Take it to world court

INDIA-CHINA BORDER ROW

The 21st century will be determined by three factors. First, the economic and social development of India and China. Both countries are yet to unleash their true potential, and both are presently engaged in their respective chess moves for strategic hegemony in Asia, land and sea etc.

Both countries resurrected themselves in their own different ways, India through constitutional democracy and secularism, and China through communism, totalitarianism, and one party state.

In the short term, the Chinese totalitarian system of government that suppresses all dissent, decides family size, dictates livelihoods of the people according to economic will of the state, has resulted in faster development and economic and military might, far surpassing India. But totalitarianism in any society is a finite situation, and can never be eternal. Sooner or later, the Gorbachov moment is bound to arrive in China, perhaps in the most unexpected way, which neither the government nor its armed agencies will anticipate, that will throw their present systems asunder.

India, meanwhile, will plod along on its economic path trying to match China, with more distant but sustainable targets. But it would be the pilgrim’s progress within democracy and rule of law, protecting individual freedoms, freedom of dissension and chaos, perhaps even national sabotage, upholding judicial review, and overcoming governance obstacles through constitutional mechanisms.

When India and China do realise their true economic potential, it will change the face of the world. Economic prosperity will make them global centres of gravity, not merely Asian, but international.

The second factor that will determine the 21st century is the future of Islam, embroiled as it is in violent, almost terminal identity wars. The Islamic world extending from North Africa covering the entire crescent is in turmoil. Terror organisation Islamic State is on a global jihad mode, spewing hatred and destruction at everyone who differs from its barbaric ideology. How will this conflict end? Will it spill over outside the Islamic world? I hope never, and the monsters are neutralised well before that. If not, that would be the beginning of Armageddon.

The third factor, I believe will be to what extent the racial and demographic profile of the developed world, mainly Europe and the US, will change.

Coming back to China and our mercurial relations with them, the world was watching with great interest and curiosity Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to China and the tight-rope diplomatic manoeuvres happening between the two countries. Everyone waited for the Chinese army to march somewhere inside our borders, their usual bugle call for any important Sino Indian diplomatic event, as indeed did happen during the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India just a few months ago.

But clearly, the Chinese appear to have turned more serious and respectful. All that happened this time, was a rather nasty article written in the Communist Party newspaper, Global Times, on the eve of Modi’s visit, that he had been “...playing little tricks over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China,” and that Indian people too are tricksters and arrogant.

Trade deficit
One absolute truth the Global Times wrote, which the government should seriously note is, “When it comes to the economic ties, despite the fact that China has already become India’s largest trading partner, India’s trade deficit with China keeps rising sharply. New Delhi is reluctant to admit the widening trade gap is its own fault, nor is it willing to examine its own economic structure and the quality of its exports to China. Instead, it has been repeatedly accusing or directing its anger at China.”

So what were the concrete achievements, if any of Modi’s China visit? I can only sum up that despite grandiose expectations, it was at best a goodwill and symbolic visit, signifying personal rapport between the two leaders, expressing a right of agreeing to disagree on border issues, a right to compete for strategic space in the South Asian region and surrounding seas, a right to make allies of choice, even if they are inimical to the other side, a right to outwit each other in trade, and an intent to have peace at the border, even if it remains disputed.

The map of India displayed by the Chinese was still minus Arunachal and Kashmir; border issues stand at status quo, without much change in language, and none at all regarding concrete action; on clarification of the Line of Actual Control, China says it prefers a pact with India on a Code of Conduct (whatever that means) to maintain peace along the border rather than clarification, as proposed by Modi; China will not relent on its Pakistan economic corridor through PoK, which it affectionately calls  a “livelihood project,” but opposes India’s oil exploration in the South China Sea because it is a ‘disputed area’; the extensive damming and diversion of the Brahmaputra, the lifeline of the North-East India, was not even discussed.

And as for the $22-billion investment deals, we must see how they will translate into Make in India. 

China has so far depended on Indian passivity, a trait we acquired after Nehru’s foolish and fatal blunders vis-a-vis China in the 1950s that are responsible for our border mess. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had promised an ‘out of the box’ solution, which we have not yet seen. 

If the border issue with China cannot be settled at the negotiating table, the dispute must be taken to the International Court of Justice. That is the mandate of Article 51 of our constitution. Both parties run equal risk of an adverse verdict, but this would defang China considerably and bring about a transformational change in the geopolitics of South Asia.

(The writer is senior advocate, Supreme Court and member, Rajya Sabha)

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