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  Opinion   Oped  15 Jan 2020  Heating up the Himalayan border: What really is Beijing’s gameplan?

Heating up the Himalayan border: What really is Beijing’s gameplan?

The writer is an advocate practising in the Supreme Court. The views expressed here are personal.
Published : Jan 15, 2020, 1:47 am IST
Updated : Jan 15, 2020, 1:47 am IST

Strangely though, no sooner did Mr Xi leave Kathmandu October 13, strange things began to occur.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (Photo: AP/File)
 Chinese President Xi Jinping (Photo: AP/File)

Is the Himalayan border heating up, beyond India’s visual range? An idea, if not the complete answer, could be had from the October 2019 visits by Chinese President Xi Jinping to India and Nepal, followed by the Beijing-New Delhi boundary talks on December 21, 2019.

President Xi had an informal summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 11-12 at Mamallapuram, followed by an October 12-13 official meeting in Kathmandu with the President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, thereby becoming the first Chinese President to visit the Himalayan state in 23 years. Nepal was understandably happy as Beijing announced 3.5 billion-yuan support (Nepalese Rs 56 billion) over the next two years for development programmes.

On his arrival in Nepal, however, Mr Xi thundered: “Any attempt to split China will be crushed”. One isn’t quite sure what prompted Mr Xi use such words of dire warning. Is Nepal attempting to split China? Unlikely. The Nepalese are honourable, self-respecting people. Assuming that Nepal does have the ability to do such daredevilry; the reality of the capability mismatch between 1.4 billion Chinese and 30 million Nepalese, ensconced between Delhi and Beijing, in a landlocked terrain, makes such a thought a hallucination.

Strangely though, no sooner did Mr Xi leave Kathmandu October 13, strange things began to occur. India’s internal matter pertaining to two Union territories was dragged into Nepal. The official release of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh maps, though completely unconnected, not contiguous to Nepal, without a common border, was raised and linked with the “disputed” territory of Kalapani on November 6. What appeared bewildering was the sudden shrill tone, tenor and language of Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli: “ The government will take an initiative to vacate Indian troops from the disputed Kalapani region... it will not allow anyone to encroach on even an inch of Nepalese territory.” Was the Nepal PM taking his cue from Beijing?

Mr Oli’s language was directed towards an India that has an open border with Nepal since the dawn of civilisation; and Indian and Nepalese cross-border-movements have never been questioned. Hence, there has never been any big discord between the two neighbours, where blood relations on both sides exist in millions, transcending barriers. Is this enduring, unshakeable India-Nepal bond an eyesore to the Chinese, across the Himalayan heights? Beijing is always apprehensive and fearful about the traditional Tibet-Nepal-India axis, constituting unique civilisational ties through the high hills, in which China stands in complete disconnect and as a misfit owing to uncommon language, complex culture, indifferent thoughts, strange beliefs, intolerant ideology and remote geography?

In fact, had China been in close proximity to Nepal, it would have gone the Tibet way long ago. Like Lhasa today, Kathmandu would be the serfs of the Chinese. The high priest of the Pashupatinath Temple would be chosen and dismissed at will by mandarins and czars of the Communist Party of China. Nepal would have been another Chinese province, with ruthless suppression of rights, privileges, language, culture and religion.

The truth didn’t take long to surface. On November 13, 2019, angry Nepalese protesters burnt effigies of Chinese President Xi Jinping over border encroachment, as in early November 209 the Nepal survey department released data showing Beijing’s attempts to encroach land for road-building in at least four districts — Sankhuwasabha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk and Humla – which have a border with Tibet. The official Nepalese data showed Kathmandu would lose several hundreds of hectares of land to the Chinese encroachment. The official survey data also revealed some places near Arun Khola, Kamu Khola and Samjung are now parts of Tibet’s Tingisuyan area.

Contextually, do Indians remember a similar Chinese modus operandi to (first) encroach, and finally usurp, Ladakh’s Aksai Chin tract in the mid-1950s, and penetration through J&K for the Kashgarh-Gwadar road as part of China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor in the 21st century? Is Beijing’s road-building enterprise an alibi? A convenient and easy route to capture terrain and expand territory? Is China President-for-life Xi Jinping’s signature foreign (or conquest) policy operating with the same motto in mind?

What makes things truly extraordinary is that Nepal’s Supreme Court has “sought within 15 days the country’s original map exchanged with India during signing of the Sigauli Treaty in 1816 after a petition sought the court’s intervention to secure Nepali territory”. No doubt, the Nepal Supreme Court order is its internal matter. Nevertheless, from India’s point of view, the border being a bilateral issue, India has to remain alert and act to make matters clear, should the need arise.

What is striking is that a hitherto hot (north) Sino-Nepalese border dispute suddenly turns around into a (south) India-Nepal border issue requiring judicial intervention by Nepal’s top court, thereby making it a charged and emotive issue, pregnant with disruptive thoughts and hostile acts on both sides of the tranquil border.

Coincidentally, Kathmandu’s determined search for an “India-Nepal border map” also comes soon after a New Delhi visit by Chinese state councillor Wang Yi for border talks with India last month. Is it divine intervention? Good news? Or a prelude to an unrelenting, and unending, problem? A fresh front on the Himalayan border?

Though hardly anything substantive appeared in the public domain after the China-India border talks, except words like “reached consensus on cooperation and trust” and “Beijing put forward a practical framework for solving border issues”; nevertheless, if the vernacular media is to be believed, then it’s a matter of concern for India that China suggested that the priority of the border talks be the “Sikkim sector”. Understandably, and quite rightly, India hasn’t given its assent.

But why bring Sikkim out of the blue into the border talks? Is it another Chinese ploy to shift the goalposts? Sikkim was hardly a point of dispute in the overall Sino-Indian boundary issue. It is therefore clear that China wants to broaden the border canvas, trying to draw multi-organic entities and ethnicities to make things difficult and complicated for India on the diplomatic high table. This may put India on a constant backfoot. Showing this country in poor light, as the creator of all problems.

Remember Doklam 2017? That’s a stone’s throw distance from Sikkim. Across Bhutan. Where India, Bhutan and Tibet meet. Remember the weakest spot where China attacked India on October 20, 1962? Namka Chu rivulet and Dhola post. Where India, Bhutan and Tibet meet. Another tri-junction. Today, Kathmandu is keen on India-Nepal border scrutiny, with special reference to Kalapani! Indian pilgrims on their way to Kailash-Masarovar is yet another tri-junction where India, Nepal and Tibet meet. Is the plan to make the entire Himalayan border hot?

Why are the Chinese trying to convert bilaterals into trilaterals? Is it to force India to divert precious resources towards Sino-India “divergence”, and pressuring New Delhi to leave the “convergence” — India’s trade, commerce, industrial and banking sectors — to China. There is an urgent need to check the long-term strategy of the Chinese in India. New Delhi simply cannot accept the brazen multi-pronged, multi-fanged juggernaut of the dragon.

Tags: chinese president xi jinping, himalayan border