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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Delicate dance of the emerging giants for China and India

July 14, 2008

Look East
Bill Sharp
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, HI

Vol. 13, Issue 195 - Sunday, July 13, 2008

In 2005, Chinese diplomacy promised great flexibility and suggestions of
compromise in resolving longstanding border issues with India. During
his 2005 trip to New Delhi, Premier Wen Jiabao talked of sponsoring a
permanent seat for India on the U.N. Security Council. Fast forwarding
to 2008, China's position on the border issues shows no flexibility, and
there is no meaningful discussion of supporting an Indian seat on the

The border issues revolve around Arunchal Pradesh, an Indian state the
size of Portugal in Northeast India, bordering China's Tibet Autonomous
Region, and Aksai Chin, a 16,000-square-mile region bordered by India's
northernmost state Jammu and Kashmir and both China's Tibet and Xinjiang
Autonomous Regions. Arunchal Pradesh is controlled by India but claimed
by China; Aksai Chin is controlled by China and claimed by India.

China's view is that India's claim to Arunchal Pradesh is invalid. The
claim is based on the Simla Convention, a treaty between Great Britain
and Tibet signed in 1914, that established the McMahon Line, a
demarcation line separating Tibet from India. China holds that Tibet did
not have sovereignty over the region and no power to negotiate a treaty.
Moreover, no Chinese government or any sovereign government recognized
Tibet's 1913 declaration of independence. In 1915, the British stated
that neither China nor Russia accepted the Simla Convention and it was
therefore invalid.

Chinese People's Liberation Army incursions across the border into
Arunchal Pradesh are more and more frequently reported. Consequently, it
has become clear to New Delhi that this remote part of India is ill
defended and is further vulnerable due to poor roads and no rail or air
service connecting it to the rest of India. The lack of infrastructure
and connectivity is a major barrier in deploying Indian troops to the
area in event of an emergency. On the Chinese side, the roads,
availability of electricity and other facilities are much better.

Achieving no progress on border issues during a state visit to Beijing
in January, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set about upgrading
infrastructure in Arunchal Pradesh and creating educational and health
care facilities.

Aksai Chin adjoins the Ladakh District of Jammu and Kashmir State. It is
part of the Tibetan Plateau, largely uninhabited, with no permanent
settlements and little rainfall. In the early 1950s, China encroached on
Aksai Chin to build a strategically important road connecting Tibet and
Xinjiang. India has recently reopened an old air force base in Ladakh.

Although China recognized Sikkim as an integral part of India in 2003
and changed its maps to reflect such, Chinese troops have made recent
incursions into the mountainous Indian state.

Such incursions and stiffening of territorial demands during the last
two years are seen as an attempt to put pressure on India to bolster
Beijing's claim to the disputed areas, according to the Times of India.

The purely territorial motivation has validity. However, other factors
help explain China's actions.

India is a rising regional and global economic and political competitor.
India's "Look East" policy of cultivating economic and security
relations with Southeast Asian nations strikes at what China normally
sees as its strategic underbelly and a region where it has traditionally
had great influence. China has actively courted the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations and opposed the inclusion of India in ASEAN Plus
Three (China, Korea and Japan). The Chinese showed no interest in Indian
ideas about creating a regional security apparatus as outlined by Indian
Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee in a June speech at Beijing University.

India recognizes China's claim to Tibet; however, it hosts the Dalai
Lama-led Tibetan government in exile and 100,000 Tibetan refuges. Given
the harsh measures employed by Chinese security personnel in quelling
the recent Tibetan riots, China is clearly worried about the possibility
of Tibet spinning out of its control. Tibet, on one hand acts as buffer
zone between China proper and India, while on the other hand the Chinese
are worried about a chain reaction. A Tibet that slipped out of China's
grasp could well cause the Xinjiang Autonomous Region to declare

China also is concerned about India's chumming up with the United
States. Of particular concern is growing security and economical
cooperation, plus possible transfer of U.S. civilian nuclear energy
technology. It is clear that the U.S. is joined by Japan and Australia
in seeing India as a potential security and economic counterweight to
China. China is perpetually worried about being surrounded by unfriendly
nations and alliances, especially if the U.S. is involved. As a result,
it sees cooperation such as the 2007 Malabar naval exercises joined by
the U.S., Japan and Australia as an attempt to encircle it.

If Chinese fears have substance, then the Indians have an equal right to
be concerned about being surrounded by China. After all, Tibet borders
India. China has naval advisers in mainland Myanmar (Burma),
intelligence-gathering facilities on Great Coco Island in the Bay of
Bengal and is planning to build an army base on Little Coco Island.
China also built ports in Bangladesh and in Sri Lanka. There is fear
that the Chinese navy might use the ports, just as there is worry that
China might use the Pakistani naval facilities at the port of Gawdar,
Pakistan, that it is helping to build. The Chinese claim that the ports
are for strictly commercial purposes, yet it is clear that China wants
to have the means to protect the sea lanes to ensure unimpeded transport
of crude oil from the Middle East to China.

To the Indians, China's posture in South Asia and on the Indian Ocean
represents an intrusion into an area where Indian influence has gone
unchallenged. India's naval buildup hopes to add one carrier this year
and another in 2011, plus build its submarine fleet to control the
Indian Ocean from East Africa to Australia.

The one positive aspect to Sino-Indian relations is the steady growth of
trade, which could top $40 billion this year and could grow to $60
billion by 2010. China might become India's largest market, replacing
the United States.

Bill Sharp teaches classes about the domestic and international politics
of East Asia at Hawaii Pacific University. He writes a monthly
commentary for the Star-Bulletin. Reach him at
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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