China is yet to field a cricket team on the world stage despite its proficiency in what is termed in that sport as “bowling the googly.” A googly is a delivery that looks like a normal leg-spin but actually turns in toward the batsman, unlike an off-break, which moves away from the bat. However, China’s googly is in the mind games it likes to play with its traditional rivals. And it seems it just just bowled India one.
Referring to the 21st round of boundary talks between the India-China Special Representatives (SR), namely Indian National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, held in China on November 24, China Military Online published an article titled “Congrats! China, India reach important consensus on boundary issues,” signaling it to be a landmark achievement of sorts.
The article highlights that the 21st round of SR-level talks, which followed the China-India Doklam standoff last year, was of great practical and symbolic significance aiming to address “most complicated and sensitive” border disputes. The China-India interdependence in commerce and trade is not heavy and cultural barriers and historical animosity exist. China-India relations are influenced by Europe and the US, and soldiers on the border should exercise restraint, in line with the SR working mechanism, to avoid possible conflict.
The title of the article congratulates both countries and their citizens for reaching an important consensus on boundary issues albeit towards the end the article admits it is a “preliminary result.” A disclaimer by China Military Online reads that the author of the article is from Global Times, but does not mention who the author is. But Global Times only quotes the source as Xinhua, without mentioning any author either.
The highlights of the 21st round of SR boundary talks described by India include a pending final resolution of the boundary question, important to maintain peace and tranquility in border areas; the importance to maintain strategic communication at all levels; a bilateral working mechanism on consultation and coordination for border affairs to work out further details; the importance of sustained and effective implementation of directions given by their leaders to strengthen the developmental partnership between India and China; and the exchange of views on regional and global issues of common interest and an agreement to maintain close consultations on such issues.
The boundary discussions began in 1960 based on an agreement between Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. But a solution was nowhere in sight despite 45 rounds of talks. The Special Representatives Mechanism was introduced during the visit of Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Beijing in 2003. The mandate given to the SRs was to achieve fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution for the India-China border question “at an early date.” Since then, the Special Representatives have met 21 times but have little progress to show.
Interestingly, China’s foreign policy was described by a Chinese speaker at a seminar in New Delhi as “Biang Biang Noodles” – taking you around in circles endlessly. That is what China’s approach to boundary talks is, without ever giving marked maps of what its final claims are. It may be recalled that before 2005, China claimed only the Tawang Plateau in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, but now claims the entire state.
Prior to the 21st SR talks on the boundary, Ram Madhav, general secretary of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), during a visit to Beijing told the media that a “large segment” of the border with China had been resolved, other than the western sector, and the negotiations were moving in the positive direction. it is unclear if the team of negotiators realized that resolution of eastern sector means resolution of Chinese claims to 90,000 square kilometers of Arunachal Pradesh under the euphemism of “South Tibet.”
There is nothing new in the outcome of the 21st SR-level talks from the earlier rounds of talks. The informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, China, in April also seems to have yielded little. Significantly, China’s violations across the Line of Actual Control increased exponentially after the Wuhan summit. After the Doklam standoff, China consolidated its military positions not only in Doklam but also in the Shaksgam Valley, which is also Indian territory close to the Siachen Glacier region.
Currently China is engaged in a steady buildup in Ladakh’s Zeo La region, aimed at threatening Indian positions on the strategic Saltoro Range in the Siachen area from the east and southeast. India continues to play down these Chinese actions because of its belief that economic engagement and soft power render “hard power” redundant. It is for the same reason the Indian government has grossly neglected the development of its border infrastructure for the past seven decades.
All this suits China well. The dangers of a China-Pakistan collusion in this context is hard to ignore, as mentioned in an earlier column.