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Is it A New Chinese Ruse?

China might be indulging in a subterfuge by extending its stapled visa regime to Arunachal Pradesh. What is China up to? Is its latest action of issuing stapled visas to two persons from Arunachal Pradesh — which it lays claim to in entirety — a positive gesture, given that the Chinese embassy in Delhi had refused to give visa to a senior IAS officerfrom the State, Ganesh Koyu, in 2007, or is it another way of asserting that the State is a disputed territory because it is actually “southern Tibet”? What are the Chinese intentions?

Indian Weightlifting Federation joint secretary Abraham K Techi and noted weightlifter Yukar Sibi, both hailing from Arunachal Pradesh, were to leave for Beijing on January 12 at the invitation of the Chinese Weightlifting Association president on behalf of the China Weightlifting Grand Prix that was scheduled in Fujian from January 15 to 17. The duo, however, were in for a shock when officials at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi prevented them from boarding their flight because of the stapled visas issued to them by the Chinese embassy in the national capital. Techi contacted the embassy during the day only to be informed that “the right visa was issued to the Arunachal Pradesh men”.

Great Wall of China

Reacting to the episode, Techi said, “This is an insult to and an unnecessary harassment for the people of Arunachal Pradesh”. On January 13, Defense Minister AK Anthony said, ‘‘Stapled visas are unacceptable to India. It has been conveyed to China. We will not accept it.’’

China also issues stapled visas to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, saying it is a ‘‘disputed’’ territory. In fact, a few months ago, China had described Jammu and Kashmir as ‘‘India-occupied territory’’ while calling Pakistan-occupied Kashmir ‘‘the northern part of Pakistan’’.

In view of China’s extension of its stapled-visa regime from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, the most obvious question is whether China has shifted its stand from a no-visa-for-Arunachal-people policy to a visa-possible regime with a rider, and whether by doing so it has moved forward towards normalizing ties with India in a phased manner. That is, is it that China has changed the description of Arunachal Pradesh from ‘a Chinese territory’ to a merely ‘disputed territory’ as it does with Jammu and Kashmir? Does that mean India and China are warming up to each other?

On January 17, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman told PTI that “China’s position is consistent and clear about the China-India border issue, including the disputed area of the eastern section”, that “the Indian side is aware of it”, and that “the (Chinese) position has remained unchanged”. The eastern section of the China-India border covers the Arunachal Pradesh sector, which is part of the dialogue mechanism to resolve it.

Though the Chinese Foreign Ministry has not clarified whether the issuance of stapled visas means any departure from its previous policy of not granting the people of Arunachal Pradesh any visas at all, Rong Ying, a senior research fellow at the State-run China Institute of International Studies, has said that while his country’s stand on the Arunachal Pradesh ‘dispute’ has remained unchanged, the stapled visas to two Arunachal Pradesh persons could be a ‘pragmatic’ step to allow Arunachal Pradesh people to visit China. He has said that both sides have to be ‘pragmatic’, keeping the ‘reality’ into consideration.

What is the ‘reality’? Is it that for China, Arunachal Pradesh is still a Chinese territory? Or is it that it is a ‘disputed’ territory on which both sides should deliberate to arrive at a negotiated solution of the ‘problem’? What is remarkable this time is that China has refrained from using the long-used description ‘Chinese territory’ for Arunachal Pradesh, calling it only ‘disputed’. Yet there is no clarity. The point is whether by ‘disputed’ China still means Arunachal Pradesh is its territory, or whether its characteristic hegemonic ego has come as a deterrent to admitting that there has been a pragmatic policy shift towards normalizing the strained relationship with India in view of the huge potential of business between the two countries.

Noted strategic affairs analyst C Raja Mohan has talked of ‘other voices indicating an important evolution’ of the India-China relationship. He has quoted Hu Shisheng, a leading South Asia hand at the State-run China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), as saying that the decision to grant stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh is a possible ‘concession’ to India as China had been saying that “the people of Arunachal Pradesh do not need visa as it is part of China”. Hu, who is a Deputy Director of the Institute for South and South Asian Studies at the CICIR, says that “there must have been a change in policy for such a thing to happen”.

Raja, however, says that “former diplomats who have negotiated with China on the boundary dispute wonder if the move is merely a tactical one aimed at improving the atmospherics of Sino-Indian relations”, and “they point out that as an administrative decision, China’s latest move on Arunachal visas could easily be reversed”. China might be indulging in a subterfuge. While it could be trying to escape international criticism for being bellicose on the ‘issue’ of Arunachal Pradesh as well as impressing on the international community that it has moved a step forward towards an amicable settlement of all issues with India, Beijing might also be using the stapled-visa ‘positive’ movement as a mere expedient, clinging on, in reality, to the thesis that not just Tawang but the rest of Arunachal Pradesh too is Chinese territory. This is the reason why discerning observers of the history of India-China boundary disputes in Delhi have said that the latest Chinese move may be noteworthy but cautioned against making bold conclusions about a positive change in Beijing’s approach to Arunachal Pradesh.

China cannot be trusted. It has in recent years allowed its strategic affairs experts to run very vitriolic commentaries against India in State-run media outlets like The People’s Daily, including the one that talks of the possibility of India being splintered into 20-30 independent states. China is also discomfited by India’s Look East Policy, which some of its strategic affairs analysts have derided in recent times. And the most important factor that prompts China to work meticulously on its ‘string of pearls’ strategy — which involves developing excellent sea lanes of communication right from Hong Kong to Sudan, encircling India in that sense — is the rise of India.

That apart, on January 18, China officially launched its State-run mapping website called ‘Map World’ rivaling Google Earth and showing both Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir as part of its territory! While we want a balanced flourish of relations with China, New Delhi must ensure that the neighbor’s ruse, if any, is neutralized effectively. New Delhi can do that.—

*The article is written by Bikash Sarmah.

*Source: ADNI

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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