New Delhi: Rising Chinese nationalist sentiments could hinder China and India from finding a solution to their decades old border dispute, experts on relations between the two Asian giants said at a seminar over the weekend.
According to Ranjit S Kalha, a former Secretary in the Indian foreign ministry and who led India’s negotiating team in the Boundary Sub-Group from 1985 to 1988, the two countries, despite numerous rounds of discussions over decades, are yet to come to a basic understanding of “where the boundary should lie. ..until and unless we have that understanding, you cannot translate it onto a map."
The two countries fought a brief but bitter war in 1962 and have been attempting to demarcate their borders since then – with no success.
China claims 90,000 sq. km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies around 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kashmir, which India claims as its territory. Also, under a China-Pakistan boundary agreement signed in March 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of Indian territory in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to China, the Indian foreign ministry says.
While the India-China boundary has been largely calm, thanks to pacts signed in 1993, 1996 and 2005, both sides frequently accuse the other of incursions. One such incursion in April took a serious turn when Chinese soldiers intruded some 20 kilometres inside Indian territory leading to a three-week-long stand-off between the neighbours and threatening to derail a visit in May by China’s newly installed leader Li Keqiang. But the situation was resolved and Li’s visit went ahead. During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China in October, the two countries also signed a border defence mechanism agreement to ensure that potentially volatile situations are defused quickly. However, there was another intrusion in September 2014 that took place during a visit to India by Chinese president Xi Jinping. The intrusions did not disrupt the visit but led to prime minister Narendra Modi to underline the need to speed up the boundary talks.
According to Kalha, with the Chinese aspiring to great power status, looking at competing with the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) investing in the philosophy of nationalism to stay on in power, a resolution of the boundary problem is difficult.
“When you go in for nationalism, you not only want to project yourself as a strong military power, you want to project yourself as someone that is not only progressing fast but is doing rather well where the world is concerned. Therefore, what justification do you give to your own people that we are willing to give up 90,000 kilometres of claimed territory in Arunachal Pradesh?" he said at an event organised by the Ananta Aspen Centre think tank in New Delhi.
Given that India needs parliamentary approval to give away any inch of its land and given the composition of the two houses of parliament – with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies having a majority in the Lok Sabha but the opposition having the numbers in the Rajya Sabha – there could also be uncertainty amongst the Chinese over how the Indian parliament could pass any resolution on any kind of settlement, Kalha pointed out.
“If an offer does come from China... some give and take is involved, would anybody sitting in China feel confident that any Indian government can push it through(parliament)? That is a very crucial factor," he said.
On India’s part, given that Arunachal Pradesh is with India, “If we are going to get a settlement, it must be significantly better than what we have today," he said.
Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi based Jawaharlal Nehru University agreed with Kalha’s view that Chinese nationalism, and rising nationalist sentiments in India too, could stand in the way of the two countries reaching an agreement on their border dispute.
He also noted that China had in the past sealed deals over its border disputes with other countries when they were in a disadvantageous position. A case in point was Russia, he said pointing out that China had signed its border agreement with a considerably weakened Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
“So one of the generalisations that we have is when the adversary is weaker we have a border resolution," Kondapalli said. “In this case, India is rising with GDP figures rising and investment in the military area and so there is a lesser possibility of (the border) conflict resolution," he said.