How will India respond to the series of provocations from China? There is, after all, a long list of examples of the dragon waving a red flag in front of India—issuance of stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh (China treats J&K as ‘disputed’ and Arunachal as its own territory); a failed attempt to block the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group’s waiver being granted to India way back in 2008; the torpedoing of an Asian Development Bank grant to India for a project that was to be built in Arunachal.
Until now, New Delhi has typically treated Beijing with kid gloves in response to the provocations. After all, not annoying Beijing seems to be the official Indian China policy. So what happened on August 27 was rather odd, if not unprecedented—India’s reaction to the latest pinprick from China was unambiguous, sharp and prompt.
The External Affairs Ministry was apparently left with no choice but to act when The Times of India carried a scoop that day disclosing that China had refused a visa to a top Indian General, Lt Gen B S Jaswal, the Northern Army Commander. Beijing didn’t cite any specific reasons for denying the visa, saying only that he wouldn’t be welcome in China.
The Chinese action was a bolt from the blue and the media and the Opposition went berserk. The move was all the more baffling because China had in the past granted visas to other top generals in the Indian army who had served in Arunachal Pradesh, including to Arunachal Pradesh Gov. Gen J J Singh, a former Indian Army chief.
According to the diplomatic grapevine, China refused a visa to Gen. Jaswal because Beijing was irked that he had been publicly airing his views on China.The External Affairs Ministry released a two-paragraph statement on the Chinese provocation, stating that: ‘While we value our exchanges with China, there must be sensitivity to each others' concerns. Our dialogue with China on these issues is ongoing.’
Simultaneously, there were reports that India had frozen its defence exchange programme with China, a decision reportedly conveyed the same day to the Chinese ambassador in India, Zhang Yang.
However, China hands in the Indian government are in no mood to up the ante any further, with ministry officials ‘clarifying’ that other interactions and programmes with China are continuing unaffected. The Chinese envoy too has sought to underplay the whole incident, saying he was unaware of the Jaswal episode and would get back to his Indian interlocutors after seeking a full report from Beijing.
The bottom line is that New Delhi is concerned about Chinese words and deeds not only in the context of bilateral relations, but also China’s recent assertiveness in its maritime territorial claims in the South China Sea.
India for its part won’t pay China back in kind and certainly isn’t mulling the possibility, for example, of starting to issue stapled visas to travellers from Tibet or Sinkiang or other sensitive regions of China. The considered opinion of the Indian diplomatic establishment is that New Delhi has to deal with China with restraint. India is in no mood to throw the baby out with the bath water.