One cannot but be surprised by the statement of the National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon brushing aside the serious implications of Chinese actions, while voicing optimism that “we are in the process of agreeing on a framework to settle the boundary”.
Have we forgotten that after agreeing to delineate the Line of Actual Control, the Chinese backed off on the entire process?
In 2005, Premier Wen Jiabao agreed that “in reaching a border settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in border areas”.
This clearly signalled that there was no question of transferring territories containing settled populations and addressed Indian concerns on Chinese claims to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Within a year, however, China was laying claim not merely to Tawang, but the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh.
One can only conclude that the new “framework” the NSA spoke of to settle the boundary issue would be about as successful as the much-touted “Joint anti-Terror Mechanism” with Pakistan, which came apart with the 26/11 attacks.
Just a day before the NSA spoke, Army Chief General Bikram Singh described bilateral relations with China as “absolutely perfect” and added that mechanisms were now in place to solve any issues between the two countries. This was an astonishing comment, at a time when the army wants additional strike formations, apart from vastly improved communications on the border with China.
Was it because Singh feels the army is unlikely to get its needs fulfilled soon, and needs to sound conciliatory to the Chinese? Do the other two Service Chiefs and the Defence Minister share this optimism? All these issues need to be debated now that Parliament is in session.
China can now be described as a “dynastic dictatorship,” after its 18th Party Congress. Outgoing leader Hu Jintao voiced concern at the growing dissatisfaction in China over political corruption.
The Party Congress had been preceded by the downfall of its rising star Bo Xilai, whose lavish and flamboyant lifestyle had led to the conviction of his wife for murdering a British businessman and revelations of the billions of dollars of assets that Bo and his family had acquired.
This was followed by a a well documented leak, quite evidently by Bo’s supporters, about ill-gotten wealth accumulated by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his family.
China’s worst kept secrets about dynastic politics in the Communist Party became public when it emerged that four of the seven members of its highest decision-making body, the Standing Committee of the Politburo, were “Princelings,” or descendants of first generation, Mao-era political leaders. Most “Princelings”, including Party Chief Xi Jinping, lead lavish life styles, with families having extensive business interests. The contradictions between having an open economy linked to foreign markets on the one hand and a one-party, authoritarian political structure perceived to be unresponsive to pubic grievances on the other, are coming to the forefront in China.
China will continue to seek new ways to further open up its economy and maintain a high growth rate. But the “Princelings” are unlikely to bring any changes in the basic authoritarian nature of the State apparatus. Tutored by Deng Xiao Ping, who was determined not to follow the glasnost and perestroika path of Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, the new dispensation will be averse to increasing democratisation.
With jingoistic propaganda, evidently to divert public opinion away from domestic issues like high level corruption, China is obviously in no mood to show any flexibility on its territorial claims along the Sino-Indian border. As Chinese passports are generally valid for ten years, there can logically be no change in China’s territorial claims in this period.
China will continue on its path of rapid military modernisation, combined with an assertive line on its maritime and land boundary claims.
China’s recent decision to depict the entire South China Sea, together with Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Ladakh as Chinese territory in maps on Chinese passports, has to be seen in the light of this growing Chinese readiness to use force and military coercion to enforce its territorial claims. One has recently witnessed aggressive Chinese postures resulting in a virtual naval takeover around the disputed Scarborough Shoal, claimed by the Philippines.
A similar aggressive approach has been taken on recent tensions with Japan, with Chinese naval vessels entering territorial waters, adjacent to the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
China has evidently been emboldened by the American assertion that while the US does have a stand on freedom and maintenance of peace and stability in the South China Sea, it “does not take sides in (maritime) disputes”.
New Delhi is now talking of getting superfast trains and rail equipment from China, at a time when there is growing concern at our over dependence on second rate Chinese power equipment.
There are also concerns about dangers to cyber security and communications infrastructure posed by imports from China. Should we not insist on co-production, together with transfer or technology, in such strategic sectors, with preference for cooperation with friendly countries like Japan, France and Germany?
(The author is former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)