Stars and Dragons: The EU and China - European Union Committee Contents


The India-China boundary dispute
China and India announced a strategic partnership in 2005, which was held to represent a new era in bilateral relations. As part of this accord Delhi recognised Beijing's sovereignty over Tibet for the first time. Progress on settling the border dispute has been negligible, however, and has deteriorated in the recent period with strong diplomatic exchanges and nationalist rhetoric in the media. The Chinese position is that since Tibet has always been Chinese, the boundaries of China and India must be the same as those between Tibet and India, meaning that a large part of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh must be Chinese. Delhi does not dispute that this region is part of historic Tibet but points to the 1914 accord between Britain and the Tibetan leadership of the time which established their boundary (the MacMahon line). The Chinese government of the warlord era did not sign this accord. Delhi also contrasts the peaceful development of Arunachal within the federation of India with the on-going discord and tension in Chinese Tibet. Relations took a decided turn for the worse when Delhi allowed the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in Arunachal, the site of one of the oldest Tibetan monasteries, in November 2009.

Background on Tibet
Imperial China and the Tibetan civilisation had a unique relationship in that Lamaist Buddhism was held in special regard by China's rulers, and relations were both much more equal and less political than China's other tributary relations. In 1950 Tibet was incorporated into the Chinese state on sovereign principles of Beijing's direct and exclusive authority for the first time. The level of intervention also intensified following the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and the failure to make significant progress on the border dispute between the two countries. Parallel with changes to Tibet's political status there have been significant efforts by Beijing to modernise and integrate the Tibetan economy. The Chinese government's White Papers on Tibet insist that special efforts are being made to defend Tibet's unique culture; but change in the political and military significance of Tibet and the impact of economic modernisation are undoubtedly causing significant stresses in Tibetan society. Tibet thus continues to present several different challenges for Beijing, including the international public perception of China's policies

Background on Xinjiang
Xinjiang, known historically as Eastern or Chinese Turkestan, was incorporated into the Chinese Empire in the 18th century. It is three and a half times the size of France, but its population in 1949 was only 4 million, of whom more than 3 million were Uyghurs. Population now is in excess of 21 million with numbers of Uyghurs and Han Chinese approximately equal at around 9 million, and other minorities being Kazakhs, Hui and Tajiks. The region is extremely important strategically for China since it borders Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union this situation became even more complex, as the Chinese government claimed that Turkic nationalism and radical Islamism originating in Central Asia accounted for the rise in public disorder and secessionist activity in Xinjiang. In 2002 China secured US agreement to put the East Turkestan Islamic Movement onto the State Department list of terrorist groups, and a small number of Uyghurs were captured during the US/ISAF intervention in Afghanistan. China has put pressure on European governments, notably Germany, to close down the activities of Uyghur dissident groups who are calling for the end of Chinese occupation of Xinjiang. When asked to provide evidence that these groups were engaging in, or planning, criminal activity in Europe or China, the Chinese government has been unable to provide it. Though European governments face charges from China of operating double standards by refusing to accept that East Turkestani groups are terrorist in the same sense as Al-Qaeda, the failure of the Chinese government to provide evidence that would support this claim or to allow international agencies access to Xinjiang to assess the security situation mean that it cannot be substantiated at present.

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