China’s Territorial Claims

I have posted a video at VodPod, see Sidebar on China’s Territorial Claims. It is worth considering that there is an expansionist tendency to China’s development and growth. Logically we should think about counter-balancing China with the other large power in our neighbourhood India.

This reminded me of an article which I read some considerable time ago, which was in fact an extract from a then new book by Bill Emmott, formerly of The Economist, on how he sees China and India jockeying for position in the coming decades.

I had put put this to one side as it dealt with something I have long been interested in, that is the relationship between China and India. Indeed, this relationship now, previously between the British and China, has figured significantly in the past histories of Tibet, Nepal, and other Himalayan states. India and China have unresolved territorial disputes and fought a brief war in 1965. The video reminded me of the issues.

My rather lengthy comments on the article are over the break

Now the article in question began:-

Tibet is one thing, but India and China tensions spell bigger disaster.India and China are booming and will shape the 21st century, but old tensions between the two could spell disaster for the region.

Followed by this key introductory statement:-

Few of his contemporaries think of George Walker Bush as a visionary American president, unless they are using the term to imply a touch of madness. Yet early in his second term Bush launched a bold initiative to try to establish closer American ties with India, the world’s biggest democracy, in what may eventually be judged by historians as a move of great strategic importance and imagination.

It recognised the fact that while Al-Qaeda and its cohorts pose the biggest short-term and perhaps medium-term challenge to America, in the long term it is the expected shift in the world’s economic and political balance towards Asia that promises to have the greatest significance.

Emmott’s thesis is that prompted by the rise of China, Bush or his advisors (Condolezza Rice?, though her primary expertise was the Soviets):-

Bush, meanwhile, has managed to cast aside 40 years of hostility and suspicion between America and India – and even agreed to start collaborating over nuclear energy – in the hope of strengthening India and its economy. And all for a special reason: the rise of China.

Perhaps history will in fact treat Bush more knidly in this regard. Some forecasters suggest that China could overtake the American economy in size by the late 2020′s and India by 2050, assuming it continues to reform. Both China and India continue to grow rapidly. As we saw at Copenhagen last December China is increasingly willing to flex it’s economic muscles, especially as the major creditor of the US.

India too is changing:-

These days India is beginning to follow the Chinese model with investment soaring as a share of GDP, with trade booming and with manufacturing expanding faster than services. Its biggest companies, of which the Tata Group is in the lead, are achieving global reach, capabilities and prominence far faster than their Chinese counterparts.

Indian businesses are growing rapidly in the developed world, witness Tata’s acquisition of Jaguar, Land Rover and Corus Steel (once British Steel Corporation), the Ambani Brothers, Mittal in steel also. Their international expansion is helped by the fact that India is a robust, though not perfect democracy and is throwing off the stifling controls once imposed by the ‘licence raj’, giving freer rein to the Indian capacity for trade, innovation and entrepreneurship.

As Emmott notes:-

India, however, needs help in financing the construction of its roads, airports and power plants and it needs help with technology. In fact, it is already being helped by Japan – egged on by America – with its infrastructure financing. And Bush’s civil nuclear deal was aimed at providing the technology that India desperately needs.


Asia is going to get richer and stronger, probably for a long time to come. The reason why Tibet and Tata come into the picture is that the rise of Asia is not just going to pit Asia against the West. It is going to pit Asians against Asians. This is the first time in history when there have been three powerful countries in Asia at the same time: China, India and Japan. That might not matter if they liked each other or were somehow naturally compatible. But they do not and are not. Far from it, in fact.

An array of disputes, historical bitternesses and regional flashpoints weigh down on all three countries. Conflict is not inevitable but nor is it inconceivable. If it were to occur – over Taiwan, say, or the Korean peninsula or Tibet or Pakistan – it would not simply be an intra-Asian affair. The outside world would be drawn in.

The unrest in Tibet in 2008, the war in Afghanisatn, the Mumbai terror attack in India and the instability of Pakistan emphasis  just how volatile the area is.

In 1962 China and India fought a border war that humiliated India and left an enduring legacy of bitterness and suspicion. Both countries are now increasing their military spending and trying to modernise their armed forces.

The border dispute remains unresolved.

Furthermore, China has territorial claims on part of India, and vice versa,:-

China claims an entire Indian state, Arunachal Pradesh, which borders southern Tibet and is roughly the size of Portugal. India claims that China is occupying 15,000 square miles of what is rightfully India – in Aksai Chin, an almost uninhabited plateau high in the Himalayas.

As detailed in the article these issues continue to cause friction between the two emerging titans. India has somewhat reluctantly acknowledge China’s sovereignty over Tibet, but that is about as far as it goes. Both countries possess nuclear weapons and have nationalist tendencies and fierce pride. Emmott goes on:-

On the face of it the two sides have since made progress. A border crossing was opened to trade in 2006 for the first time since the war. That year, however, the Chinese ambassador to Delhi caused outrage by publicly emphasising that China claims the whole of Arunachal Pradesh.

