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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 11, March 7, 2015

Should PM Visit China?

Monday 9 March 2015, by Kuldip Nayar

Full marks to the arrogance of China! It summons the Indian envoy at Beijing and conveys its displeasure over the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Arunachal Pradesh. The territory is part of India and was never claimed by China till some years ago when it attained the military prowess worth the name.

Beijing told our ambassador Ashok Kantha that Modi’s visit “undermined China’s territorial sovereignty right and interests”. Not long ago, Beijing had begun stapling visas of the people of Arunachal visiting China to indicate that it was a “different” territory as if it was not part of India.

New Delhi has borne the humiliation quietly then and has done it so now after the Indian Prime Minister has visited part of his own country. This is, however, the first time that Beijing has publicly expressed its unhappiness. It has in the past accepted without demur the maps showing Arunachal Pradesh as India’s territory. So far the dispute has been over a small territory between Arunachal and the China border. The status of Arunachal has been seldom questioned.

 Again it is a part of arrogance when the important message is conveyed through Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, who says: “Modi’s visit undermined China’s territorial sovereignty, right and interests. Such act by the Indian side artificially amplified differences between the two countries on the border issue and thus went against the principles and consensus that the two sides reached on properly addressing the issue.”

Thus far New Delhi has stood firm to the appreciation of the country. It has rightly gone to the extent of saying that the Prime Minister would be visiting Arunachal again. The message would have gone home clearly if New Delhi had announced the date also. True, the Prime Minister’s engagements have to be scheduled beforehand. But a departure could have been made in view of the importance of the problem. The message would have been loud and clear.

In fact, the BJP, if not the government, should have inspired a debate whether the Prime Minister should visit China in May, as scheduled, to convey the nation’s annoyance as well as concern. That India cannot be taken for granted is something China should be made to realise.

Probably, New Delhi does not face the rumpus it would cause if the PM’s visit is postponed, if not cancelled. But China has given enough of provocation to make India reconsider the visit. China’s arrogance should not go without being rebutted.

Matters about the territory relate to India’s sovereignty, and thus they should not be taken lightly. Prime Minister Modi should find an early opportunity to tell China that the territorial integrity was not dependent on relations between New Delhi and Beijing. In fact, it is the other way round. The future of Sino-India relations would improve if there was a consensus on each other’s sensitivity over the territorial sovereignty. China is in occupation of a substantial part of Indian territory in the North-East.

New Delhi’s suspicion of China’s aggrandisement was well founded because India has been prey to the betrayal of trust. In a letter to the State Chief Ministers, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said: “If we cannot have a real peace and cooperation between nations in the world, the next big thing is to try and avoid the outbreak of war on a large scale in the hope that this may give the world an opportunity some time later of arriving at peaceful settlements.

“If however war broke out, then we shall keep out of it also. It will be some gain if a part of the earth’s surface is kept out of this terrific conflict between giants. This is the reason why we have refused to align ourselves with either of the two great power blocks and why we are not agreeable to joining either the Middle East Defence Organisation or the South-East Asia one... We live now onwards in a war atmosphere and wish all the energies of many nations turned towards war production.”

Still Nehru was one person who at that time could avert the conflict and he did. Modi does not enjoy the same status in the world, nor has he the vision. Yet he is in a position to stall, with the help of the newly-won friend, President Barrack Obama. The ambition of Beijing to dominate the world affairs is nothing new. It has always wanted to be a Sultan and treat the world as its durbar.

I recall how angry were the former Army Generals at Beijing where I touched upon at a meeting that China was still in control of India’s territory. Their reply was hawkish when they said: “You have forgotten the lesson we taught you in 1962.”

Nehru was wrong in recognising Tibet as part of China. By doing so, he probably thought that he would strengthen his relations with Beijing. But its then Prime Minister, Chou En-lai, was only exploiting Nehru’s contacts to be known in the world. Once his purpose was served, Chou En-lai showed his real face when he attacked India in 1962.

By all means we should have good relations with China but not at the expense of our territory. What purpose would Modi’s visit serve when Beijing is not willing to recognise Arunachal Pradesh as part of our territory? It is still not too late to make China realise that it cannot get away with the insult it heaps on India by not recognising Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of our country.

Relations between India and China are important for peace in the region. But China has to be as much sincere as India has been. However, one gets a feeling that Beijing wants to talk from the point of strength and can see its efforts to encircle India. It has given generous assistance to Nepal and is in the process of setting up a port at Sri Lanka. Beijing is also trying to win over Myanmar.

India would be the last country to object to good relations with its neighbours. But if the intention is to use them as a lever to pressure New Delhi, it smacks of ulterior motive. This does not speak of friendship, which India wants to cultivate.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com