Tag Archives: GWU

China-India Border Issues and Northeast India: A View from India

Territorial boundaries have been the cause of conflicts and tensions between neighboring countries for thousands of years. On Wednesday, May 8, I decided to go to George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs to listen to Dr. Namrata Goswami’s presentation, entitled “China-India Border Issues and Northeast India: A View from India.” Dr. Goswami is a notable scholar in her field and has done extensive work analyzing the conflict. The event was sponsored by the Rising Powers Initiative and the India Initiative.

A few of the areas contested are Monpa, Tani, Mishmi, Naga, and Mette. It is difficult to categorize all of them in one specific category, as they are diverse and not homogenous. The border issues date back to the 1950s. Dr. Goswami’s presentation touched upon five factors: disputed border and territorial claims, Tibet as the core issue, balance of military forces, military exercises, and the relationship between the U.S. and India.

The McMahon line, located near the Brahmaputra River, is the borderline delineated by the British to separate China and India. Prior to this, another line had been proposed to solve the conflict. While the Indian government favors the former, the Chinese government favors the latter. The Indian government argues that if they abide the previous line, they will be vulnerable to foreign attacks and lose the defense the mountainous region provides.

In 1959, Mao Zedong published an essay in which he proclaimed Jawaharlal Nehru (the prime minister at the time) as an expansionist, with the desire to expand into Tibet. Nehru’s forward policy called for the establishment of various posts near the McMahon line. On October 1962 China attacked – an attack that was completely unforeseen by the Indian government. The Sino-Indian War produced significant losses for the Indian military.

Throughout the speech, the speaker often stated that Tibet was the “core issue” and highlighted the “importance of Tibet.” In 1954, both parties signed a treaty, whereby the Indian government recognized Tibet as a territory of the People’s Republic of China. (The following link will direct you to a copy of the original document: http://www.tpprc.org/documents/agreements/1954.pdf.) As Nehru was facing pressure from the parliament and the media at the time, the government printed out maps that unilaterally defined the border – heightening tensions even more.

Currently, the Tibetan government (the Central Tibetan Administration) is in exile in India. The Dalai Lama is the spearhead of the non-violent movement that seeks to regain Tibetan autonomy. (More information can be found here: http://tibet.net/important-issues/worldwide-tibet-movement/.) The Free Tibet movement, however, is one of the hundreds of Tibet Support Groups (TSGs) that is independent of the CTA.

Today, the area near the McMahon line is highly militarized. There is a great fear on behalf of the Indian government that a second attack will be launched (like in 1962). Dr. Goswami showed us satellite pictures of the missile deployment the Chinese government set up in Tibet. The Government of India plans to invest $100 million dollars in its military, with the hopes of containing China and maintaining its militarized border. Both countries – which are nuclear weapon states – have also revved up military exercises.

In recent years, the Indian government has successfully strengthened its diplomatic relations with the U.S. government. One of the questions Dr. Goswami explored during her presentation was, “Why is India getting so close to the United States?” There are various theories to account for the increased cooperation between these two countries; perhaps the most prevalent is that a bilateral relationship is crucial to deter China’s rise as a global power. On July 18 the country celebrated a great achievement: it was officially recognized as a nuclear weapon state. Consequently, the idea of the state as a great power was conceptually enforced. In 2006, negotiations suffered a setback. Chinese E-passports were circulating that apparently claimed the contested region as Chinese territory. As negotiations were (and are still) ongoing, it escalated anxiety.

India insists on settling the border disputes based on the McMahon line, and China adamantly opposes it. One of Dr. Goswami’s closing remarks was, “Why has China not resolved the border issue with India?” It has successfully resolved border issues with Burma, Nepal and Mongolia, after all. Her answer was that China wants to make India insecure and assert its power. The realist argument, she said, would be that “China has done this deliberately to question India’s resolve.” The recent standoff in Ladakh has stalled negotiations, increased fear, and intensified pressure from the media and local population.

The dispute is clearly a complex issue that will not be easily resolved. Now that I have heard Dr. Goswami’s discourse presenting “A View from India,” it would be interesting to hear a presentation on “A View from China.”

GW- Chinese leadership transition

For my second DC event I went to George Washington for a discussion on China’s leadership transition. The speaker was Christopher Johnson, a chair of China studies at CSIS and a former analyst at the CIA. After a brief introduction he started his discussion. He started off simply discussing the apparent result of the most recent party congress. He addressed some of the more widely discussed topics, especially the influence of Jiang Zemin. He also discussed the lack of reformists on the standing committee. While he acknowledged that this sent discouraging signals he made the counter argument that since the committee does not seem to have any major ideological fault lines it means it has a greater opportunity accomplish its goals.

After discussing the transition itself he moved onto the effects the personnel changes would have on China’s policy. In terms of economic and political reform the latter is less likely to occur. If anything changes it is likely to be in the form of some intraparty democratization or some small tweaks to the system. With economic reforms he argues that as a princeling Xi Jinping may have the credibility to tackle some of the most egregious forms of corruptions such as land grabs by local officials. Later Johnson discussed some of the problems with provincial and local authorities. Afterwards he talked about the changing status of the PLA and the extent of military corruption.

After discussing the military he segued into foreign affairs. Here he discussed the difficulties of Sino-Japanese relations in recent years and the reasons for their decline. Johnson also tried to explain why the Chinese government has been moving to embrace the North Korean government more since 2008. He then finalized his analysis by discussing the future of relations between the US and China. While the Chinese government was slightly relieved with Obama’s reelection there is a degree of uncertainty as many administration officials leave. However, he did not predict any major changes in the near future.

After he was done speaking Johnson opened up a question and answer session. The first questions dealt with perennial issues such as Taiwan and Tibet. On the former he felt not much would change soon since the current KMT government has overseen a relatively stable period of cross straight relations. On Tibet he was surprisingly optimistic since Xi and his father have had a history of being fairly moderate on this issue. The remaining questions mostly regarded specific officials or certain details of the transition such as Xi’s brief disappearance. After these had been addressed the moderator made some closing remarks as the conference wound down.