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China’s Greedy Eyes Over Arunachal Pradesh

Updated: October 27, 2012 2:42 pm

There is always a new bride like diffidence among the Indian policy-makers whenever contentious issues of the Indo-China bilateral relations are touched upon. Even 50 years after the 1962 war between the two countries negotiations for settling the boundary problem are progressing endlessly without any light at the end of the tunnel. Defence Minister AK Antony, known for his economy of words, wants us to believe that his government has been able to set up a mechanism for defusing tension over the boundary dispute with China in spite of the fact that New Delhi has been talking about such mechanisms for a long time but this did not stop Beijing from giving one after another provocation.

Shiv Shankar Menon, India’s National Security Advisor, sounds even more apologetic. “The two countries have found a modus vivendi to deal with the fact of the boundary issue… While there may be differences in method and choice of tools, in most cases there is a marked similarity of goals”, he has said recently. Similar sentiments have been found to be forthcoming from all levels of the Government of India.

But for the Chinese no modus vivendi seems to exist. In October, 2009 they trenchantly objected to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s tour of the Arunachal Pradesh on the eve of the state assembly election as they consider the eastern most state of India a part and parcel of China and indeed describe it as ‘southern Tibet’. In 2006 the Chinese Ambassador to India suddenly staked claim to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh on the eve of Hu Jintao’s visit to India. Again in 2007, Beijing had refused to give visa to an IAS officer from Arunachal Pradesh on the ground of the “officer being a Chinese citizen as Arunachal Pradesh is a part of China”. In June 2009, China had opposed sanctioning of a $ 2.9 billion Asian Development Bank loan to India as it had a component of $ 60 million meant for infrastructural developments in Arunachal Pradesh.

Strategically Arunachal Pradesh is too important for both India and China although there are equally important flashpoints in the 3250-kilometre-long Line of Actual Control (LAC). Although the western sector holds the key to the solution of the boundary dispute, the Indian policy-makers’ disinclination to cast an eye on the unresolved point of discord in the area, has made China far more covetous about Arunachal Pradesh. The 1962 war was precipitated by China’s actions in the western sector where it captured 34,000 square kilometers of areas in the Aksai Chin. Later on China built an all-weather road through Aksai Chin connecting western Tibet with southern Xingjian. In the central sector too India and China are at loggerheads over an area called Barahoti in the India-Nepal-Tibet trijunction.

However China’s nervousness about Arunachal Pradesh stems from two factors. First is the monastery at Tawang which is only second in importance after the great Buddhist monastery of Lhasa. China is wary about the possibility of the present Dalai Lama choosing his successor from Tawang which will be a great blow to Beijing’s fifty-year-old attempts to bring the people of Tibet under meek submission. The second is the growing Indo-US bonhomie and the latter’s constant worldwide campaigns about human rights violations in Tibet. There is a near unanimity of opinion among the Chinese think tanks that India is acting as a proxy of the US in the latter’s “grand design of containment of the globally rising Chinese power”.

Will the 1962 Indo-China war repeat itself? A group of strategic analysts, notable among them being Brahma Chellaney, Professor of the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, thinks that a war with China may be imminent. There is no doubt that in the event of a war China holds a distinct advantage as most of the Chinese territory, on the other side of the LAC, has the character of a plateau while the Indian side is composed of undulating hills. Secondly, in spite of so many good and reassuring words from the Government of India to assuage public feelings, China has armed itself to the teeth and carried out infrastructural developments in the Tibet Autonomous Region for logistical purposes.

Both China and India, the two giant Asian countries, should have resolved the vexatious bilateral issues long back. While the Chinese claim on Tibet was is based on force only, local belief also point out that India took the Tawang monastery and the areas inhabited by the Monpa tribes by dint of a push under Major Bob Khating of the Indian Army in 1951. While both sides have agreed to demarcate the LAC by piling of stones China has been continuously denying the legitimacy of the McMahon Line, the cartographic boundary between the two countries arrived at during the British period. In spite of the undemarcated nature of the LAC the Indian Army personnel hardly transgress into the Chinese side but instances of Chinese transgression are too many, with gestures of provocation and threat.

