Unpalatable border home truths and progress that annoy Beijing-baiters
(From left) Li Keqiang, Manmohan Singh and Shivshankar Menon
Washington, April 28: Resolute in a weekend decision to prioritise the totality of Sino-Indian relations instead of overreacting to shifting control of tracts of wasteland in Ladakh, the political leadership in New Delhi has taken charge of resolving the latest land dispute with Beijing.
The Prime Minister’s description of the new Chinese encampments in disputed areas of Daulat Beg Oldi as a “localised problem” was the highlight on the issue on Saturday. More significant, in fact, has been a moderated change in defence minister A.K. Antony’s position since the incursions in Burthe came to light a week ago.
Antony took a hard line on Monday when he told reporters outside Parliament that “we are taking every action to protect our interest… we will take every step to protect our interest”. His firmness was in line with the public mood when full facts about the Ladakh situation were not known.
Two days later, Antony said in Bangalore that the government would take all measures to protect the territorial integrity of the country. The implication was that India would reclaim what it considered to be its territory from Chinese occupation by whatever means necessary.
The defence minister was briefed on Thursday by Gen. Bikram Singh after the army chief visited Jammu and Kashmir and reviewed the situation first hand with Northern Army commander Lt Gen. K.T. Parnaik.
A significant mellowing was evident in Antony’s attitude the following day when he told reporters, again outside Parliament, that “negotiations and consultations are going on at various levels to find out a peaceful solution to the Chinese incursion issue”.
A day earlier, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid had urged that the developments in Ladakh “should not spill over into a larger spectrum”. Most significant of all was Khurshid’s iteration that he would go to Beijing as scheduled on May 9. He said: “We have our normal contacts. Things can be resolved long before I get to China.”
Behind such a reassuring change from Monday, when there was talk of a “1962-like situation” between New Delhi and Beijing, and Saturday, when hopes were raised of status quo ante, is the remarkable story of how a government — even one as besieged as the UPA — managed to salvage what is potentially its biggest diplomatic success this year, perhaps of its entire second five-year tenure.
When China’s new Prime Minister Li Keqiang decided that he would make New Delhi his very first destination for a foreign trip next month, Beijing was sending a clear message to New Delhi. It was not lost on South Block because according to protocol, it is now Manmohan Singh’s turn to visit China.
So India told China that Singh would visit Beijing in June and fulfil the demands of protocol. But Li’s office insisted that, no, the Prime Minister, who has now been in office for only six weeks, wanted to personally underline the importance he was giving to India.