Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tale of a Tiger, Part 5

In Part 4 we looked at how new reckoning in Beijing chopped off about 1000 miles of Sino-Indian border, and a logical conclusion: China now seems to feel Jammu and Kashmir belong to Pakistan, not India. We then examined how China might be reinforcing a strategic choice to side with Pakistan against common enemy India.

First, we pick up where we left off at the end of Part 4; continuing with The mystery of missing thousand miles in J & K by C. Raja Mohan, December 19, 2010:

Xinhua's reference to 2,000 km of Sino-Indian border was based on an official briefing by the Assistant Foreign Minister of China, Hu Zhengyue to the Beijing press corps on Monday.

Minister Hu's shortening of the border with India does not appear to be a one-off comment. The figure 2,000 km appears to have become the new normal in the official Chinese characterisation of the border with India.

A day before Wen arrived in India, The Global Times - an English language newspaper published by the People's Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party - contradicted the Indian figure of 3,500 km for the operational border between the two nations.

In an interview with the Indian Ambassador to China, S. Jaishankar, the Global Times asked about the reported tensions on the border. In response, Jaishankar said, "The reality contradicts any alarmist depiction of the situation on the border, whether in India or in China. We have a long common border of 3,488 km."

In publishing the interview in its Tuesday's editions, the editors of the Global Times chose to add in parenthesis the following: "There is no settled length of the common border. The Chinese government often refers to the border length as being 'about 2,000 km.'"

Given Beijing’s new emphasis on a shorter border with India, Delhi can't ignore the issue any longer. After all, the Chinese are quite careful and very definitive in articulating their boundary claims.

Beijing's official figure for the Indian border at about 2,000 km makes sense only if the boundary between J&K and China is disregarded. From the Indian count, the western sector that covers the frontier of Jammu & Kashmir is 1,597 km (nearly 1,000 miles).

For decades now, Delhi and Beijing have discussed, as a mater of routine, the western sector of J&K as part of their boundary talks. The first signs of trouble on the western sector came nearly a decade ago during NDA tenure, when Delhi tried to exchange maps of the border with Beijing as part of an effort to clarify the Line of Actual Control on their vast frontiers.

The maps for the central sector were quickly exchanged; but Beijing was reluctant to do the same in the western sector. Part of the problem was said to be Chinese concern about Pakistan's sensitivity to the delineation of the Sino-Indian border in J&K.

The new Chinese approach to the western sector reveals that India's problem could be much larger than the question of stapled visas. It might be about a fundamental ambivalence in Beijing about India's sovereignty over J&K.

Just as the Chinese decision to call Arunachal Pradesh as 'South Tibet' [see Part 6 - EL] has begun to gain international traction, the repeated references to the length of Sino-Indian border as 2,000 km is bound to have an impact on the global discourse about J&K.

Beijing's new position underlines China's centrality in J&K. While the Indian debate on Kashmir is usually focussed on Pakistan, China's presence in the state might be emerging as a decisive new factor.

India claims that China is in occupation of nearly 38,000 sq km of Indian territory in the Ladakh region of J&K. China is also in control of nearly 5,000 sq km of Shaksgam valley in PoK ceded by Islamabad to Beijing in March 1963.

Until now India has sought to negotiate its territorial disputes in Kashmir separately with Pakistan and China. India might now have to come to terms with the changing geopolitics of J&K, where India's two fronts with Pakistan and China come together.

But, is my analysis wrong, and is India - where the above-quoted article originated - perhaps a little paranoid?

From In trip to India, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao takes cues from Obama, December 15, 2010:

While China is putting business deals front and center with India, the two largest countries on earth have major strains to hash out behind closed doors. Obama's earlier visit put China on notice that its recent assertiveness over disputed territory has galvanized neighbors like India to deepen ties with the United States as geopolitical insurance.

China has long been nettled by New Delhi's sheltering of the Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, India has been particularly unnerved over the past couple of years by:
  • The refusal of China to stamp visas inside the passports of Indian residents – and even an Indian military general – from the disputed Kashmir region; Chinese officials have stamped separate, stapled papers instead.
  • Chinese border incursions along the Himalayan border that remains disputed since a 1962 border war; India has quietly begun large infrastructure buildups in response.
  • The Chinese buildup of naval port facilities in the Indian Ocean, a strategy dubbed the "string of pearls" that's designed to choke off Indian naval emergence.
Obama's November trip tapped into growing trepidation in Asia over Chinese assertiveness and drew together a similar "string of pearls" of major democracies with navies that surround China – India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea. Strategist Robert Kaplan has called attention to the semicircle that those nations form around China.

"It's not a war I'm predicting, but what I am alluding toward is a very complex, Metternichian arrangement of power from the Horn of Africa all the way up through the Sea of Japan," the Monitor quoted Mr. Kaplan as saying at a book event in Cambridge, Mass. "We don't have to interfere everywhere, we just have to move closer to our democratic allies in the region so they can do more of the heavy lifting."

As I showed in Part 2, China is definitely developing a naval capability that has ramifications in the Indian Ocean.

And, as alluded to in Part 4, moving the People's Liberation Army down the Karakoram Highway could allow China to threaten India's western flank, providing a military agreement with Pakistan to do so existed - and, in the event of an Indo-Pak war, I doubt Islamabad would refuse such an agreement.

China is talking business with longtime rival India; but, is China squaring off for a fight with India? By setting in place the pieces - a legal pretext to deny Jammu and Kashmir to India, a capability to move naval forces into the Indian Ocean and support their operations there, a line of communication to move ground and air forces into Pakistan - is Beijing preparing to secure its western flank by eliminating a big pearl off Obama's string?

Is this a strategic move to deny the US an ally on China's western flank should China have to square off with the US?

Stay tuned for Part 6!

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