Friday, October 30, 2009

China India border: Should we build barriers?

In a commentary in the Economist magazine on 29 Oct 2009, titled, "Himalayan histrionics", the article claims that the real problem between China and India lies in the unresolved border dispute. It points out that China has resolved every other major land dispute with its neighbour, except this one. What has changed in recent years is the situation in Tibet, with the unrest last year, the Chinese seem to feel vulnerable to the porous border.
In truth, the real problem remains the two countries’ long, shared border. Disputes over the western and eastern ends have been unresolved since a bloody war in 1962. In the west, India claims Aksai Chin, a high plateau controlled by China, as part of Kashmir. In the east, China disputes the McMahon Line, agreed by British India and a Tibet then under British rather than Chinese sway. The line is in effect the border today, but China claims a large chunk of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls South Tibet. It includes a revered Buddhist monastery at Tawang, near the 17th-century birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama.

In a “good neighbour” policy, China has now resolved every serious land-border dispute, bar this one. A solution had seemed within reach. In 2005 the two sides laid out the approach. Principles would be agreed, then compromises made, and lastly a line drawn. Only marginal adjustments were expected to the present border. But the prospects of such a deal have crumbled as China has hardened its position. Earlier this year Chinese soldiers crossed the presumed line of control in the west and sent a herder family packing. China has blocked a water project in Arunachal Pradesh financed by the Asian Development Bank. In October it grew shrill over an electioneering trip to the state by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. China has also begun issuing different visas for Indians from Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir.

What has changed the equation is restive Tibet. Anti-Chinese riots last year highlighted the vulnerabilities for China of the vague, porous Tibetan lands. The Communist government, borrowing its impulse from the reviled Manchus of the Qing dynasty, wants once and for all to hammer down the borders of its supersized empire. All the ambiguities of borderlands and the people who wander about them must submit to the central will.
Across the world, even while political boundaries between nations have remained, their character has changed, with increased flow of goods and people. France and Germany, two of the historic enemies in Europe, have not dissolved their border, but opened it to allow greater interaction, ensuring peace and prosperity on both sides. Borders need not be barriers. China and India need to resolve the border question, not by building barriers, but by facilitating people on both side of the boundary to freely interact and pursue their own interest in peace.

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