Civil Service Essay — Tawang in Indo-China relations
The Tawang Tangle
A prickly issue that must not escalate to bedevil Delhi and Beijing dialogue
The Dalsai Lama is scheduled to visit the Tawang Monastery in early April. This has irked China to an extent that it has warned India of grave consequences for bilateral relations, if the visit is not called off.
Both countries are actively engaged in discussions to resolve bilateral issues. Only a few days ago India’s Foreign Secretary Mr. Jayshanker was in Beijing to conduct parleys. In such an atmosphere, China’s unduly strong reaction to the proposed visit of Dalai Lama is undoubtedly an uncalled for over-reaction.
It would be interesting to go into the genesis of the Arunanchal problem. In 1914, almost a century ago, in a tripartite conference in Shimla, Tibet ceded Arunanchal Pradesh to India. China was a party to this meeting, although its representative only put his initials on the accord, not the full signature. The accord, however, had the signatures of the Tibetan and Indian representatives.
The dispute simmered slowly till the crossing over of Dalali Lama crossed over to India from his abode in Tibet. The ferocious Chinese onslaught on Tibet’s freedom-aspiring Buddhist monks posed a real threat to his life. Braving heavy odds, he escaped with a band of followers and entered the host country India through Tawang. This dare devil escaped piqued the Chinese greatly. India, then under Nehru’s leadership, was perceived to have abated the fleeing. The Dalai Lama issue added a new dimension to the Indo-China misunderstanding.
In 2009, the Dalai Lama visited Tawang and retraced his flight to freedom. This was his last visit. China did cried foul over the visit, but the misgiving melted away with time. Given these facts and the background of the conflict, it is difficult to fathom the belligerence of the Chinese protest over the Dalasi Lama’s proposed visit.
The Chinese haven’t shunned contacts with the Dalai Lama altogether. The two sides had had as many as 10 rounds of discussion over Tibet’s status, though these were futile exercises.
The two giant neighbors have a host of more important issues to resolve. Both sides are painstakingly trying to bring the border issue to some resolution, and have made some incremental progress. There are issues related to trade imbalance, facilitation of bilateral investment etc. Compared to such daunting issues in hand, the Dalai Lama issue p-ales into insignificance. China should, therefore, not do anything to make agreements on other issues difficult. Rhetoric seldom helps reconciliation.
Restraint is also imperative for the Indian side too. As much as possible, pinpricks of this type must be avoided. China took umbrage at the recent visit of the American ambassador to Arunanchal Pradesh. Later, a representative of Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile attended a dinner in American embassy. China was obviously annoyed. The visit of a Taiwanese trade delegation to India was also frowned upon by China, as it perceives Taiwan to be its renegade province.
India, too has its grievances against China. The latter’s blocking of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and refusal to let Masood Azhar’s name enter the United Nations Terrorist List has exasperated India.
It would however be unwise to lose sight of the woods for the sake of a tree. In a recent statement, the previous Chinese Special envoy, Dai Bingguo has hinted that if India is flexible in the eastern side, China would be flexible in the western side. India should seize the opportunity of such overtures and proceed assiduously to close the long-drawn border demarcation problem to a conclusion. That would be a sagacious move.