China's renaming of places in Arunachal: India could reply by calling Shantipath as Dalai Lama Road

Rajeev Chandra, my neighbour who is a business consultant, felt angry reading every day about the Chinese “threats” to India in some form or the other, following the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh. He was wondering why these threats, one concrete manifestation of which has been to rename six places in “South Tibet” (our Arunachal Pradesh), are being given such prominent coverage in the Indian media. However, in the process he gave me an idea, which I shared with my friends on Facebook. I got an overwhelming response from my friends, among whom were senior civil servants, diplomats, military personnel, security experts, professors and senior journalists. In fact, one of them described it to be “an innovative idea” and another, a top-ranked scientist, termed it to be “one of the greatest and most creative ideas I ever heard!”

What was Rajeev's idea? Let me quote: “If China goes around renaming parts of Arunachal, I have a great idea. We should rename Shantipath (the road in the heart of the diplomatic enclave) that runs in Delhi as the Dalai Lama Road so that China is forced to write its address like this: Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Dalai Lama Road, New Delhi.”

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

This is worth pursuing because it has a great symbolic value and conveys a strong message to China. One remembers here French philosopher Jacques Derrida who had suggested in 1974 that “naming is a taxonomic strategy, which is also a manifestation of power.” It is true that naming or renaming of places, roads and buildings all over the world is a continuous trend; and invariably it is done by those who are in political power or who have got the courage to manifest that power without bothering about the possible adverse reactions.

China has played this naming and renaming game many a time by changing Peking to Beijing, Canton to Guangzhou, Nanking to Nanjing, Sian to Xi’an and Tientsin to Tianjin. The list is illustrative, not exhaustive. But in this case of Arunachal Pradesh, things are little different. It has changed names of the six places that are not under its administrative control. Hence, this renaming does not change anything on the ground. What it actually means is that China will continue to embarrass India on many fronts; it will also toughen its position on the vexed boundary issue with India.

Just look at the major irritants in the Sino-Indian front. We have an unresolved border. Despite many rounds of negotiations, a border settlement acceptable to both the countries eludes. And here China’s posture is becoming tougher. The agreed principle — which, incidentally, emerged from Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in 2005 – that the settled population in the disputed border areas will not be disturbed in any eventual solution has been negated by China, which is now claiming Tawang, the holy city of the Buddhists in Arunachal Pradesh, as its own.

Secondly, China continues to encircle India by developing establishments and infrastructures in all the neighbouring countries of India (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan) that have strong military implications. It is arming Pakistan with nuclear weapons and missiles, not to speak of other India-centric ammunitions. Unlike every other country that matters in the world, China overlooks India’s concerns over terrorism that is aided and abetted from Pakistani soil.

Thirdly, of late, China has been perilously interfering in India’s internal affairs by questioning Kashmir’s status; it has not hesitated to introduce the practice of a separate stapled sheet in Indian passport while issuing visa to a Kashmiri. It has also denied visa to an Indian General just because he had served in Kashmir.

Fourthly, China is far from returning the Indian gesture during the 1950s of backing not only its ordinary membership of the United Nations but also the permanent membership in the UN Security Council, which, incidentally, was offered on a platter to India by the Western countries. Unlike the other four permanent members – the United States, Russia, France and Great Britain — China refuses to support noticeably India’s legitimate claim for being a permanent member. It has also singularly blocked India’s accession to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Fifthly, China’s growing economic interactions with India, something that friends of China in India highlight, have been so far been one-way, favouring essentially the Chinese. The balance of trade has been against India to the tune of nearly $53 billion (2015-16 estimate). Besides, the trade relationship is mostly uncomplimentary, with India essentially exporting precious raw material in general and iron ore in particular and China selling finished products. And this despite the fact that the raw materials that China imports from India are abundantly available in that country but which are being saved as strategic reserve. The imbalance has been further compounded by the increasingly dumping of Chinese goods in the Indian market. So much so that Indians are now flooded by the Diwali items and idols of Indian gods and goddesses, all made in China. Conversely, however, the Chinese authorities place many hurdles for the entry in their country of quality Indian products in the information technology, pharmaceutical and food processing sectors, even though China is not self sufficient in them and imports them from other markets. And yet, China would like India to sign a free trade agreement with India.

Sixthly, while China, thanks to its $3.51 trillion worth of foreign exchange reserves is investing in a huge way all over the world, particularly in the developing countries, it is not so inclined to do so in India. According to 2016-report, over the past 13 years, 142 Chinese companies have invested a total of $27 billion in India in sectors such as automotive parts and consumer electronics. But, during the same period, 139 Indian companies have invested $12 billion in China, largely in the software and IT services sector.

Viewed thus, in an increasingly unequal relationship with China, does it make any sense for India not to reciprocate the Chinese hostility, at least diplomatically? As it is, in 2003, the then prime minister AB Vajpayee had surrendered the little leverage that India had over Tibet. India had recognised Tibet to be a part of China through the India-China Treaty on Tibet, 1954. Its validity was, however, for eight years. That means that after 1962, India was not bound to regard Tibet as a part of China. The 1988 statement during Rajiv Gandhi’s visit was diplomatically worded in the sense that it talked of Tibet as an autonomous region of China, meaning that India’s view on Tibet could change if Beijing takes away Tibet’s autonomy. But Vajpayee, during his visit to China, agreed unconditionally that “Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” And what is more important, such an agreement on Tibet was signed for the first time at the prime ministerial level.

How India should deal with a hostile China? Some time ago, I had argued in this forum that “Gandhism” could be a diplomatic tool. I will repeat the same even today. The main component of rising Chinese power is its economic strength, particularly its foreign exchange reserve, that is, dollars. And this, the Chinese have earned through export of their goods, which they produce cheaply by their cheap labour, in markets all over the world. So let us adopt the Gandhian tool of boycott of the Chinese goods in India. Let us pledge ourselves not to buy Chinese goods. It will have a salutary impact on the Chinese rulers.

Now, of course, one will add to this strategy another diplomatic tool — renaming Shantipath as the Dalai Lama Road — as suggested by my neighbour.

Published Date: Apr 22, 2017 04:20 pm | Updated Date: Apr 22, 2017 04:20 pm

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