Today China claims 90,000 square kilometres of territories in the eastern sector including the whole of Arunachal Pradesh and to browbeat India it has stationed more than 3 lakh People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers on the Indian border. The old liquid-fuelled nuclear CSS-3 intermediate range ballistic missiles (MRBM) stationed in Tibet have been replaced by more modern CSS-5 missiles. Moreover, China has also installed Intercontinental Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) enjoying a striking range of 5500-8000 kilometres in Delingha, north of Tibet. Perhaps in anticipation of a full-scale war with India Beijing has upgraded six airfields in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and has built three new ones at Hoping, Pang Ta and Kong Ka for fighter aircraft operations and airlift facilities.

China’s preparedness for war does not stop here. The PLA has, of late, reoriented its military theories. According to its new line of thinking, future wars would be short in duration, limited in terms of geographical expanse but intense in nature. In order to meet this newly evolving situation, the PLA has raised the Rapid Reaction Force (RPF) which is a high-tech army unit in round-the-clock operational mode and capable of fighting in any weather condition. The RPF has four lakh personnel and is composed of two Group Armies, nine divisions, three brigades and seven regiments.

At present, six RPF divisions are stationed at Chengdu, close to Tibet. For India the RPF has turned out to be a certain cause of worry as it commands an airlift capacity to the Indo-China border within 48 hours. Interestingly, the RPF units are trained in China’s Yunnan province, which has great topographical similarity with Arunachal Pradesh. Although the Indian Army has also enhanced its logistical capability in recent times, the RPF is in a much better position by dint of having superior transport planes such as IL-76, Yun-8, S-70 and Z-8.

In 1962 New Delhi committed a great blunder by not making use of the Indian Air Force. Fifty years later it is difficult to pass any judgment over the IAF’s striking capability at that time. But time has certainly made India wiser. Sensing threats from its northern neighbour India has now deployed on its northern border the Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles which can strike targets up to 290 kilometres. Moreover, plans are afoot to deploy 90,000 more troops along the border with China over the next five years in addition to the existing 1,20,000 Army men patrolling the sensitive boundary. Most important, two squadrons of the Sukhoi 30 aircraft have been stationed at Tezpur which is quite near the LAC. But in spite of all these it has to be admitted that the airlift capacity of Indian Army’s Mountain Division is less than that of China’s RPF.

So there is not much substance in the frequent assertions by Indian political as well as military leadership that the border with China happens to be one of the most quiet of its kind. In the Ladakh sector, PLA personnel entered into the Indian territory sometimes back and painted the word China on boulders. This makes the PLA’s attitude and purpose clear and it strikes at the root of Indian assertion that transgressions are inadvertent in nature due to non-demarcation of the LAC. There are intelligence reports that the Chinese have built a good network of roads in eastern Ladakh well within the Indian territory and are deliberately provoking the Indian Army contingent on the strategically important Pangong-Tso lake by ramming the Chinese patrol boats on Indian ones. About 40 per cent of the lake lies in India while the rest lies within Chinese jurisdiction.

In 1962, the Chinese Army had mercilessly massacred a large group of Indian military engineers and soldiers when they had tried to erect fencing on the cartographic boundary and this had acted as a very sad and somber prelude to the war. The reasons behind Beijing’s refusal to recognise the McMahon Line is mired in historical controversies and no purpose has been served in the last fifty years by its attempt to resurrect history. For staking its claim on the Tawang monastery China has advanced a preposterous argument. The 6th Dalai Lama was born in this monastery in the 17th century. While Tawang was a tributary of the Lhasa monastery in Tibet and since Tibet is now a part of China, India must hand over Tawang to China.

By Amitava Mukherjee

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