China-India border settlement unlikely, given Beijing’s insecurity over Tibet - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 13 May 2015

China-India border settlement unlikely, given Beijing’s insecurity over Tibet

Ajai Shukla
Chengdu, China
Business Standard, 14th May 15

Even as President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi prepare to discuss a growing economic relationship and a Chinese role in building infrastructure in India, public interest centres on whether the two leaders might make headway in resolving the Sino-Indian boundary dispute.

Beijing and New Delhi agree that the Sino-Indian border --- the 4000-kilometre Line of Actual Control (LAC) --- has remained entirely peaceful for 40 years. Yet, even as a series of military confidence building measures (CBMs) have forestalled any shooting, low-grade confrontation continues as both armies patrol territory that they claim, ignoring the other side’s claim to the same area.

With an activist Indian media playing up each incident, perceived violations by Chinese army patrols have cast shadows over Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India in 2013, and then President Xi Jinping’s visit in 2014.

While the Chinese media has been restrained in comparison, there is equal jingoism on Chinese social media platforms, especially micro-blogging sites like Weibo. Even the Chinese government, for all its untrammelled power, appears unable to buck Chinese nationalist sentiment with any concessions to India.

Yet speculation continues about a possible border settlement. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, visiting Beijing earlier this year, declared, “an out-of-the-box solution may still come on this”. Noted China expert, Shyam Saran, says that former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, after discussions in China, revealed in March to interlocutors in New Delhi that Beijing would present a “surprise package” on the border during Mr Modi’s visit to China this week.

In fact, this would seem unlikely, given Beijing’s core concerns. China’s leaders have consistently viewed the Sino-Indian boundary question as directly linked with anti-China unrest in Tibet, a concern that remains unaddressed. Indian analysts are wrong in believing that Beijing’s unwillingness to settle the border stems from the wish to keep India off-balance.

Rather than the calculating dragon of Indian apprehensions, China is an insecure country when it comes to Tibet. Given India’s proximity to Tibet, its hosting of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan government-in-exile (called the Central Tibetan Administration, or CTA) and a network of Buddhist monasteries that mirror counterparts in Tibet, India is the only country in the world that can keep the pot bubbling in that restive region of China.

Notwithstanding repeated Indian statements that it recognizes Tibet as Chinese, Beijing clearly worries that settling the border would free up India to make mischief in Tibet.

Noted Chinese specialist on South Asia, Zhang Li, argues that Tibet has gone up in flames each time China has tried to settle relations. Following the Panchsheel Agreement of 1954 came the Tibetan Uprising of 1958-59; and following the “Political Parameters” agreement of 2005 came the uprising in 2008-09.

Explicitly pointing to the connection between Tibet and the border settlement, Li says: “If Tibet is more stable then the Chinese government will be more flexible in discussing the border issue with India. For the Chinese government it is much more important to stabilize Tibet than it is to settle the border issue early as India has expected.”

In other words, Beijing would be willing to settle the border only once the Dalai Lama issue is resolved, preferably with him returning to Lhasa under close Chinese supervision and the closing down of the CTA.

Indian policymakers, however, reject outright any possibility of “delivering” the Dalai Lama to China, after having provided him political asylum for 56 years.

Nor is India about to hand over Tawang --- a border district in Arunachal Pradesh that Beijing insists must be ceded to it. Populated by vehemently anti-China Buddhist Monpa tribals, New Delhi cannot throw them under the Chinese bus.

Furthermore, Beijing and New Delhi agreed in the “Political Parameters” agreement of 2005 that “settled populations” --- code for Tawang --- would not be unduly disturbed in a final boundary settlement. Beijing is seeking to back off from this commitment, but that would be unacceptable to New Delhi.

China’s insistence on Tawang dates back only to 1983. Before then, China had proposed a clean “east-for-west swap”. This involved India ceding to China the 35,000 square kilometres Aksai Chin plateau, adjoining Ladakh, which is called the “western sector”. In exchange, Beijing would accept India’s ownership of the 90,000 square kilometres Arunachal Pradesh, or the so-called “eastern sector”. The 5,000 square kilometres “central sector” would see minor adjustments.

