India China: Diplomatic Ping Pong in 2010

By Brig. Rahul K Bhonsle

(January 01, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) There is a certain dichotomy in the relationship between India and China over the years where officials and the governments are talking of closer cooperation but media in India and blogging community in China reportedly at the behest of hardliners in the Communist Party are constantly sniping at each other as was evident in the past one year. The media on both sides seemed to have raised Sino Indian discord to a new level of animosity with a sustained “campaign” of sorts underlining tensions on both the sides. The approach of the Indian government on the other hand has been relatively placid, which is another reason why the media in India is taking the officials to task.

On the positive side President Pratibha Patil has been invited to visit China in 2010. External Affairs Minister Mr S M Krishna will be visiting the country in April. Mr S M Krishna was optimistic about Sino Indian relations stating, "Next year 2010, will mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Both countries are planning commemorative activities including the Festival of India in China and Festival of China in India. This would again highlight the intimate cultural ties shared by the two countries”. Sino Indian synergy in Copenhagen leading the developing world is now part of the diplomatic lore of the year 2009.

The boundary issue however remains contentious. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha the External Affairs stated, "There has been no increase in incidents of incursions in the recent past," "there is nothing to be unduly alarmed about" [the Chinese incursions] and assured that the two nations, "maintain peace and tranquility all through the border." He emphasised that, "Government considers the India-China boundary question a purely bilateral matter and does not advocate discussion on this issue with other countries or international bodies."

Violations are taken up through established mechanisms as the Joint Working Group, Expert Group, border personnel meetings, flag meetings and diplomatic channels. Mr Krishna also asserted that "Chinese government is free to build infrastructure in their own territory as much as we in our territory are free to build infrastructure without external interference. Whenever there is a dispute, there is a mechanism which is brought into action so that it is amicably settled."

On the flip side Chinese bloggers were very active and of late there are more reports coming which have talked of China’s top central leadership having reached a consensus to teach India a lesson and recover ‘Southern Tibet’ (Arunachal Pradesh). D S Rajan of Chennai Centre for Chinese Studies provides an excellent overview of these blogs in C3S Paper No.418 dated December 23, 2009. Two blog assessments in Chinese language ( dated 1 December 2009 and dated 9 December 2009) predict the 2010-2011 period as suitable for action against India. The logic is that of favourable political environment in China, receding of economic crisis and weakening of the US role in international politics. China should then be able to employ its comprehensive national strength to advantage claim the bloggers. The source and credibility of these blogs remains dubious but the misinformation only adds to tension between both sides.

While China has been very active in blocking social networking sites and search engines perceived to be damaging to internal perceptions, surprisingly no action is being taken against these bloggers thereby raising some concerns of tacit official consent to such activity.

Indian authorities have been discussing relations with China during bilateral talks with partners as Russia as well. During the recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Russia it is apparent that this issue was discussed as was indicated by the Foreign Secretary Ms Nirupama Rao in response to a question thus, “I think the opportunity was availed of during the discussions Prime Minister had with President Medvedev to discuss the relationship that we are developing with China, and of course the complexities in this relationship. The outstanding boundary question naturally figured in these discussions and the efforts that are underway to seek a resolution to this issue and also, as I said, the complicated nature of the question as it exists today. We did not go into detail about Chinese incursions. We talked about the rise of China, naturally, and the relationship that Russia has with China today, the relationship that we are seeking to build with China, and also the Russia-India-China trilateral arrangement that we have put in place”. The detailed response by the Foreign Secretary indicates that the issue had certainly received some attention in Moscow.

India’s ambassador to China S Jaishankar place the contentious nature of the relationship in perspective thus, “There are two sharp realities about the relationship... we are seeing parallel but not congruent rise of China and India which makes an already complex matrix even more dynamic.” He also highlighted that India expects greater sensitivity from China thus, “What are Indian expectations of China at this stage? I would sum it up as displaying sensitivity on what matters most to Indians, while accepting that we cannot agree on all issues just yet.”

While the ding dong or ping pong political, diplomatic and media battles between India and China are likely to continue in 2010, our assessment is that an armed border clash or outbreak of hostilities remains remote.