Rajiv was received by top Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, when in-depth talks on the boundary issue were held. It was agreed that these would be settled through peaceful, friendly discussions.
Narasimha Rao, as prime minister, pushed the process further in September 1993, with the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas.
This ‘landmark’ agreement specified that “neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other” and, pending an ultimate solution to the border question, both “shall strictly respect and observe the line of actual control between the two sides”.
It added that “no activities of either side shall overstep” this line and, in case they do, they “shall immediately pull back to their own side” on being cautioned by the other side. It clarified that “references to the line of actual control in this agreement do not prejudice their respective positions on the boundary question”.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit in January 2008 was equally important. It signaled India’s commitment to continuing the normalisation process and highlighted the economic benefits of the relationship. The target for bilateral trade was fixed at $60 billion by 2010.
India has additionally exhibited sensitivity to Beijing’s concerns. It has sidestepped involvement in international initiatives that could cause China discomfort. It sought to include China in efforts to obtain a waiter from the Nuclear Supplier Group. It consistently downplays the increasing incidence of intrusions by Chinese troops to prevent the atmosphere of bilateral relations getting vitiated.
As is evident from its activities in the South China Sea and South Asia, however, China has been using this period of interregnum to test its influence and ability to further territorial claims. Progress in border talks continues to be tardy with China not reciprocating India’s willingness to settle down to preliminary, but substantive, discussions on the basis of maps.
Instead, it has given higher profile to its claim on Arunachal Pradesh. The whole attempt of China was to sidetrack the main existing border issues, frustrate our efforts to resolve the disputes peacefully and by drawing a reference to Arunachal Pradesh which is de facto and de jure an integral part of India, the Chinese rulers have only reiterated its aggressive designs against India.
It raised the issue of Tawang for the first time in 2005. China asserts this claim is non-negotiable since Tibetans have strong sentimental ties to Tawang as the Sixth Dalai Lama’s birthplace. After the Dalai Lama affirmed that Tawang is part of India, China raised the ante by criticising his statement in 2007.
Notwithstanding the Agreement of Peace and Tranquility, the incidence of intrusions has increased over the years and a disconcerting trend is that they now occur all along the border and are, occasionally, fairly aggressive.
Intrusions occurred in Arunachal during the recent general elections and in the western sector in the aftermath of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, both sensitive times for India.
Such actions do not augur well and are far from enhancing trust. Intrusions have occurred in northern Sikkim, despite China having acknowledged during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s prime ministerial visit in 2003 that Sikkim is a part of India.
Chinese maps have depicted this since 2006. As such there to absolutely no dispute about Sikkim, which is not negotiable? In the circumstances, any fostile entrance into India’s territory do by Chinese, or intrusion caused by them, is totally unwarranted.
Other actions have added to the trust deficit and contributed to suspicions as to China’s intentions. Examples include China’s collaboration with Pakistan in the military, nuclear and political fields, opposition to India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat, sustained opposition to the India – US civilian nuclear agreement, attempt to block the Asian Development Bank’s funding, including for projects in Arunachal Pradesh etc.
Rising bilateral trade and exchange of high-level visits do not by themselves suggest normalisation of relations. There is need for building up mutual trust. The publication of toughly worded articles critical of India and dismissive of its conciliatory efforts, as recently in the People’s Daily and Global Times, a subsidiary of the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, does not help.
Beijing needs to seriously begin dispelling mounting suspicion about Chinese intentions. It needs to take verifiable bold initiatives, the easiest of which is to cease and desist from border intrusions, and not to reopen settled issues like Sikkim.
This should be reinforced by an initiative calculated to address India’s sensitivities and interests. Otherwise, the already glacial pace of normalisation will grind to a halt under the weight of suspicion and doubt.
In spite of exchange of fire taking place now and then, facade of Sino-Indian friendship has been very well maintained. If one looks back at the festering relation-ship between the two countries, the facts are inescapable that the Govt, of India has been consistently down-playing the Chinese border firings and incursions.
In 1951-52, Indians were informed by an I.B. patrolling party that the Chinese had started building the arid Aksai-chin plateau. The government kept the information to itself, it was disclosed only when the issue was debated in the Parliament in 1959.
Incursion by the Chinese army into Indian territory had been making headlines for, quite some time. India’s political leadership preferred to hide the truth, not to hurt “our Chinese neighbours”, feelings. Keeping India’s diplomatic tradition of kowtowing to China, Foreign Minister
S.M. Krishna said after recent incident of Chinese incursion, “With China, I think the boundary has been one of the most peaceful. So there is no issue on that”. He added that “there is a built in mechanism which is in place and which takes care of such incursion. India has so far acted with restraint, maintaining that the Line of Actual Control with China is not very well defined”.
One could ask the question that why LAC is not well defined. What is the point of National Security Adviser meeting has Chinese counterpart (they have met on 13 occasions since 2003 – the last one in August, 09), if they are not able to define the “Actual” line. Apart from the fact that it proves the insincerity of the Chinese who are not ready to take the first step to calm the tension.
The exercise seems a waste of public money. Even at the last meeting between India and China to discuss the various issues, the general impressions were that there is cordiality and warmth between the two countries. The Chinese had earlier stabbed us at the back in October, 1962, in spite of ‘Bhai-bhai’ syndrome and bonhomie.”
In September, 2009, Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapur admitted that New Delhi had lodged a protest with Beijing following incursion by a Chinese helicopter into Indian Territory and the painting of rocks along the presumptive Line of Actual Control (LAC) in red. The Chinese have also refused to accept Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India.