China already occupies the uninhabited Aksai Chin, while sparsely populated Arunachal Pradesh has long been held by India. Thus the proposed “east-for-west swap” would not require any significant exchange of territory.

In 1983, however, Chinese leader, Deng Xiao-ping hardened Beijing’s stance. He declared that India would have to make “significant and meaningful” concessions in the “eastern sector”, a game-changing demand that involved, as spelt out by Beijing, the “restitution” of Tawang to China.

The phrase “restitution” is significant. Tawang was administered by Tibet until 1951, when Indian authorities first arrived there and evicted the Tibetan ecclesiastical rulers appointed by the Dalai Lama from Lhasa.

Since then, the Dalai Lama has declared on several occasions that Tawang is a part of India. China, bent on asserting full control over Tibet, does not believe so. With India unwilling to part with Tawang and with China wanting a pacified Tibet as a pre-requisite to a border settlement, Modi and Xi have little space for moving forward on the border issue.


  1. OK, for the time being lets assume Tawang is disputed. But Tawang doesn't constitute entire 90,000 sq km area. So why the Chinese putting a question mark on entire Arunachal state. Territory dispute has nothing to do with religion. In that case Haji Langar in Akshai Chin had more cultural relation with India specially to Kashmir than China which must be put in the negotiations table. Now let China demand Bodh gaya & India demand Mansarovar. The list will be endless & it will be a never ending process.

  2. Seems the Chinese are running out of bargaining reasons. The Tawang dispute clearly shows the illegal occupation of Tibet by China. The same logic they are applying in grabbing South China sea areas, as if these are forefathers property of the Han Chinese. Next they will demand any place on earth which have a Buddhist monastery or a sizeable population of mongoloid origin.

  3. India and China were never neighbours. Tibet was India's neighbour so if there is any border dispute, its between India and Tibet.

    By occupying Tibet, China cannot become India's neighbour by force. Han crooks don't belong to Tibet. Forget about politically or culturally, Han crooks cannot even breathe in Tibet properly so even biologically, they don't belong there.

    After Dalai Lama is dead, all restraints on violent methods for achieving freedom, stipulated by Dalai Lama will be gone. Then, the real struggle for Tibetan freedom will begin. The hardy Tibetans who are self-immolating themselves now, would also be willing to burn Han Crooks if its needed to achieve freedom.

    Han Chinese crooks have only seen peaceful, Buddhist and harmless Tibetans so far. The real Tibetan warrior soul is yet to reveal itself.

  4. Shukla,
    Is this another op ad on the eve of PM Modi's visit to China articulating the Chinese views and demands ? There is nothing wrong in knowing what Chinese are up to but it takes great efforts to glibly and malevolently justify those demands without offering counter arguments.

    Management of outer periphery in order to establish central control internally is well known Chinese strategic objective. Hoever in order to fecilitate that the Chinese can not start asking ownership of periphery. Can India ask Myanmar control of their territory to solve Naga problem? On the contrary India and Myanmar have sought to control that problem with mutual and consultative mechanism. Similarly, India has not rejected LOC with Pakistan in order to solve terrorism and separatism in J&K. Why should India not insist on China accepting and formalising LAC as a mechanism towards bringing in more stability in Tibet. Unlike Taiwan, Dalai Lama has no government ruling over Tibet, has no centralised standing Army with a nuclear umbrella and has not been a threat to CCP or PLA. Not formalising LAC could also be counter productive.

    So your central theme of the two recent op eds have been - hand over Dalai Lama to China - Is not it ? Nehru might have done that but it would be difficult for Modi to do it.

    In this background suspicion of "Lifafa Journalism" would be sustainable.

  5. First and foremost mistake on India's part was to declare Tibet as part of china.India ,still can and has to change it's policy vis-a-vis china and accept Tibet as a independent nation illegally & forcefully occupied by China.


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