There were reports on Sunday, 11 August 2013 that India and China could sign a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) during PM Manmohan Singh’s proposed visit to Beijing this November. This comes in the backdrop of a series of face-offs from Depsang plateau in Ladakh around April last and early May this year to Dichu in Arunachal towards July end. The proposed BDCA would prevent Depsang like face-offs between the two troops along the long and disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC). Professor at the Centre for Policy Research Brahma Chellaney wrote on 30 July in an article. Beijing’s call for ‘mutual accommodation’ and ‘mutual respect’ to achieve a dispute resolution on the basis of a now-familiar Chinese dictum—‘what is ours is ours to keep, but what is yours must be on the negotiating table to be settled through give and take’.” Chellaney might have presented a rather dreary picture. However, by all counts, China invoking a border face-off just before Premier Li Keqiang’s India visit does not signal their respect for India on equal footing.
Concurrent with the above developments, there were elections held in Bhutan in mid-July resulting in ouster of PM Jigmi Yoeser Thinley from power. The one prime reason cited behind his rout in elections was reported to be his government’s inching towards China at the cost of Bhutan’s strong relations with India causing political and economic difficulties in the small Himalayan Kingdom. China’s interests in Bhutan start from seeking advantage out of its strategic geographic location especially gaining control over the Chumbi valley area near the Siliguri Corridor – the only road link to India’s turbulent northeastern states. It also wants Bhutan to serve as an economic feeder for Tibetan economy and bestow de facto legitimacy for China’s claims over Tibetan Buddhism, something India has deliberately refused to.
China has been relentless in pursuing strong economic and cultural ties with India even as it maintains its strategic upper hand along the border. Other than emerging as India’s top trading partner to its great favour, China is also pushing hard to nourish a constituency for its own agenda. The soon to open Confucius Institute in Mumbai University with a grant of USD 150,000 is a case in point. China’s economic might and its successes in providing amenities to its own citizens have invited praise and admiration in India and world over. China’s reputation is shoring up fast in India as also reflected in the shoring number of Indian tourists in China. More than 6 lakh Indian tourists went to China compared to 1.5 lakh Chinese tourists who visited India. The only factor where China has not been able to seize Indian sentiments has revolved around the border dispute. Somehow, Tibet has lied at the heart of this dispute.
Even after India’s recognition of Tibet as part of China, for India, it remains a territory where militarisation has been caused by China. India has refused instinctively and diplomatically to accept Tibet as an ‘inalienable’ part of China. China recognises India’s reluctance due to a host of reasons including China’s own stand on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Indian Kashmir – not to ignore the part of Kashmir it was gifted by China. Still China has not maintained a consistent stand on either of these. Neither has it sought to address India’s security dilemma due to its heavy Chinese military presence in Tibet and its arming of Pakistan. It has deliberately refused to recognise that the road to peace and amity with India, a civlisation as proud as China’s if not more, passes through Tibet – the culture and civilisation with an umbilical cord into the Indian thought and psyche. China would do well to respect Indian concerns and fears while refraining from exploiting India’s security and economic dilemmas. It is tragic that the countries which started as good neighbours are not exploring the ‘sheel’ in the ‘Panchsheel’ and the ‘Bhai-Bhai’ legacy they own but the ‘nation’ and the ‘state’ in the ‘nation-state’. Without respecting their natural sentiments, India and China will continue to hit the wrong notes.