NEWDELHI: India and China in perpetual conflict—that seems to be dominant narrative for relations between the two Asian giants, demonstrated yet again by the latest episode of an IAF officer from Arunachal Pradesh being denied visa for China, despite being part of the official delegation.
In an apparent climbdown, India has decided to go ahead with the scheduled visit of its military delegation to China, but with only a scaled-down 15-member group, sans the IAF officer, Group Captain M Panging, the chief operating officer of Tezpur-based squadron of Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets, deployed with an eye on China.
“A 15-member delegation will leave for China on Sunday,” sources told The Sunday Standard, remaining tight-lipped about the reasons that prompted New Delhi’s decision. Earlier a 30-member team of officers from Integrated Defence Staff was scheduled to go on a four-day trip.
Sources say a finger-pointing match between Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) sparked after the incident became public, addding the MEA is claiming that members of an official delegation bound to China has to be screened by the cabinet secretary, a route not followed by the defence ministry. The MoD officials say the matter was mishandled by the MEA.
According to well-known China watcher Swaran Singh, the Panging’s visa row is a good example of the “disarray” in the Indian establishment in facing the China issue. “The government always seems to be speaking in multiple voices on China, with the defence ministry saying something and the MEA something else,” he said.
He pointed out that since there had been precedent of visas being denied to residents of Arunachal Pradesh, the latest incident could either be a bungling or a deliberate needling of China. “Either way, the fallout should have been properly handled, instead of a knee-jerk reaction,” he added.
Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor in Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said it was too early to decide if it was a setback based on the current known information. “We still don’t know what transpired... My feeling is that it could a dispute over reciprocity over numbers,” he said.
Indo-China defence ties went into a chill in 2010 after the neighbour in the east denied visa to Lt. Gen. B S Jaswal, the then head of the Northern Command, with reason that he presided over a disputed region. The relation recovered only recently when Annual Defence Dialogue between the two countries concluded in December 2011 after a hiatus of two years. Recently, the treatment meted out to two Indian traders and a diplomat in Yiwu city was the latest cause of friction.
Last year, the meeting of the special representatives on the border issue was put off after China objected to the presence of the Dalai Lama in a Buddhist conference in Delhi at the same time. Both countries had also had something of a face-off in South China sea, which China claims as historic dominion.