By Rajeev Sharma
It is no secret that the tortuous India-China negotiations on the vexed boundary dispute have remained logjammed. However, a leaked diplomatic cable of the United States by Wikileaks accords authenticity to this widely held perception.
Though the leaked cable is dated 8 February 2008, the situation hasn’t changed much since past 62 months and the cable gives a good idea of a tectonic shift in India’s policy towards (i) Arunachal Pradesh, (ii) India-China border areas, and (iii) India-China relations.
Incidentally, the cable also throws up ignorance of the American diplomat who has written the message meant for the State Department, the CIA and a host of other American entities as the author of the cable repeatedly mentions India-China as “Indo-China”. Obviously the cable author is unaware of the fact that Indo-China is the name of the region that lies close to both India and China and the term Indo-China cannot be a substitute for India-China. In fact, Indochina refers to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
China was livid with Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh and made noises, only to be ignored by the UPA government that has become increasingly assertive, even combative, with China. The US cable detailed how Manmohan Singh showered Arunachal Pradesh with Central government-funded developmental projects worth $ 2.5 billion.
After detailing the schemes and projects announced by Manmohan Singh for giving a major push to Arunachal Pradesh’s infrastructural growth story, the diplomat-writer of the cable gives her own prognosis of the India-China relations and analyses the state of India-China boundary dispute talks.
The relevant portion of the US diplomat’s analysis of India-China relations in the wake of Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh is as follows: “Singh’s trip to Arunachal Pradesh so soon after his visit to China may be an indication that India’s border negotiations with China are not going well and that the PM felt the need to shore up India’s presence in the state. The visit apparently served several goals, as: 1) a signal that India regards the state as strategic Indian territory; 2) a reminder to China of India’s view on where the border stands; and 3) a public promise that the GOI is committed to the people of Arunachal Pradesh by developing the poor infrastructure and economy. The lack of progress on border talks has led to an uneasy stalemate, as both sides remain hesitant to finally settle the dispute and instead, continue cross-border troop ‘incursions’.
India has left Arunachal Pradesh underdeveloped in the misguided hope of having the mountainous state serve as a natural, physical buffer against the Chinese. However, ethnically and geographically removed from mainland India, Arunachalis may be feeling some growing bonds with China as their awareness of greater development (and economic opportunity) across the border increases. Therefore, Singh’s trip reflects a belated recognition by India that it must pay greater attention to Arunachal Pradesh or potentially face gradually losing the state to China simply through its growing economic attraction.”
The American diplomat has put her finger right on spot by talking about the shift in India’s policy towards its northeast as well as China. India started focusing on development of the hitherto-ignored border regions of the northeast in 2006. The then foreign secretary Shyam Saran even visited the Indian North-East to make an on the spot assessment of the ground situation in the border areas and what needed to be done. Saran submitted his report to the prime minister after returning from this visit, underlining urgent need to develop infrastructure in regions in the northeast that border China.
The American diplomat has also got it right when it comes to the changing policy of India vis a vis China. India had indulged in some clever diplomatic symbolism in January 2011 when the then Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited India. In the customary Joint Statement at the end of the visit, India refused to reiterate its commitment to One China in an obvious tit-for-tat response to a host of irritants from China.
This was perhaps the first time when India had taken such a bold stand and conveyed to China in categoric terms that Beijing can no longer take New Delhi for granted.
As far as the India-China boundary dispute is concerned, it has failed to throw up any concrete results despite the two sides discussing the issue at the upgraded level of Permanent Representatives. The only concrete deliverable on the boundary dispute came almost a decade ago when the two sides exchanged maps in the Central Sector. But that is hardly an achievement as the Central Sector was least contentious anyway.