern Area
Command of the Indian Army, who was to go to
China to participate in a high-level official
meting. The reason cited for this visa denial is
that he heads the command which comprises the
Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir: a disputed
territory according to China.1 In the Chinese
perception, granting visa to him would have
amounted to, by implication, recognition of
India’s claim over the state. This incident has
offended Indian sentiments. But the need of hour
is to maintain composure and make a cold
assessment of the situation and act accordingly.

This is not the first time that China has
indulged in such a brash diplomatic trick. The
last decade has been replete with similar
diplomatic manoeuvrings on China’s part. In 2005,
Song Deheng, Chinese General Consul in Mumbai,
confronted the then Indian Defence Minister
Pranab Mukharjee in the Q&A session at a defence
workshop in Mumbai after the Defence Minister had
said in his speech that China invaded India in
1962.2 The Chinese General Consul excitedly
argued that China never invaded India! Later, on
the eve of President Hu Jintao’s visit to India
in November 2006, the Chinese ambassador Sun Yuxi
caused another diplomatic row by making a public
claim that Arunachal Pradesh was a part of China.3

In April 2009, China opposed a US $ 2.9 billion
loan by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to India
because this money would be used in Arunachal
Pradesh, which, according to China, was not
Indian territory but Chinese.4 Nevertheless,
India received this loan in June 2009 with the help of the US and Japan.5

India has also not forgotten how China created a
high decibel diplomatic commotion on the Indian
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s election
campaign visit to Arunachal Pradesh in October
2009 and later on about the Dalai Lama’s visit to
the state in November 2009. On the issue of Dr.
Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, China almost
issued veiled military threats to which the
Government of India had to respond saying that
the Indian military was prepared to defend its
territory. Also, on the issue of the Dalai Lama’s
visit to Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), the decibel
level of China’s diplomatic uproar was so high
that it successfully attracted the attention of
the international media.6 Speculations were rife
at that time that the Government of India might
withdraw permission for the Dalai Lama to visit
Tawang. However, during both episodes, the
Government of India demonstrated a laudable
equanimity and firmness and did not buckle under the Chinese pressure.7

Then came the issue of China not granting
properly stamped visas inside passports to Indian
citizens domiciled in J&K. China has earlier been
creating problems in issuing visas to Indian
citizens hailing from Arunachal Pradesh. But
creating this sort of a problem to Indian
citizens of J&K domicile was probably new and
certainly without any provocation on India’s
part. A Chinese Delegation to the IDSA argued
that China could not grant a properly stamped
visa to Indian citizens of J&K domicile as this
would recognize India’s claim over the whole of
J&K, whereas China also had a claim over a
substantial part of the state. Simply speaking,
the Indian state of J&K is a ‘disputed territory’
for China; therefore, a properly stamped visa
cannot be granted to its residents. The
delegation also argued that public
opinion/nationalism in China did not allow its
government to do so. Now, all the arguments given
in justification of not granting a properly
stamped visa to the residents of J&K have got
extended to the denial of visa to Lt. General Jaswal as well.

The Chinese reasoning behind visa denial to Lt.
General Jaswal or visa manipulation in case of
the residents of J&K does not hold water. First
of all, the shield of public opinion/nationalism
is a lame excuse because acts like issuance of
visa are routine office work. The public at large
is hardly aware of or interested in such official
routine. Moreover, no Chinese media report has
stated that China has taken these steps under any
sort of public pressure. China appears to be
using public opinion/nationalism only as a
pretext. Besides, the same Lt. General Jaswal had
visited China when he was corps commander of the
Tezpur-based 4 Corps in the equally ‘sensitive’
eastern sector in 2008. Lt. Gen. S. K. Singh, 14
Corps Commander at Leh, which again falls very
much in the ‘disputed’ Northern Command, also
visited China including Lhasa as part of a
defence delegation along with then Eastern Army
Commander Lt. Gen. V. K. Singh.8 And as far as
‘the disputed nature’ of J&K is concerned, why
this sudden raking up of the issue in 2009-10!
And what about Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK)!
Pakistan’s possession of Kashmiri territory is
also disputed. Reports indicate that China issues
a properly stamped visa to the residents of PoK.
The point is that China is not revising its visa
policy towards the residents of J&K out of any
sudden national awakening. It is, indeed, a studied political move.

All these deliberate diplomatic spats should be
seen in the more substantive context of increased
Chinese incursions into Indian territory, and
China almost retracting its implied recognition
of Sikkim as a part of India and the mutually
agreed principle of not disturbing settled
populations in the demarcation of the boundary arrived at in 2005.

