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  Opinion   Columnists  20 Mar 2024  Claude Arpi | China’s Communists and new & old game of poker

Claude Arpi | China’s Communists and new & old game of poker

The writer is based in South India for the past 40 years. He writes on India, China, Tibet and Indo-French relations.
Published : Mar 20, 2024, 11:47 pm IST
Updated : Mar 20, 2024, 11:47 pm IST

Unmasking China's historical distortion amidst Arunachal Pradesh border dispute

 The India-China border at Bumla Pass in Arunachal Pradesh. (PTI Photo)
  The India-China border at Bumla Pass in Arunachal Pradesh. (PTI Photo)

During the recently-concluded “two sessions” in Beijing, it was revealed that a card game “guandan” has become popular at after-work gatherings among Chinese apparatchiks: “China’s poker-style game, mentioned at ‘two sessions’, takes Communist Party by storm with players ‘throwing eggs’,” commented the South China Morning Post, which added: “The poker-style pastime, enjoyed by senior leaders, has spread beyond Beijing’s bureaucracy to junior and senior party officials alike.”

What is “guandan”? It is a shedding-type card game that originated in China’s Jiangsu province. There are four players, sitting opposite each other in partnerships, and it uses two decks of standard playing cards for a total of 108 cards.

I have to admit that I am not acquainted with this game, but I know that China is a master at the poker game of bluffing without real cards in its hand.

Take of the case of the Sela-la tunnel, recently dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh.

Beijing immediately lodged a diplomatic protest with New Delhi over Mr Modi’s visit and reiterated its empty claim over the Northeast border state, saying that India’s moves will “only complicate the unresolved boundary question”.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin asserted that India has no right to develop China’s Zangnan (southern part of the Xizang autonomous region).” Xizang is the new name given to Tibet by Beijing: “Zangnan is China’s territory. The Chinese government never recognises, and resolutely opposes, the so-called Arunachal Pradesh illegally set up by India.”

Bluffing further, Wang added: “During the talks, both sides agreed to… work for a resolution accepted by both sides as soon as possible, so that the situation in the border area will improve.”

India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal was quick to respond that the Chinese side had already been told several times about India’s consistent position: “Arunachal was, is, and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India… Objecting to such visits or India’s development projects does not stand to reason,” he stated.

First bluff: the function attended by the Prime Minister has nothing to do with the confrontation in East Ladakh, where the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has changed the status quo in May 2020 and refused to return to their earlier positions.

South Block has made it clear, time and again, that Beijing first needs to disengage from Depsang and Demchok before further talks can be held on other aspects of the Sino-Indian relationship.

The second bluff is about “Southern Tibet” and Beijing’s claims on the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh. On this, the leadership in Beijing has no card (and never had any) in their hand, although the poker-face spokesperson dared to announce that the area “belongs” to China.

Obviously, Wang Wenbin has poor knowledge of history and even of geography. Already, in February 2019, when Narendra Modi visited the northeastern Indian state, Hua Chunying, the then spokesperson, had affirmed: “The Chinese government has never recognised the so-called Arunachal Pradesh and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader’s visit to the east section of the China-India boundary.”

Hua’s sharp tongue had expressed hopes that “India will cherish the momentum of warming bilateral ties and not take any provocative action”. Today, the relations are not so warm any more. In any case, China’s refusal to acknowledge the McMahon Line is a new phenomenon.

Back in 1956, as India prepared to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of Buddha, Communist China was extremely nervous; eastern Tibet was on fire with the Khampa rebellion, while central Tibet was slowly getting contaminated by the revolt. After months of prevarication, Beijing finally allowed the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to visit India for the celebrations. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai then came to New Delhi thrice to ensure that the Dalai Lama returned to Tibet.

During one of his encounters with Zhou, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked him: “But I do not quite understand what you meant when you said that Tibet in the past had not become a province of China?”

The Chinese PM answered: “That Tibet is part of China is a fact but it has never [been] an administrative province of China and has kept an autonomous character.” Zhou even admitted that India knew more about Tibet’s past history than China: “For example, I knew nothing about McMahon Line until recently when we came to study the border problem after the liberation of China.” The clever Zhou added that though people like him never knew about the McMahon Line till recently, the Kuomintang regime had referred to it.

He then spoke of a “secret” pact between British India and Tibet at the time of the Shimla Conference in 1914 when the Tibetans sat on an equal footing with the Chinese and British India between October 1913 and July 1914.

To give an example, all the proceedings mention the presence of Sir Henry McMahon, the British plenipotentiary and staff, Monsieur Ivan Chen, Chinese plenipotentiary and staff, and Kusho Lonchen Shatra, the Tibetan plenipotentiary and staff.

It is Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government which first made the Communists realise the “extent” of the Tibetan territory in the area. Long before the beginning of the Japanese war, Ren Naiqiang, an influential scholar during the Republican era, had started wandering through eastern Tibet. In 1926, he decided to include part of India’s Northeast (today’s Arunachal Pradesh) into Chinese territory. The myth started.

In 1939, as the Nationalist government formally established the new province Xikang (corresponding to Kham province of Tibet), Ren Naiqiang was encouraged by Liu Wenhui, the governor of Xikang, to produce a map of the area. Though the Chinese had never set foot in the area, the new map engulfed part of the Northeast into the new Chinese province. It is how “Arunachal has always been Chinese territory”.

At the end of 1949, Ren Naiqiang met Marshal He Long, one of the seniormost generals of the People’s Liberation Army, and explained why his map was dependable; the Marshal was convinced and ordered the distribution of copies. On January 10, 1950, He Long sent a report to Mao Zedong strongly recommending that Ren’s map should be accepted and circulated amongst the PLA. It is after this encounter that Beijing began claiming NEFA as Chinese.

Before making outrageous claims, the spokesperson should do his homework and know his country’s history. China, which often seems to suffer from selective amnesia, has only relatively recently started to claim the area which is today’s Arunachal Pradesh.

Hopefully, South Block knows better how to counter the bluff of the poker players today.

Tags: india and china border conflict, arunachal pradesh border, mcmahon line