New York: China has a penchant for doing things that infuriate its neighbours and much of the world. It has done it again this time by issuing a new China passport which carries a watermark map of China that has set off a terrible diplomatic rumpus with at least four neighboring countries.
India's external affairs minister Salman Khurshid has called the Chinese passport map which shows Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as Chinese territory "unacceptable." The Indian embassy in Beijing has retaliated by stamping Chinese visas with a stapled India map showing the disputed borders between the two countries as belonging to India.
This week, multiple countries have refused to give visas to Chinese passport holders as they don’t want to be seen as "legitimising" the offending map. India is not doing anything as drastic: it’s just going ahead and stamping its own map on the visas it issues to Chinese travelers. Beyond the extra headache for the Indian embassy in Bejing, India is playing it cool.
In fact, India’s ambassador to Washington Nirupama Rao on Tuesday downplayed China’s map-drawing antics as "shadow play." Rao, who served as the ambassador to China from 2006 to 2009, the first woman to do so, doesn’t see any cause for serious alarm.
"This shadow play between these two countries is bound to continue until and unless we have a final, comprehensive settlement of the issue," Rao said while speaking at a Foreign Policy Initiative forum at the Newseum on Tuesday. "These differences will surface from time to time, but we have to learn to manage these differences."
"Having dealt with the issue for some decades now, this is not going to go away overnight," Rao said, while pointing to the peace India and China had maintained for over four decades. "Not a single shot has been fired on that border for all these years."
True, a shot hasn’t been fired, but India can hardly let its guard down. China has placed nuclear-capable intermediate missiles in the sensitive border areas with India and massed around 3,00,000 troops across the Tibetan plateau, according to a Pentagon report.
India now plans to add some 60,000 soldiers to the 1,20,000 it already has in Arunachal Pradesh. It has stationed two Sukhoi 30 fighter squadrons and will deploy the Brahmos cruise missile.
Analysts say Beijing is “muscle-flexing” by including areas along the 4,000-kilometer disputed Himalayan border as part of China. One of the areas, Arunachal Pradesh, was briefly captured by Beijing in the 1962 border war and is still claimed by China. The other, Aksai Chin, also a focus of the 1962 war, is administered as part of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region but claimed in its entirety by India.
China said on Wednesday that people should not read too much into the placement of the new map, after the US said it would raise concerns with Beijing over the issue which was creating "tension and anxiety."
The Philippines and Vietnam have condemned the new microchip-equipped passports, saying the map they incorporate violates their sovereignty. The new China passports also have images of Taiwan which China considers its territory.
The Philippines has taken a decision not to stamp its visa into the Chinese passports as a protest against China's "excessive claim over almost the entire South China Sea."