In the post-Pokhran II phase and particularly
after the India-US Defence Agreement (2005)
period, China is viewing India in a different
light. Now, it can only pretend to ignore India,
but it is a matter of fact that it cannot really
ignore India. The threat perceptions are mutual
to a great extent.9 Although India lags behind
China particularly in the hardcore military realm
and generally on the overall level of national
strength, the situation is not that much
painfully asymmetric. India is a nuclear-weapon
state. Its economy is growing promisingly and is
well-integrated with the international economy.
Besides, it has acquired considerable
politico-military and strategic clout in the
international comity. In the words of K.
Subrahmanyam, the international scenario is
generally favourable to India. Its closeness with
the US is warily watched by China. All these
factors together compensate for its military
inadequacy in the face of Chinese conventional
military superiority and makes India a
considerable strategic concern which China cannot
overlook. China is aware of all these
developments. As many commentators have alluded,
China perceives India as a country which can come
forward to shoulder America’s military
responsibility in times to come.10 Thus, as a
result, in this phase, China is seen hardening its attitude towards India.

China is not comfortable with sharing space with
India in international politics. It has been
evident in its attitude towards India’s entry
into various international forums like East Asia
Summit and Shanghai Cooperation Organization
(SCO). It very much longs for a multipolar world,
though it also wants Asia to be unipolar under
its leadership. Its ultimate policy goal towards
India is to tie it down within South Asia. Hence,
it is not interested in resolving the lingering
border problem between the two countries. It can
afford to delay the resolution of this problem as
the status quo is in its favour. It wants to keep
the territorial dispute alive and thereby India
pre-occupied with these problems. Now, it has
become inclined to revise its earlier stand of
neutrality on Kashmir and wants to complicate the situation there for India.

All these diplomatic rows and even the border
problem itself are a symptom of the larger
problems that exist between the two countries.
Earlier in the 1950s and 1960s, Tibet was really
the bigger problem and which found an expression
in the border dispute. Now, as a matter of fact,
Tibet should be no problem between the two
countries. The Government of India is simply
unconcerned about Tibet. But China is not ready
to forget the Tibet problem’s Indian connection
of the 1950s since Tibet and the Dalai Lama
provide a pretext to twist India’s arm (Now,
Tibet, shall we say, has become a problem for
India!). The real problems are coming from the
larger geo-political context. At present, the
competition for status, influence and power is a
real source of tension between the two countries.
Besides, the dynamics of US-China-India
triangular relationship and the race for
resources are shaping India-China relations. Add
China’s renewed emphasis on its friendship with
‘the all-weather friend’ Pakistan to this
context, and one can safely arrive at the
conclusion that China is in no mood to
accommodate a rising India. China recently
concluded a nuclear agreement with Pakistan. Its
changed stance on Kashmir is also aimed at
helping Pakistan. In this overall scenario,
Chinese diplomatic manipulations and manoeuvrings
like not granting a visa to Lt. General Jaswal
are only bound to increase. India therefore
should not lower its political and military guard against China.

Let us not over-emphasize the role trade can play
in smoothening the relationship between the two
countries. Trade cannot be a solution to
everything especially when problems basically lie
on the strategic plane. In this situation, trade
rivalry can easily spill over into the political
realm. In the same way that China appears to be
considering India’s rise detrimental to its own
global ambitions, there is every possibility that
global trade can become a new turf war between
the two countries in future. The only policy
prescription for India is that when China becomes
restive against India, it should find India well-prepared.

1. Indrani Bagchi, "China denies visa to top
general in charge of J&K," Times of India, August
27, 2010, at
2. "General Consul: China never invaded India,"
People’s Daily (Online), 07 September 2005.
3. Seema Guha, "China claims Arunachal Pradesh as
‘Chinese territory’," DNA, 13 November 2006, at
4. Out of this loan, $ 60 million was to be spent
on a flood control project in Arunachal Pradesh.
5. John Chan, "China-India border talks highlight
rising tensions," 15 August 2009, at
6. Sanjoy Majumder, "Frontier town venerates
Dalai Lama," BBC News, 10 November 2009, at
In fact, Majumdar opined that India was showing,
by allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang, that
it was not averse to playing mind-games with
China. His interpretation indicates how confident
India was seen during this diplomatic tiff in the international media.
7. "Govt says Arunachal integral part of India
after Chinese protest," Times of India, 13
October 2009, at
8. "As Tezpur Corps commander, Jaswal visited
China in 2008," Indian Express, 28 August 2010,
9. Manjeet S. Pardesi (2010), "Understanding
(Changing) Chinese Strategic Perceptions of
India," Strategic Analysis, 34 (4): 562-578.
10. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan’s article
"Understanding China’s Military Strategy"
published in Strategic Analysis, 32 (6), November
2008 provides a very crisp analysis of Chinese
military strategic understanding of India, the US
and Japan. Manjeet S. Pardesi in his article
“Understanding (Changing) Chinese Strategic
Perceptions of India” analyses Chinese
perceptions of “the so-called ‘quadrilateral
alliance’ of Asia-Pacific democracies – the US, Japan, Australia and India.”
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