Thursday, May 2, 2013

Assessment on Ladakh Incursion: Ignoring Tibet

By Tenzin Lekshay

Courtesy: Manjul
A month ahead of Li Keqiang, the new Chinese premier's planned visit to India, Chinese troops yet again played their game by sneaking into Indian territory. This time, unlike earlier incursions, they pitched tents in Depsang Bulge area of Ladakh. It is now confirmed that supply lines are on their way, which somehow gives a clue that they are not planning to retreat from their newest found base in India. The government of India initially downplay the recent incursion by calling it an acne. Such may be because, India wants to prepare for a grand red carpet reception for the visiting Li. But, now, with the seriousness of what is happening in Depsang Bulge, and its future implications on India's security, both the civilian and the military leaders are on their feet to discuss about the possible way out to push back the intruding Chinese troops.

Sino-India border problem is the long pending problem, existing in the heart of Sino-Indian relationship. Despite the rhetoric slogan of mutual cooperation between the two populous nations, border issue is considered the serious problem, which needs to be resolved. However, it is somehow difficult to do so, considering its historical legacies attached to the borders. Historically speaking, India-China border sharing started only after China's brutal occupation of Tibet in 1959. So, it is considered contemporary and a newly formed border. For centuries, India and Tibet shared their physical borders all along the Himalayan ranges, which act as a natural barrier. But, since India inherited the British legacies after its independence, complexity of border became a headache for Independent India. In late 19th Century and early 20th Century, Great Britain had played many ambiguous games along the borders, which helped facilitate their control over Asia. For instant, British India had different versions of borders in the western sector.1 As a result of multiplicity of borders, it creates a complexity in choosing the line of actual control. So far, both India and China did not share the maps of border sharing. At least we know that India has something to validate their stand on border, but do China possess any historical map to show their borders with India. In 1914, China was somehow involved in Shimla Conference but was not the signatory to the agreement, in sharing the border called McMohan Line. Tibetan Minister (Lonchen Shatra) was the plenipotentiary of the Independent Tibetan government.

Even after the series of India-China border talks, it fails to give any tangible solution. Now, with this recent border incursion, It is high time for India to examine why border talks with China are not working and why Chinese troops are frequently entering into the India territories. Since 2010, Chinese incursions happened more than 500 times. While observing the nature of Chinese incursions over of the years, China is getting serious with the borders, which they want to claim by force and not by talks. They know that talks will not help them as they don't have sufficient or valid claims over the territories. Rather the physical presence will empower them to control the area and they did it this time. They are still examining the India's politico-public sentiments on the border issues. They are waiting for the Indians to declare that 'not even the blade of grass grows',  that will create a space to roll a welcome carpet to the intruding Chinese troops. Earlier, in 2009, Chinese helicopters crossed into Indian airspace and dropped expired tin cans. Later, they violated the international borders and painted boulders with Chinese character. Those days, India restrained  and called Sino-India border a peaceful border. Now, they are camping 19 km inside India which China denies any incursion, and India calls an acne. The flag meetings will not defuse the problem and such border problems will continue to happen if India continues to act with such softness. There is a possibility that such border incursions will create major political and security problems in India in the future.

Why is Sino-India border talks not working?

1) Historical Challenges: India adopting British legacy and China having no historical legacy on Sino-India borders is a prevalent problem. As mentioned earlier, India and Tibet used to share the historical border. But the recent evolution of Sino-India border remains problematic from all fronts. It is therefore a clash of a legacy Vs. Non legacy, and such historical challenges create the problem in understanding the border issues.

2) Lack of political will: China resolved most of its border problems with other neighboring countries, but still have a border problems with India. It is the lack of China's political will, that is deliberate. With such a prevailing problem, China wants to play a carrot and stick game with India, which is evident that China has nothing to lose and clearly stands on the advantage position, ready for claiming those disputed areas like Tawang. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, earlier reiterated that Tawang belongs to India. Interestingly, border infrastructures are more sophisticated in China than in India, which could poise threat to India.

3) Party's Command: Mao's declaration of Tibet as a palm and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and North East Frontier Association (NEFA, modern Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh) as its five fingers is still running high in the mindset of Chinese Political leaders. With the recent territorial disputes with Japan, China claims that territorial integrity is their core interest. China will not go loose on the command of their helmsman and are serious about their expansionism. Such rhetoric chant of Chinese leaders had became policies, as history witnessed.

While observing the recent episode of incursions, many Indian experts, leaders and medias spoke, wrote and expressed their opinions. But I felt that many of them had not touched the crux of the problem and had minimal the role, which Tibet can play in resolving the border problems in the future. Of all the above points, in which the border talks fail, Tibet issue becomes a center stage. The Chinese troops might retreat this time, but they will come back again. In order to have a lasting solution, India must highlight Tibet issue. Until now, Tibet issue was buried under and were not highlighted whenever Sino-India border problems happened. Resolving the Tibet issue will certainly help India's security and sustainability on the border, which are vulnerable to China.

Since the Sino-India border issues had its inherited roots with Tibet, as Tibet shared historical borders with India for thousands of years, and has established cultural affinity and bond with the Himalayan people, It is of India's advantage to address the Tibet issue on the discussion table, especially at this critical period of Tibetan history. Not only on border problems, but also to safeguard India's ecology, Tibet issue must be raised with dignity and power, without being feared of objection from the Chinese counterparts. But it is important that, while talking of India using Tibet as an asset or a Liability, such usage should consider the aspirations of the Tibetan people.

1) Map of Historical development of western sector boundary, India China Relations by Mohan Guruswamy and Zorawar Daulet Singh, pp. 16

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