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    Greater China
     Apr 22, 2011

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China yearns for peace on southern flank
By Peter Lee

The Tibetan government-in-exile has historically accepted the McMahon Line - and the loss of what the Chinese call "South Tibet" - as the cost of doing business with the Indian government. It was, however, somewhat jarring for the Dalai Lama to accept India's control of Tawang instead of asserting its fundamental Tibetaness.

According to the Times of India, the Dalai Lama did so in categorical terms:
"My stand that Tawang is an integral part of India has not changed," the Dalai Lama said in defense of his host country. [6]
However, another outlet reported the Dalai Lama's position as

being somewhat more nuanced. Instead of tackling the Tawang question head-on, he hypothesized that the Chinese pullback from Tawang after the People's Liberation Army occupied the town in the 1962 border war - meant to re-establish the ante-bellum status quo as a prelude to negotiations with India - implied that Beijing had surrendered its right to contest Tawang's nationality:
If China claimed Tawang, then the army should not have left. The Dalai Lama hinted that China's current claims are an afterthought. "The then Chinese government declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew [its forces]. Now the Chinese have got different views. This is something which I really don't know. I am little bit surprised," he said. [7]
In any event, the Dalai Lama's visit and his remarks as reported did send a useful message to China that restoring the territorial integrity of the Tibetan homeland by clumping parts of Arunachal Pradesh into the Tibetan Autonomous Region enjoyed no support from the Tibetan diaspora and was useless as a negotiating point.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, hopelessly transfixed on the cleft stick of its Afghanistan/Taliban/US war on terror disaster, showed itself uninterested in adding to its headaches by arguing with India over Kashmir. Therefore, China's attempts to match India's "separate negotiations" stance on Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh were going nowhere.

At Hainan, the Chinese government appeared more willing to resign itself to the current border muddle, while tending to more important elements of its relationship with India: trade and security issues.

Calls for democracy in the Middle East have been unremitting, and the Chinese government is apparently acting pre-emptively on the assumption that something similar may break out in China. Activists, dissidents, and lawyers have been detained by the bushel-basket, and Internet censors are working overtime.

Although the examples of Egypt and Libya have demonstrated that negotiated forbearance between the Western democracies and authoritarian governments can evaporate almost instantaneously as popular unrest manifests itself, it appears that China decided this is not the time to be at loggerheads with India.
Therefore, four Kashmiri Indian journalists - of whom at least one had a passport issued in Kashmir and not New Delhi - were given conventional visas to go to Hainan, apparently giving rise to the report that China was moderating its stance on the "stapled visa" issue.

The Hindustan Times, reporting from the China-bashing quadrant, received a self-congratulatory background briefing from someone in the Indian government that made the case that the switch in policy was evidence of Chinese incompetence:
Indian officials are smiling like Cheshire cats as China quietly pulls back on a Kashmiri policy that roiled relations the past two years ... Today, Indian officials are coming around to the view that the Kashmir shift and unshift was really evidence of incoherence within the Chinese system. "Beijing is struggling to handle the demands of an increasingly demanding world," said one. China, superpower in the making, was more stumbling than sinister. ...
New Delhi, after a careful review of the information, has concluded the two Kashmiri moves arose from decisions at lower level bureaucrats designed to placate a weakening Pakistan. Little or no thought was given about the consequences. Worse, organizations like the Chinese foreign ministry who would have known better were out of the loop. Thus the Northern Command decision was taken by a low-level national ministry of defense. "May be the clerk had something against the Northern Command," said one official.

What there is no doubt about is that China was completely taken aback at the strength of Indian response. The Chinese, say sources, may have concluded the Kashmir policy would not be a big deal given India's track record of keeping quiet on many other issues with China.

Having made a blunder, the problem say Indian officials was that "Beijing didn't know how to walk it back."

Initial Indian complaints bounced off China. The real game-changer was when, at a foreign secretaries meeting in Sichuan last year, India hinted it would change its Tibet and Taiwan policies. India declined to endorse the one China policy when Premier Wen Jiabao came visiting in December last year. [8]
This allegation of Chinese disorganization and ineptitude may be gratifying to the Indian diplomatic service, which often faces accusations of disorganization and ineptitude itself.

However, the facts of the case - that stapled visas were given to weightlifters from Arunachal Pradesh trying to attend a competition in China (indeed, stapled visas were given to residents of Arunachal Pradesh as early as 2007) as well demanded for a general from Jammu & Kashmir - implies that more than purported resentment against "Northern Command" by a disgruntled clerk in the Chinese Ministry of Defense was at work.

And the intimidating character of India's representations to Premier Wen in December 2010 apparently did not deter China from issuing stapled visas to the two weightlifters in January 2011, less than a month after Wen's visit.

As the Economic Times put it:
In spite of Premier Wen Jiabao's assurance that China will take serious note of India's concerns over the issue of stapled visas, the handing over of such documents to two Arunchalis prevented them from flying to Beijing on Wednesday. [9]
Perhaps the purpose of this backgrounder is to make the case that the stapled visa issue was merely a blunder and China's change of posture therefore did not merit any reciprocation from India.

Also, the concession was framed in terms of Jammu & Kashmir alone - not addressing any Arunachal Pradesh factor - indicating that the Indian government was happy to advertise that China was backing off on interfering in Kashmir just as New Delhi and Srinigar brace themselves for the possibility of another long, hot summer of rock throwing, head cracking, and the intemperate use of various lethal and occasionally lethal non-lethal ordinance by Indian security forces in Kashmir.

However, if India helps keep a lid on dissent, criticism, and incitement in the southwest as China nervously enters its own season of dissent, with those warm, dry days and nights so well suited to marching, camping, and other activities, enduring some self-congratulatory preening by India - and the erosion of China's bargaining stance on the contentious border issues - might be an acceptable price to pay.

1. Hu steps forward, Indian Express, Apr 15, 2011.
2. Syria and the Delusions of the Western Press, CounterPunch, Apr 15 17, 2011.
3. A Brief History of the Sino-Indian Border Dispute and the role of Tibet, Fool's Mountain, Mar 26, 2010.
4. Lt Gen BS Jaswal had visited China in 2008, Daily News Analysis, Aug 28, 2010.
5. McMahon Line, Wikipedia.
6. Dalai Lama lands in Tawang, hits out at Beijing 'hard line', Times of India, Nov 9, 2009.
7. Dalai Lama questions China's claim to Tawang, Daily News Analysis, Nov 9, 2009.
8. China's flip-flop on Kashmir, Hindustan Times, Apr 15, 2011.
9. China issues 'invalid' stapled visas to Arunachal Pradesh residents, The Economic Times, Jan 13, 2011.

Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.

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