Ten months ago ( in 2007) a “confidence-building” visit to China by more than 100 Indian officials had to be cancelled after China acted in a typically provocative way: it refused to grant a visa to a member of the Indian delegation from Arunachal Pradesh on the grounds that he was Chinese and did not need one.

Note the studied provocation by China and how again they are not sensitive to other parties. This may well be the legacy of the Middle Kingdom.

It is conventional to assume that the disputed areas are no longer flashpoints but just irritatingly unfinished business.

Yet the Tibetan problems at the time of the Beijing Olympics raised major issues over China’s position,which Emmott discusses  especially he thought then when the Dalai Lama dies and the possibility for severely increased China/India tensions

If – or when – the Tibetans are faced with a dispute over the successor to their spiritual leader, serious unrest could break out. The likelihood is that China would crack down hard on Tibet, as it always has in the past and as it did this month. But if the unrest were more widespread and substantial than before, and if it coincided with a period when the central Chinese government was weak – in the wake of an economic downturn, perhaps – then it may be hard to regain control.

The article analyses risk and suggests

Two risks could then arise. One, admittedly unlikely, is that in the face of Chinese repression, perhaps involving the wholesale slaughter of Tibetan militants, India might feel obliged to do something: to send aid, agitate for collective international intervention or even to try to create safe havens near Arunachal Pradesh.

The other risk is that either China or India might decide to send a military force into the disputed border areas. That might be a diversionary tactic; it might be opportunism, in India’s case; it might reflect China’s sense of insecurity about Tibet; or it might be a Chinese effort to seize Tawang, an area of Arunachal Pradesh directly associated with Tibet and with Tibetan Buddhism. If any of these events occurred, the stakes would be high.

Key to the thesis is this thought, and one which will have major implications for New Zealand 

This is part of a greater Asian drama that is going to be a permanent feature of world affairs and arguably the most important single determinant of whether or not those affairs proceed peacefully and prosperously.

In the end Emmott thought and events at present seem to be playing out in this direction, subsject as always to the fickle winds of fate:-

Now look on the brighter side. The credibly optimistic view is that by 2020 China’s economy could be at least three times larger than it is today; the same could well apply to India as it uses its rising tax revenues to build modern infrastructure and a proper system of primary and secondary education.

Japan, with more market-oriented reforms and a corporate sector galvanised by the prospect of Chinese competition, could experience a productivity surge similar to that enjoyed by the United States during the 1990s, enabling it to become more confident in international affairs.

Emmott thinks that in such a scenario, though Japan remains hobbled economically,

China, Japan and India would work together to build pan-Asian institutions within which to manage their disputes and differences. When the North Korean regime collapses and the Dalai Lama passes away, their first instinct would be to talk and exchange ideas rather than to act unilaterally.

There are some awfully big ifs and buts to that proposition, including Japan managing to achieve meaningful internal reform as well. Emmott thought in 2008 that such a scenario might lead to major internal reform in China, but I am not sure that his thoughts are correct on that score.

Therefore, it is essential  that unpalatable though it will be to many the West should do everything possible to engage with China and with India to bind them both evermore closely into the international fabric. Both countries, along with Japan should be encouraged to grow their economies and to improve the quality of life for their people.

Iif we have learnt anything in the West it should be that holding back legitimate aspirations for economic growth is likely to prove violently counter productive. Indeed, many would argue that the punitive aspects of the Versailles Treaty post World War One were major factors in creating the circumstances which led to Hitler attaining power in Germany.

In New Zealand we have adopted a trade based posture with China and seek to grow that relationship. At the same time we should aggressively pursue an FTA with India. India with a large middle class and extensive international reach is potentially another large market for New Zealand.

It makes sense to be building our relationships with the 2 powers that will dominate our region, and to some extent do so already.

I think effort spent on an FTA with India is better than chasing the chimera of an FTA with the USA.  My suspicion is that any FTA emerging from the Trans Pacific Partnership talks is many years away and will not be as all encompassing or beneficial as the China FTA has been to date.

Further, I think our long term security and our economic prospects will be greatly enhanced by having strong relationships with both India and China.

Therefore as Emmott concluded:-

The stakes in Asia are enormous – for all of us.

That is especially the case for New Zealand which country lives or dies by trade of various types. With the likely decline in long haul European tourism because of environmental concerns the development of trade and services, including tourism with these 2 powers is an economic necessity for this country.

Bill Emmott’s article was extracted from Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade by Bill Emmott, published by Allen Lane on April 3, 2008 at £20.


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