Two American senators, Bill Hagerty of the Republican Party and Jeff Merkeley of the Democratic Party have emphasized that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India. A month-old resolution has been ramped up, and based on its wording they have reiterated unquestioned American commitment to Indian territorial extent.
The background of this is Chinese belligerence. These concentric circles exist in several tiers. There is the continuous Sino-Indian tension, surrounding its borders; Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, and China’s newfound, even if probably transient, alliance with Russia surrounding the Ukraine conflict. Amid this collective background, the aspect of Indo-Chinese conflict of interests, gain more importance. This perspective is bound to be more highlighted than other aspects, although it often acts a subtext to the more pertinent issue at hand.
The scene of Global Affairs is characterized by self-interest and utility maximization. Countries typically work to maximize their interests. However, it is the methods and means by which it all occur that brings to the fore the concept of allies and antagonists. Subjected to a continuous phenomenon of change and adjustments, the chessboard of international politics is marked by certain patterns and a sense of acute uncertainty. Within it, American support to Indian iterations against Chinese statements of encroachments has been varied in extent and force. But, it is unquestionably a fact of international affairs of this era that the US has mostly been supportive of India’s core interests against Chinese unworthiness. There is a trailblazing record, determining, in many notable ways, certain contemporary actions.
During the 50s of the preceded century, China was a pariah for the United States. The ideologically motivated “Cold War” between US-led bloc and erstwhile Soviet-guided nations was in full blast. Nevertheless, India, guided by its own interests, given the times, was pursuing a non-aligned path. Although, criticized by the American governments, there were times when it found some credibility within certain US administrations. It was such a time, when this found adherence by certain senators, led by then junior Senator John F Kennedy. He vociferously championed the cause of support to India relative to China. Kennedy rightly foresaw that Indian democracy would be a far greater viable proposition than Chinese totalitarian system. Despite the raucousness inherent in Indian democracy, it was bound to be more enduring than the outward bluff and bluster of Chinese Communist governance.
When Kennedy became President of the United States in 1961, he reinforced his commitment to be understanding and also to be supportive of Indian viewpoints and interests. That greatly irked the Chinese rulers, led by Chairman Mao. In a setting, marked by border skirmishes, Indian unpreparedness, and Chinese determination to humble India, the Chinese actuated a war with India in the autumn of 1962. It led to Indian reverses and ultimate Chinese withdrawal to the original position from where its armed forces had rushed forward. In those despondent times, it was the American administration led by President Kennedy, and his ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, who made certain that the Indian sense of gloom would be mitigated as far as possible through American assistance.
However, given the state of the global scenario, and the eternal Indo-Pakistani strife and antagonism, American assistance could not be made effective to the extent it was hoped it would be. It was poised to be derailed mid-way. Thereafter, with changing administrations in the US and India, American détente with China, Indian closeness to former Soviet Union, and altering patterns of Indo-Pakistani discord, American support to India against China waxed and waned. It was only with economic liberalization of India in the 1990s, disintegration of the Soviet Union, scope of greater American collaboration with India, and increasing symptoms of Pakistan turning into a rogue, unpredictable state for Western interests that American support for India began to grow relative to what it was earlier; the China aspect also got related to it.
A watershed moment arrived when India and America entered into a civil nuclear deal in 2008. Thereafter, despite differing viewpoints between both countries on several aspects, the convergence of India and US against Chinese high-handedness has been on an increase than otherwise. It has helped in no mean measure that American and Indian bonds have strengthened in the defence sector. Regular drills of the armed forces of both countries in land, sea, and air have become a standard feature of Indo-American cooperation. Meanwhile, to try to clear the fog for itself, China has resorted to increasing attempts to browbeat India militarily and diplomatically.
Chinese provocations along the Sino-India border have become an almost perennial affair. It has also determined appropriate Indian rejoinders. There is a keen change noticeable on the horizon of Sino-Indian relations. Earlier it was more of Chinese pinpricking upon India. Now the harasser is often meted out just retributions. It is clear to the Chinese that India has acquired the will and the means, much more than before, to deal with disturbing, unworthy acts of China and its keen disciple in this matter: Pakistan. Moreover, clear intentions, sharp will, and sensible, ethical approach have secured many allies for India than before. It is in this light, that the American senators have declared their support to Indian positions along its border with China in Arunachal Pradesh.
It is beyond debate that all facts, figures, conventions, and obvious inferences point to the aptness of Indian perspective of its border with China that is along the McMahon Line. China has been playing dubious games surrounding it to irk India. That China understands the viability of the McMahon line is clear because it has concluded its border agreements with Myanmar on the basis of that line. It should only be a matter of a period of time before it would ultimately resolve all its self-created border problems with India, by agreeing on the sanctity of McMahon line, with some possible, sensible adjustments. The support of two notable American senators to India in this matter could be a crucial for furthering Indian interests.
(The author is a columnist with specialisations in International Affairs, the Economy, Indian politics, and certain feature topics)