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'Xi is not interested in settling border issue'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: July 16, 2021 08:18 IST
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'We may think that in our border quarrel, the Chinese can give up a bit of territory here or there to satisfy us, but that's not how they see it.'
'Arunachal Pradesh is 90,000 square kilometres and twice the size of Taiwan.'
'The Chinese can't be seen to be asserting their rights to Taiwan and on the other hand, cheaply giving up Arunachal Pradesh.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with Chinese President Xi Kinping at their last face to face encounter in Mahabalipuram, October 11, 2019. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

"Xi wants to show the world that rising China is not to be trifled with and that extends to big neighbours like India," Dr Kanti Bajpai, author of the fascinating new book India Versus China: Why They Are Not Friends, tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih in part 4 of a well-informed interview.

 

One of the similarities between 1962 and 2021 is the presence of super ambitious leaders -- Mao Zedong then and Xi Jinping now -- determined to establish Chinese hegemony.
In Mao's case in Asia; in Xi's case in the world.
The 1962 war was a lesson Mao intended for India. What are the lessons you believe Xi would like to teach India?

Mao certainly wanted to make the point that India had to negotiate very seriously on the border. He felt that Jawaharlal Nehru was willing to talk, but not willing to actually cut a deal and acknowledge that there were serious differences. There is good evidence to show that that is a fact.

He may also have thought of China's prestige factor in Asia and the world, and wanted to diminish India with the war.

But more than that Mao really wanted to get India more serious about negotiating the border. He wanted to humiliate India in world affairs as well.

Xi is not so interested in settling the border issue. He, like other Chinese leaders since Mao has indicated that this problem will probably not be settled in this generation and needs to be left to time.

But he does want to do two things.

One, he wants to show the world that rising China is not to be trifled with and that extends to big neighbours like India.

He wants to show that the Chinese will defend what they see is their interests and territories, and will stand up to anyone.

I suppose the Chinese under Mao also wanted to do the same and Xi is very much a part of that. He does want to send a message to his own population that he is a strong leader and even the smallest bits of territory cannot be given up with any kind of easy deal cutting.

Two, Taiwan is a great priority for Xi. He has said he wants to settle Taiwan perhaps in his tenure as leader. He has hung tough on the South China Sea and on the East Japan Sea over the Senkaku Diaoyu Islands with the Japanese.

He has hung tough on Hong Kong. Frankly, he has basically sorted out the Hong Kong problem completely.

Chinese public opinion now is very expressive, more than it was in Mao's time. It does hold a very nationalistic view of territory, much more than in the past.

Mao, and even Deng Xiaoping might have been able to do a deal, give up territory, sell it and over-ride public opinion, but Xi Jinping -- as powerful he may be -- does not have that kind of power.

He has got to demonstrate to his population that he will hang tough on territorial issues, particularly at a time when he is determined about Taiwan and Hong Kong.

We may think that in our border quarrel, the Chinese can give up a bit of territory here or there to satisfy us, but that's not how they see it.

Arunachal Pradesh is 90,000 square kilometres and twice the size of Taiwan. The Chinese can't be seen to be asserting their rights to Taiwan and on the other hand, cheaply giving up Arunachal Pradesh.

It might give the Taiwanese and perhaps even the Americans the idea that if they can give 90,000 square kms to India, then why can't they give up on Taiwan at some point?

These issues are inter-linked. China doesn't want to send a message globally, or to Taiwan or to their internal population that they are going to give up on big chunks of territory easily.

IMAGE: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with senior Indian Air Force officers at IAF station Ladakh, June 28, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

Do you see India being isolated in the region with China building such strong relationships with Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, of course, Pakistan, even Afghanistan and Maldives.
What does India need to do to keep Chinese influence in South Asia on a leash?

I would agree with some points that (retired foreign secretary) Shyam Saran has made recently that India has to play a very shrewd game. It can't be everywhere all the time.

It has to check Chinese influence primarily in the countries immediately around India -- Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and to some extent the Maldives.

Those are the countries that form the first ring where India competes and holds its influence.

We were talking some years ago of competing with the Chinese in Southeast Asia, and in Africa with the Japanese, but we must be realistic.

The Chinese are cultivating influence through their enormous economic capacity. India simply cannot match that if it extends its limited resources to all these places.

The Himalayan territories, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka are absolutely vital -- Maldives and Myanmar as well, the latter abuts the northeastern states of India.

India has to have some accomplishments in these countries and make a big difference on some crucial issues. We have to deliver on some big projects that make a real difference to these countries.

Bangladesh: We've done that to some extent in Bangladesh by selling energy, infrastructure, improving trading relations and solving the issue of territorial enclaves.

Hopefully, at some point, we can do a better deal with them on the river water issues which the government of West Bengal has held up for some years now.

Nepal: We need to look at the territorial issue with Nepal that bubbled up last year so that we don't alienate Nepal.

If the Nepalese want to relook the treaty relationship, I think we've indicated to them that we're open to it. But we need to make a real move on it, not just leave it to the Nepalese to periodically get interested in revising that treaty.

We also need to think about how we deal with issues internal to Nepal. India has to start delivering on some things and do more than just the open-ended negotiations that go on interminably.

Myanmar: We still haven't delivered on the roads and port facility. It's been painfully slow. The Chinese build hundreds and thousands of kilometres of road and rail in distant places, as far away as Africa.

We can't deliver in Myanmar because our internal agencies cannot agree and the people who are going to build these roads can't get their act together.

If you want to have influence, you've got to deliver on some big issues that matter to your neighbours and build on it.

The Chinese deliver; sometimes over-deliver and send countries into debt spirals.

India has to deliver on some things that matter, but we aren't and that's the problem. You need to pick a few low hanging-medium hanging fruit, pluck those and deliver.

We are just not able to do that, even under Modi.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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