On territorial compromises with China

It’s not at all trivial

It’s a seductive argument. That the longstanding border dispute between India and China is trivial. Aksai Chin, which China controls and India claims is not even habitable. Portions of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims are both populated and economically useful. Surely, then, it makes sense for India to agree to a border settlement that swaps Aksai Chin for Arunachal Pradesh. It is the political difficulty of selling the compromise to the emotional Indian people, Arvind Kala writes, that is preventing India from settling the dispute. [Related Post: McMahon’s line and Aksai Chin]

One problem: it is China that is unwilling move ahead towards settling the border dispute. The reasons why it chose to do so underlies why Mr Kala’s arguments are flawed: first, the border dispute is not ‘trivial’, but as even Jawaharlal Nehru recognised, the manifestation of a geopolitical power struggle between India and China. Second, Aksai Chin is not ‘useless’ to India, not least because it is vital to China. And finally, China is not a ‘friend’, no country is. Indeed, Mr Kala fundamentally misreads the nature of international relations when he declares ‘nations are like human beings’, ‘shaped by emotion’. It is possible that it is this anthropomorphism that leads Mr Kala to misleading conclusions. But if at all an analogy can be made, it is more appropriate to say that nations are like wild animals, existing under the law of the jungle. The zoomorphism apart, nations do what is in their interests. And at this time, resolving the dispute is not in China’s interests.

Just like in the case the dispute over Kashmir, it is not uncommon to hear well-meaning people suggest that a territorial compromise is the ticket to peace. But it is naïve and dangerous to believe that giving away territory will automatically cause the other side to go away and leave India in peace. That’s because, by its very nature, a compromise that leaves both sides satisfied will not change the underlying balance of power.

A corollary to this is that a mutually satisfactory solution to the border dispute is only possible when the balance of power is stable and both countries are well reconciled to it. That is hardly the case at this point in time—when India and China are both jockeying for power in Asia and beyond. At this time, it is to be expected that both will be sensitive to relative gains and losses, and for that reason, unwilling to settle the dispute.

Afterword: From one of Nehru’s letters to chief ministers:

“It is a little naïve to think that the trouble with China was essentially due to a dispute over some territory. It had deeper reasons. Two of the largest countries in Asia confronted each other over a vast border. They differed in many ways. And the test was as to whether anyone of them would have a more dominating position than the other on the border and in Asia itself. We do not desire to dominate any country and we are content to live peacefully with other countries provided they do not interfere with us or commit aggression. China, on the other hand, clearly did not like the idea of such a peaceful existence and wants to have a dominating position in Asia.” [As quoted by Kuldip Nayar in Dawn]

6 thoughts on “On territorial compromises with China”

  1. The fact that the now-badly-named Northern Areas in POK and Aksai Chin were supposed to be our entrypoints into Central Asia.

  2. Only naive people will not be able to recognize the cruel and everlasting dream of expansion of Beijing. Look at Chinese flag one will see their thirst for dominating the whole world (4 small stars kneeling down before the big Chinese one).

    Recently, China shamelessly declares administrative power on Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands of Vietnam even though historically those belong to Vietnam for a long time (even their history books [the true, undistorted] recognize Vietnam’s ownership of these islands.

    China is growing on many aspects, and it makes no attempt to hide its expansionist ambition. For small countries that share borders with it, they already directly or indirectly feel the heat of intimidation from bully China. One should not pose the question of ‘talking’ with China; I agree
    with the writer of the above article, nations are not ‘human beings’ but rather ‘wild wild animals’ which live merely by jungle law; the bigger, stronger will devour the smaller.

    If India puts down its alert, and underestimates the real mindset of its giant friend, I have a real sorry for its future. No one desires war, but sometimes as human history always proves times and again, war is inevitable and unavoidable when the oppression and wickedness come to the limit. China or any big country will NOT talk except when they are humiliated in war defeat or economy collapse. I do believe India has ample of wise and courageous men who can see through thick tossing dust and can stand tall and strong to Chinese. They say this century belongs to Asia, I do believe it, but the next question should be, ‘Under what yoke?’ An Asia prosperous and happy for all or the one controlled by China, that’s the question.

    If one wants to believe in the good will and friendship of China, good luck. Look at Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Tibet, Mongolia to see the truth of those charms.

    Dan Ham

  3. Sorry if I sound daft, but I don’t get what you mean when you say India and China are jockeying for power in Asia and abroad. Can you elaborate or point me to some resources on that?

    I remember asking a similar question in one of the earlier entries, but it’s hard to keep track which of your blogs or posts I commented on 🙁 Mail me in case this thing doesn’t have a notification system.

  4. The Government may have just had another reality check about the hardball games the Chinese Govt is eager to play when it comes to border issues with India. http://www.indianexpress.com/sunday/story/265866.html

    ManMohan Singh and the Indian Govt exude such disgusting timidity and weakness – i actually hope that the commies pull the plug on this Govt at the earliest. can’t wait for the people of India to put us all out of this misery.

Comments are closed.