The latest round of the unending and fruitless India-China talks on territorial disputes was a fresh reminder of the eroding utility of this process. It is approaching nearly three decades since China and India began these negotiations.
In this period, the world has changed fundamentally. Indeed, with its rapidly accumulating military and economic power, China itself has emerged as a great power in the making, with Washington's Asia policy now manifestly Sino-centric. Not only has India allowed its military and nuclear asymmetry with China to grow, but also New Delhi's room for diplomatic maneuver is shrinking. As the just retired Indian Navy Chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, has put it plainly, the power 'gap between the two is just too wide to bridge and getting wider by the day.'
Of course, power asymmetry in inter-State relations does not mean the weaker side must bend to the dictates of the stronger or seek to propitiate it. Wise strategy, coupled with good diplomacy, is the art of offsetting or neutralising military or economic power imbalance with another state. But as Admiral Mehta warned, 'China is in the process of consolidating its comprehensive national power and creating formidable military capabilities. Once it is done, China is likely to be more assertive on its claims, especially in the immediate neighbourhood.'
It is thus obvious that the longer the process of border-related talks continues without yielding tangible results, the greater the space Beijing will have to mount strategic pressure on India and the greater its leverage in the negotiations.
After all, China already holds the military advantage on the ground. Its forces control the heights along the long 4,057-kilometre Himalayan frontier, with the Indian troops perched largely on the lower levels.
Furthermore, by building new railroads, airports and highways in Tibet, China is now in a position to rapidly move additional forces to the border to potentially strike at India at a time of its choosing.
Diplomatically, China is a contented party, having occupied what it wanted -- the Aksai Chin plateau, which is almost the size of Switzerland and provides the only accessible Tibet-Xinjiang route through the Karakoram passes of the Kunlun Mountains. Yet it chooses to press claims on additional Indian territories as part of a grand strategy to gain leverage in bilateral relations and, more importantly, to keep India under military and diplomatic pressure.
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