China, India rivalry could spin out of control, warn experts

      Experts and observers of Sino-Indian ties have warned that the current vituperative war of words between the two countries could spin the traditional Asian rivalry out of control. "The most urgent present job for both sides is crisis management," the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) quoted Han Hua, an expert on South Asia at Peking University, as saying. "I don't think either government wants the situation to go further downhill," he added. Though the decades-old border dispute is being cited as the main reason for the current war of words, according to Shen Dingli, deputy head of China's South Asia Research Institute, deeper resentments lie behind the spat. He said: "The structural problem is leadership. The question is who leads in Asia?" In a recent editorial, the "People's Daily launched a blistering attack on India, accusing it of "recklessness and arrogance" and of harboring "the dream of superpower ... mingled with the thought of hegemony." The tirade followed an expression by the Chinese foreign ministry of its "deep dissatisfaction" with the election campaign visit earlier this month by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as its own territory. India responded with a protest at China's offer of aid for a hydropower project in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, which India claims as its own territory. New Delhi has also let it be known that next month it will allow the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, to visit a major Tibetan monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, a move that has infuriated Beijing so much that it issued a fresh verbal protest on Tuesday. Meanwhile, India has this year moved two army divisions to areas adjacent to the border with China, and built three new airstrips in the Himalayan foothills. The buildup is seen as a bid to match Chinese military might in southern Tibet, and to deter increasingly frequent cross-border incursions by Chinese patrols. The frontier, however, "is more a barometer of relations than a problem in itself," suggests Jean-Francois Huchet, who heads the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, a Hong Kong-based think tank. Among the major irritants in China's relationship with India, says Dr. Huchet, is the civilian nuclear cooperation pact that New Delhi signed last year with Washington. The deal will help India make progress in its military nuclear program, Beijing fears. At the same time, New Delhi has participated in military exercises with Japanese and Australian forces in a "more assertive, proactive foreign policy stance," says Harsh Pant, who teaches international relations at King's College London. "So China is making its rivalry more explicit," he claimed. Indian officials have long been resentful at what they see as Chinese efforts to contain Indian influence in South Asia. China, on the other hand, is suspicious of Indian intentions. Against this background of mutual suspicions, which belie the two capitals' usual talk of friendly relations, the Dalai Lama's forthcoming visit to disputed territory is set to ignite new fireworks.

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