Moditva on China
Moditva on China. It is unusual in the Indian context for a foreign policy issue to become a political football that too during election time.
“Some commentators are quick to crystal gaze the shape of Sino-Indian relations in the event Modi heads the next government. Political forecasts are hazardous at the best of times and certainly in the run up to what is, by all means, going to be an absorbing mother of all electoral battles. One thing can be said with certainty though. Radical departure on China is unlikely under NDA since an early campaigner of Sino-Indian bonhomie was its tallest leader Atal Behari Vajpayee”.
The Chinese foreign office spokesman reacted to his remarks, which is again unusual because generally what the opposition leaders say doesn’t attract the attention of the foreign offices across the borders. Beijing appears to have made an exception for reasons best known to it. It could be a case of taking the cue from the State Department of the United States, which has just broken the post-Godhra ice, and expressed readiness to work with whoever comes to rule from Hastinapura.
What Modi said on Arunachal Pradesh was an established line of the Indian government from the days of the 1962 war that China had imposed on us, and it is that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. China claims Arunachal as southern Tibet, and in its view, it is part of the dispute over the 4000 km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries. It has regularly denied visas to delegates from Arunachal Pradesh even if the visit is cleared at the highest level in India. Even Army officers posted in Arunachal Pradesh do not get visas for official visits to Beijing. The visa denial regime has not gone down well with India and the displeasure has been made known publicly.
Viewed against this reality check, Modi’s comments donot acquire an added edge. In fact at the very outset his attack on China’s “expansionist mindset” appears unexceptionable and as leader of the BJP he can afford to make such a critique. Nevertheless, as pointed out earlier, he had only reiterated a long held Indian position that “Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and will always remain so. No power can snatch it from us. People of Arunachal didn't come under pressure or fear of China”.
Some commentators are quick to crystal gaze the shape of Sino-Indian relations in the event Modi is to head the next government. Their analysis is pegged to the fact that the UPA-II has very little to showcase in this area. Political forecasts are hazardous at the best of times and certainly in the run up to what is, by all means, going to be an absorbing mother of all electoral battles in India.
One thing can be said with certain amount of certainty though. Radical departure in the policy plank on China is unlikely because Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party- led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had also invested substantially for a turnaround in Sino-Indian relations; an early campaigner of Sino-Indian bonhomie was its tallest leader Atal Behari Vajpayee, himself. True, his first visit to Beijing as the Foreign Minister of Morarji Desai government had ended in ignominy but it had something to do with China’s Vietnam card.
In recent days, China has offered an economic corridor connecting its Yunnan province to Kolkata via Myanmar and Bangladesh. From the Indian perspective, BCIM proposal makes perfect sense. It gives Arunachal Pradesh and rest of north-east India badly needed access to the regional market.
Whoever comes to power in Delhi after the month of blazing sun should take the BCIM opportunity to make China open up transborder trade linkages with Tibet and Xinjiang and with Kabul from Leh. Trade has become sine qua non of modern state. Delhi should not hesitate to work on the corridor tradeoffs since China has already achieved last mile connectivity on the India-Tibetan border, which, for the Modis, represents an expansionist mindset. As on date, India is no match and has miles to go to catch up. Nepal too may be interested in the trade corridor to Tibet since its border region depends very much on supplies from Tibet.
More than the Tibet corridor, it is the linkages to Kabul that hold interest for India as we want to reach out to Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics like Uzbekistan. Expert view is that the road should be over the Ladakh range which runs on an east-northeast axis through Skardu and Gilgit. From there it should merge with the Karakoram Highway which the Chinese have built through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).Then travel north-eastwards through Shakshgam currently under the Chinese occupation, and enter the Wakhan and the Panjshir valley, which was the original boundary of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir with Afghanistan.
A word about Wakhan will be in order for the uninitiated. Located in far north-eastern Afghanistan, it forms a 220 km long land link between Afghanistan and China. It is a part of Badakhshan province and separates Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous province of Tajikistan in the north from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan in the south.
From Wakhan, taking a turn to the south towards Kabul, the road should head across the Amu Darya (Oxus) to Uzbekistan from where, after skirting the Caspian Sea, it could even head for Moscow. An east-west highway connecting Tajikistan and Turkmenistan will ensure that all land-locked Central and South Asian nations would be interconnected with the fastest growing economies of China and India.
All this, however, will largely depend on how the ruling dispensation on the Raisina Hills handles its China policy. Because Pakistan had “gifted” Shakshgam to China in 1963 to facilitate the construction of the strategic Karakoram Highway which is now being transformed into economic corridor connecting the Gwadar port on the Balochistan coastline with the Chinese western province of Xinxiang. It is designed in part to create an iron collar around India’s neck. Put simply there will be no dull moment in foreign policy terms.
(The writer, Delhi-based senior journalist and South Asia analyst, can be reached at [email protected])