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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism War and Conflict

Beyond the McMahon Line

Abstract: The development of the North East hinges on a range of factors. One of the aspects that could play an important role in the matter is the improvement of infrastructure along the India-China boundary in the sector. While both India and China have legitimate security interests to consider along their common, disputed frontiers, renewed focus on developing border relations between the two Asian giants, especially in the light of recent infrastructure developments in the North East, could have a salutary effect. If security is defined also as the maintenance of peace and harmony along borders, New Delhi and Beijing might find that the current phase of infrastructure development by both the countries along the common frontier could provide for such security in a number of ways. In this context, it is my contention that the pursuit of cross-border economic initiatives by both countries must focus on letting sub-national actors such as the states (on the Indian side) and the provinces (on the Chinese side) take the lead. The time has come to stop thinking of borders as being static or unchanging and to abandon the belief that achieving fixed boundaries or the defence of those lines as defined on a map is a guarantee of national security.

For the North East, this is a position that could possibly contribute to the reordering of priorities accorded to it by New Delhi. Moreover, such an approach could offer ‘mainstream’ India a way out of the dilemma it has often been caught in: whether to consider the North East as a part of India that has genuine developmental aspirations or only as a region for which security should be the sole concern—the latter, either because of the several ethnopolitical problems that beleaguer the region, or because it as a buffer zone against external pressure.

Original Article: “Beyond the McMahon Line: Infrastructure Development in the North Eastern Sector,” in Jaideep Saikia (ed.), Frontier in Flames: North East India in Turmoil (New Delhi: Penguin, 2007), pp. 170-85.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Nathu La

Originally published: January 2007

Abstract: July 2006 saw China make two major statements of intent in its huge western region. The first of these was the opening of the 1,142km section from Golmud to Lhasa completing the Qinghai-Tibet railway (QTR). The other, was the reopening of the 4,545m high Nathu La trading route on the Tibet-Sikkim border that had been closed following the 1962 border conflict between India and China. Besides a narrow perception of these and other Chinese infrastructure developments as creating a strategic threat, they might also be looked at in terms of creating long-term opportunities for India.

India must not view Chinese moves to gain greater access to South Asia only within a narrow strategic framework but as another opportunity for New Delhi to come to terms with the problems that bedevil its relations with the northeastern states of the country, to take better account of local aspirations and demands before deciding what is best for the region. It needs to be remembered that Chinese ties to South Asia cannot be enduring in any way without a decisive Indian influence. For several decades now, that Indian influence has played out in a negative sense where Chinese relations with Pakistan have been concerned. On India’s eastern front, strategic concerns and a defensive mindset meant that connectivity in the northeast remained limited. Today, however, if India were to accept the challenge and approach the Chinese moves more positively, Indian influence in the larger region too can play out positively. The vision is one of tying the development of India’s northeast with that of its South Asian neighbours, of China’s west and southwest and of the countries of Indochina. The closer the ties, the lesser incentive any player has to play spoilsport. This can be a situation where everyone is a winner.

 

Original Article: “The Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Nathu La – Challenge and Opportunity for India,” China Report (New Delhi), Vol. 43, No. 1, January 2007, pp. 83-87.

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