Against a backdrop of rising Sino-Indian tensions, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today issued an unprecedented statement in parliament that could go some way toward easing the potential for any flashpoints.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Singh said that his government doesn’t believe China is planning to attack India, observing instead that the Sino-Indian border has remained “by and large” peaceful despite some intrusions by Chinese forces.
The comments are the clearest statement yet of the government’s position, and come following an ugly behind-the-scenes diplomatic spat that resulted in the cancellation of the latest round of Special Representatives-level boundary talks that were scheduled to be held in New Delhi. The Indian side is reported to have cancelled the meeting after China pressured the Singh government to block the Dalai Lama from speaking at a conference being in held in New Delhi, or else halt the conference altogether.
“Our government doesn’t share the view that China plans to attack India,” Singh said during Question Hour after Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav stunned the House by claiming that he had information that China had made preparations to attack India, had marked areas close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) from where the Chinese attack would be launched, and that the Chinese attack was “imminent.”
Yadav, a former defense minister, also said China had diverted the Brahmaputra River. The prime minister sought to allay Yadav’s fears on both counts, adding that he had no information to suggest that the Brahmaputra had been diverted by China.
Singh explained that the United Progressive Alliance government was in touch with Beijing about rescheduling the 15th round of dialogue over the boundary issue, and said that although there had been some incursions by the Chinese, that these were being handled at the level of area commander of the two militaries.
In response to a supplementary question, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said talks will continue with the Chinese to resolve all outstanding issues and that the two sides were exploring mutually convenient dates for the next round of boundary talks. Krishna confirmed to the House that China had expressed concern over the Dalai Lama organizing a global Buddhist congregation in India and that Beijing wanted India to either prevent the Tibetan spiritual leader from participating, or cancel the event altogether. He said, however, that India had informed China that it wouldn’t interfere with the conference.
Singh’s reassurances follow remarks on December 2 by Indian Navy Chief Nirmal Verma, who told a press conference that Chinese submarines with long-range nuclear capable missiles are a matter of concern for India. Verma also singled out the threat from China’s Dong Feng 21D, an anti-aircraft carrier ballistic missile. He said the Indian Navy is working to fill any gaps in its defenses and said the service was in the midst of a massive upgrading program.
Singh’s assurances aside, Indian military planners have expressed growing concern over the pace of Chinese military infrastructure development along the LAC. This, Indian officials say, has forced India to boost its own deployment along the LAC, moving from a defensive to offensive posture.
The Cabinet Committee of Security, India’s top body for government strategic, security and defense issues, is about to clear a $12 billion proposal to deploy about 100,000 more troops along the LAC. New Delhi has already deployed between 240 and 300 fighter aircraft in the eastern sector, including Arunachal Pradesh.
The prime minister’s statement is a welcome effort to ease tensions and should go some way to taking the heat out of some of the recent rhetoric. It can only be hoped that China will now follow up with a similarly positive statement at the highest level.