Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on November 11, 2008
Imagine what it would be like if the French and the Germans were still squabbling about Alsace and Lorraine. That’s sort of the situation we have in Asia, where the continent’s two biggest powers haven’t gotten past a decades-old border dispute. No matter how much Indian and Chinese leaders talk about improving ties, sometimes India-China relations seem frozen in 1962, the year the two countries fought a border war over disputed territory in the Himalayas. The Chinese emerged victorious, retaining territory in Kashmir claimed by New Delhi. At the same time, India retained control of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, claimed by Beijing.
Yesterday (ironically, on the 80th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I and led to the return of Alsace and Lorraine from Germany to France), the Sino-Indian border dispute flared up again. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Tuesday criticized the Indian government for comments by the country’s external affairs minister, Pranap Mukherjee. “China is often making claims on Arunachal Pradesh, but Arunachal Pradesh has a special place in our heart,” said Mukherjee. That prompted this from Qin Gang: “The Sino-India boundary issue has never been officially settled, and China is always against the illegal McMahon line,” he said, referring to the border agreement between the British and the Tibetans dating back to 1914. “It was a shame India claimed it publicly, regardless of historical facts,” Qin said.
What to make of this latest spat? With economic growth in China and India under severe threat because of the global financial crisis, both countries have more pressing concerns. And despite the unresolved border issues, the two countries are trying to foster greater cooperation. That said, the two are also major rivals and yesterday’s statement from Beijing illustrates just how raw some of the wounds still are – and how little progress the two countries have made on one of the most emotional issues for their people. As the Times of India writes today, “with the Chinese government challenging Mukherjee’s stance on Arunachal, it is apparent that years of effort at resolving the border problem ha[ve] come under a cloud.”