There is a sleazy underside to what is being protrayed as an important step towards peace in Asia. Visiting New Delhi, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao signed an agreement with India to resolve border disputes dating to the Sino-Indian war of 1962, in which China seized a contested stretch of the Himalayas known as Aksai Chin. Geographically a part of Kashmir (itself contested by India and Pakistan), Aksai Chin is strategic to China not only because it controls a pass through the mountains which could serve as an invasion route, but (perhaps more importantly) because it straddles both of western China’s restive internal colonies: Tibet and Xinkiang. Delhi and Beijing have remained at odds over the territory since the brief war, and only restored direct air links in 2002. (See CNN, May 24, 2002)
In the new deal, India agrees to recognize Chinese sovereignty over Aksai Chin, in exchange for Beijing’s recognition of India’s claim to Sikkim, an Indian state sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan which China has heretofore insisted was an independent country (it had been a British and then Indian protectorate until official union with India in 1975). China also agreed to recognize India’s control over Arunachal Pradesh, which follows the Sino-Indian border between Bhutan and Burma—like Sikkim, a considerably less strategic piece of real estate than Aksai Chin. (Indian Express, April 13; Economic Times, April 12)
Asia Times did implicitly recall April 13 that contested territory in India served as a staging ground for CIA operations in support of Tibetan guerillas in the 1960s, warning that "Arunachal Pradesh could once again become a platform for joint Indo-US destabilization operations in Tibet, if there is fresh unrest there following the death of the Dalai Lama, when the Chinese are expected to designate a Dalai Lama of their choice."
But is this history likely to repeat itself? The U.S. is today arguably closer to China than India, due to the mutual rivalry with Russia; and India, tilting towards Russia and Iran due to enmity for key regional U.S. ally Pakistan, is unlikely to open its soil to CIA intrigues. And India, China, the U.S. and Russia alike all have an interest in halting the spread of Islamist separatism into Xinkiang. Which means that the hapless Tibetans (like the Uighurs of Xinkiang) have outlived thier usefulness to all the regional powers, and are left to shift for themselves.
India also officially recognized Chinese sovereignty over Tibet as part of the deal. As if to drive home the point, the Asia Tribune noted April 10 that on the eve of Wen’s visit Indian police arrested two leaders of the Regional Tibetan Youth Council "to prevent them from mobilising Tibetan students to stage any surprise protest."
See our last blog post on the ongoing betrayal of the Tibetans and Uighurs.