Modi-Xi will fast track border settlement (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 20th Sep 2014
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping.
fter two decades of stasis, "negotiations on a border settlement between India and China are to get fast-tracked so as to get completed before the term in office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping", according to a senior official. He added that "the 16-19 September developments at Chumar were a wake-up call to the Chinese leadership because it became clear that such incidents could derail the broader relationship".
An official said that the two leaders "clearly had a shared chemistry" and that "such an understanding was unprecedented in the past". A colleague pointed out that "Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai never became personally close" and that the only time an Indian and a Chinese leader developed a personal rapport was between Rajiv Gandhi and Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. "However, unlike Modi, who seeks a practical and concrete outcome in every situation, Rajiv Gandhi and Deng could not translate their personal affinity into progress on the border issue". The officials said that "both leaders spent considerable time taking a long view of Sino-Indian relations" and that President Xi appreciated Prime Minister Modi's view that a settlement of the border was essential for the relationship to get developed to its full potential. Both leaders are understood to have asked their respective officials to give priority to a border settlement and to come up with clear milestones as to how this can be done.
While opening the door to the same level of economic and other interaction with China, as is taking place between that country and the United States or the European Union, Prime Minister Modi has reversed his predecessor's soft approach towards border defence. Over the past two months, Indian troops and paramilitary personnel on the India-China "Line of Actual Control" (LOAC) have adopted the same "no nonsense" stance as they have on the India-Pakistan "Line of Control" (LOC) since mid-June. Unlike in the past, when incursions went unchallenged except by the exchange of diplomatic messages, since this time, troops have been told to ensure physically that the sanctity of Indian territory is maintained.
At the same time, essential construction work, which had been held up for a decade because of fear of provoking a reaction from the People's Liberation Army (PLA), has been resumed, such as the construction of an irrigation ditch in the Demchok area using MNREGA funds, which the PLA professes to regard as a "military fortification" and has consequently challenged through troops in civilian clothes holding up protest banners in Mandarin.
Much more serious has been the buildup and incursion in Chumar, again in Ladakh, which went unreported because of the absence of an adequate number of reconnaissance missions. Unlike the PLA, which sends a UAV into the air every three hours for mapping facts on the ground, the UAV missions sent by India are few and far between, as are helicopter sorties.
Although the circumstances behind the leak of visuals of the Chinese soldiers in Chumar at precisely the moment when Xi Jinping was in India are obscure, as is how a news agency was in the same remote spot just when a local official broke the news of an incursion, the reality remains that the PLA has consistently sought to test Indian patience and resolve by patrolling and the claiming of territory which never in the past witnessed any activity from their side, whether civilian or military. The PLA Chengdu command, which is known to maintain close links with GHQ in Rawalpindi and is considered the authority on the Indian military, clearly expected that the Indian side would once again follow the "Manmohan Line" (of making only verbal or written protests rather than placing boots on the ground), when they intruded several kilometres into India-held territory from 10 September onwards, peaking on 16 September, the day before President Xi touched down in India. Although he has been blamed for this apparent show of bad faith, informed sources in Beijing say that President Xi was unaware of the operation and was as much taken by surprise as Prime Minister Modi by the PLA's muscle-flexing in Ladakh.
Incidentally, the western sector has seen a sharp rise in incursions over the past year, in contrast to past years, when the frequency was much more on the eastern side. "This is clearly at the request of the Pakistan army, as they seek to shelter under the Chinese umbrella in the region", an analyst pointed out, adding that "it would appear that the PLA's stance on the border is getting decided by GHQ in Rawalpindi".
The Prime Minister gave instructions to the Ministry of Defence that a firm response on the ground rather than merely on paper should be given to the intruding troops, and this has been done. The expectation is that President Xi, who has been indulgent thus far towards the PLA because of family connections, will take matters in hand and ensure that "the Party controls the Gun", rather than allow the PLA any more to set foreign policy by confronting countries as diverse as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and India, thereby dissipating the goodwill earned by China over the decades in the region. Officials believe that the events of 16-19 September would show to the Chinese leadership the urgency of not allowing the Pakistan army to have a veto over a border settlement between China and India, which has been the case thus far.
Despite the tension, the diplomatic gains of the Xi visit were visible. Both President Xi and even more so his telegenic spouse Peng Liyuan charmed their hosts by abandoning formality and mixing with local citizens. Breaking protocol and going against the advice of conservative officials, Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed China's head of state Xi Jinping to Ahmedabad not just as a global statesperson but as a personal friend, as a "Lao Peng You" (Old Friend). Despite the border situation, the Xi visit has for the first time ever in the history of Sino-Indian relations created the conditions for a fullscope transactional relationship between the two countries, the way it is between China and the US, or China and the EU.
While some have dismissed the reported figure of $20 billion as investment into India until 2019 as below the Japan promise of $35 billion, what is forgotten is that this sum represents mainly the official investment, and that separate investments by Chinese corporate entities (including in the industrial parks) will be many times that number. Add to that the likely long-term loans by Chinese financial entities at low interest rates to Indian companies, now burdened by RBI-mandated high interest rates, and the total volume of inflow of Chinese capital into India would be in the vicinity of ten times the figure of $20 billion for official investment. Both President Xi as well as Prime Minister Modi are aware of the immense synergy between the two economies, hence the attention paid by them to an examination of the sectors where both sides could work together.
The Chinese side is aware that there are two competing narratives in Asia, the first involving a coming together of the US, Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam and other countries (excluding China and North Korea) into an Asian version of NATO. The other is a collective security pact suggested by Beijing, in which countries in Asia would band together to ensure mutual security, without the involvement of outside powers such as the US or the EU.
Each time the PLA marches to the Pakistan army's drum, opinion in Delhi moves towards the Asian NATO option rather than its Chinese competitor. That the PLA, by its muscle-flexing, is creating the conditions needed for the setting up of an Asian NATO to deal with its increasing assertiveness, is presumably clear by now to the Chinese leadership.
India is the country whose participation will decide the primacy of either grouping. Given this, despite — or perhaps because of — the fracas on the border during the Xi visit, it is expected that he will do what his predecessors failed to achieve, ensure an equitable border settlement with India "if not during the first term, then certainly during the second term of Prime Minister Modi", according to a senior official, who added that "such an achievement would make both leaders eligible for the Nobel Peace Prize".