Wed, Oct 17, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Sino-Indian conflict still unresolved

By Brahma Chellaney

Fifty years later, tensions between India and China are rising again amid an intense geopolitical rivalry. Their entire 4,057km border remains in dispute, without a clearly defined line of control in the Himalayas.

This situation has persisted despite regular Chinese-Indian talks since 1981. In fact, these talks constitute the longest and most futile negotiating process between any two countries in modern history. During a 2010 visit to New Delhi, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) stated bluntly that sorting out the border disputes “will take a fairly long period of time.”

If so, what does China (or India) gain by continuing the negotiations?

As old wounds fester, new issues have begun roiling bilateral relations. For example, since 2006 China has initiated a new territorial dispute by claiming the eastern sector (the Austria-size Arunachal Pradesh state), from which its forces withdrew in 1962, describing it as “Southern Tibet.”

A perceptible hardening of China’s stance toward India since then is also reflected in other developments, including Chinese strategic projects and the country’s military presence in the Pakistani-held portion of Kashmir, a region where the disputed borders of India, China, and Pakistan converge.

Indian defense officials have reported increased military incursions by Chinese troops in recent years. In response, India has been beefing up its military deployments along the border to prevent any Chinese land grab. It has also launched a crash program to improve its logistical capabilities by constructing new roads, airstrips, and advanced landing stations along the Himalayas.

The larger strategic rivalry between the world’s largest autocracy and its biggest democracy has also sharpened, despite their fast-growing trade. In the past decade, bilateral trade has risen more than 20-fold, to US$73.9 billion, making it the only area in which bilateral relations have thrived.

Far from helping to turn the page on old disputes, this commerce has been accompanied by greater Sino-Indian geopolitical rivalry and military tension.

Although China set out to teach India a “lesson,” the 1962 war failed to achieve any lasting political objectives and only embittered bilateral relations. The same lesson is applicable to the Sino-Vietnamese context: In 1979, China replicated the 1962 model by launching a surprise blitzkrieg against Vietnam that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) admitted was designed to “teach a lesson.”

After 29 days, China ended its invasion, claiming that Vietnam had been sufficiently chastised, but the lesson that Deng seems to have drawn from the People’s Liberation Army’s poor performance against Vietnam is that China, like India, needed to modernize every aspect of its society.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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