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During the month of November, India will receive two important visitors from China; both are members of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.
First, Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao is scheduled to arrive in India on November 3. Lu Kang, one of the spokespersons of the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that Li is coming at the invitation of Vice-President Hamid Ansari: “it is another major interaction between the two sides, which will help inject new momentum to bilateral ties,” said Lu.
The spokesperson added: "With concerted efforts strategic partnership of cooperation between China and India for peace and prosperity has seen sound and stable development. The two sides have deeper exchanges of cooperation and maintained sound coordination on regional and international affairs.”
Lu also said that the leaders of both countries have agreed to deepen their cooperation and have even closer partnership for development.
Does it mean a common position at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP 21, in Paris later this month?
It won’t probably go that far, though the issues to be discussed at the Conference will certainly be on the agenda of the Chinese Vice-President when he meets Indian leaders.
Perhaps more importantly, General Fan Changlong, the senior vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the highest uniformed official in the Middle Kingdom, is due to visit Delhi later this month.
Xinhua published a terse statement on October 29: “Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's CMC, will visit Pakistan and India in mid-November.”
During his monthly Press Conference, Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense (MND), answered three questions related to India.
Yang was first asked about the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The questioner noted: “The Indian and Chinese military officials held talks on the Working Mechanisms for Cooperation and Coordination (WMCC), especially relating to the border issues early this month. [During] the last press conference, the PLA spokesman had stated that the Indian military had actually violated the consensus reached as far as certain border stand-offs are concerned. Has this issue been discussed at that WMCC meeting?”
The Senior Colonel spoke about the discreetly-held WMCC meeting in Beijing on October 8 and 9; he said: “both sides gave a review of the border situation between China and India and the promotion of mutual trust in the past year; they also had an in-depth exchange of views on issues concerning the peace and stability along the border.”
Nothing offensive for a change!
He did not want to comment further on the unpleasant Burtse incident in Ladakh which witnessed a confrontation between the 2 Armies. At that time, The Global Times, quoting Jiang Jingkui, director of the Department of South Asian Languages at Peking University had affirmed: “this is not the first time that Indian media has reported 'confrontations' that do not exist in the Sino-Indian border area. These [type of] news are often untrue, negative, misleading and aimed at provoking public opinion."
Only the future will tell us if the WMCC fine-tuning can help avoid such incidents in the future. However, as General Fan will be in India, it will certainly be a good occasion to question him on the regular PLA incursions across the high-altitude border and his views on the LAC.
It may also be a good occasion to ask the powerful general to show the Chinese ‘perceptions’ on a map.
The second question related to the recently concluded counterterrorism exercises (‘Hand-in-Hand’) by China and India in Kunming in Yunnan province: “what are the prospects for any joint anti-terrorism operation in the neighborhood if and when it is required?”
The answer was rather vague, but indicative of the seriousness of the ‘terrorist’ threat for Beijing, even if it is sometimes mixed up with the aspirations of the Tibetan and Uyghur minorities for more freedom from the Han domination.
Yang Yujun said: “terrorism is the common enemy of the international community and the Chinese side is against all forms of terrorism. We are committed to the international cooperation against terrorism. The PLA shoulders the responsibility of counter-terrorism and we will do our work according to the arrangement of the Chinese government.”
The last question on India was about General Fan’s visit.
The Senior Colonel explained that according to this year's plan for foreign military exchange, General Fan should pay an official visit to Pakistan and India: “The purpose of this visit is to implement the consensus reached by the state leaders of both sides, enhance friendly exchanges between the Chinese military and its foreign counterparts, and to jointly maintain regional peace and stability.”
Let us not that forgot that over 50 PLA officers with rank of major general and above, were shown the door (of the prison) during the last 2 years and Fan has not only been President Xi Jinping’s reliable ally in his fight against corruption, but a fire fighter, when things are getting too hot.
In June, Fan was sent to Washington to meet US Defence Secretary Ash Carter to prepare Xi Jinping’s trip to the US. At a time when the US called for a halt to land reclamation in the South China Sea, General Fan declared that China was committed to developing “a sustained and substantive US-China military-to-military relationship”.
It eventually helped the Xi-Obama Summit to reach a consensus on a memorandum of understanding to reduce the risk of accidents when the two navies operate in close proximity.
According to Sina.com, an official Chinese web portal, Fan Changlong recently stated that China has always advocated handling disputes through peaceful means; Beijing will not use force recklessly, even for issues related to territory and sovereignty. China’s neighbours were probably happy to hear this, even if they are not fully convinced.
While addressing the sixth Xiangshan Forum, a bi-yearly defense experts’ exchange in Beijing, Fan asserted that China always insists on sorting out disputes through friendly negotiations with parties directly involved; Beijing “will try its best to avoid unexpected conflicts,” he said.
The article, republished in The Global Times, quotes the CMC’s vice-chairman noting: “China has settled land and border issues with a majority of neighboring countries through consultation.”
Of course not with India, through the ‘consultations’ are on for the past 55 years.
Regarding growing concerns over the construction on reefs in the South China Sea, Fan affirmed “the construction, mostly for civilian purposes, would improve marine navigation and provide public services.”
Nobody may have believed this in Washington, but in the meantime, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that it had jurisdiction over 15 submissions by Manila, including one that calls into question the validity of China's claims based on the nine-dash line under international maritime law as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a Convention ratified by China.
The South China Morning Post said: “The decision came as China's navy chief warned his US counterpart encounters between their forces could spiral into conflict, two days after a US destroyer sailed close to Beijing's artificial South China Sea islands.”
This clearly shows the contradiction between what General Fan says and Beijing’s actions on the South China Sea where the Chinese Navy increases its control over territories claimed by The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
For India, it is a sign that as long as Delhi does not dispute Beijing’s stand in Ladakh or Arunachal, China is ready ‘to settle land and border issues through consultation’.
But as India does not accept China’s claims, can the border remain peaceful?
Fan should be asked to give some assurance.