On Tuesday, national security adviser Shivshankar Menon said India and China have reached a “common understanding” on border talks and this will provide a framework for drawing a “fair and mutually acceptable” boundary. Given the political and diplomatic realities that exist today, that is unlikely.
The fact is that ever since Dai Bingguo, the outgoing state councillor tasked with negotiating with India on the issue, and the late Brajesh Mishra began talks, endless rounds of negotiations have yielded practically next to nothing. Perhaps, the only achievement has been something along the lines of “agreeing to meeting again”.
The fact is that since 1979 at least, China’s position on the eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh) has hardened considerably. Earlier, Beijing was more than amenable that India keep this region in exchange for some realistic give and take in the western sector (Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir). Then, it laid claim to the Tawang region in Arunachal Pradesh. Today, far from agreeing to even this difficult compromise for India, it has laid claim to virtually the entire Arunachal Pradesh.
All this has happened alongside strides in China’s economic development and far-reaching additions to its military prowess. This aspect of China’s strategy should have worried New Delhi a long time ago. Instead, it is only now that it has awoken to this peril. Not only is Beijing busy modernizing its navy—aircraft carriers and nuclear powered submarines being just two lethal additions to its military punch—its ability to wage conventional war has also grown by leaps and bounds.
As in the events of 50 years ago, once again there is denial that China can, or will, do harm to our interests. It is time this notion was disabused totally. It is true that India and China are today big trading partners but that does not subtract from the serious potential for conflict between the two countries. The repeated assertions by senior officials of the United Progressive Alliance government that differences between the two countries are mere matters of differing perceptions are cheap efforts to mislead citizens. Some honesty on that score will help everyone.
Is it realistic to hope for a quick resolution of boundary disputes with China?