NEW DELHI: India has cancelled defence exchanges with China after Beijing refused to allow the visit of the Indian army's General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Area Command, because he was responsible for Jammu & Kashmir, a state that China maintained was disputed, reports The Times of India.
In keeping with a practice for the past few years, the Indian defence establishment in June had began preparations for a regular high-level exchange visit to China this August by one of the top commanders of the Indian army — the northern area commander, Lt-Gen Baljit Singh Jaswal.
However, Delhi was stunned when Beijing responded to his nomination by saying that it was unwilling to "welcome" Gen Jaswal because he "controlled" a disputed area, Jammu and Kashmir.
An angry New Delhi shot off a strongly worded demarche to Beijing, protesting its decision. Soon thereafter, India refused permission to two Chinese defence officials to come to India for a course at the National Defence College. A subsequent visit by Indian military officials to China was also cancelled by India.
To ensure that there was no ambiguity about the reason for its annoyance, New Delhi has since also bluntly told Beijing that the unexpected decision to block Lt-Gen Jaswal's visit to China was the reason behind India's decisions.
New Delhi found China's behaviour particularly provocative because in August 2009, Lt-Gen V K Singh, currently the Army chief and then the GOC-in-C Eastern Command, had visited China for a similar high-level exchange. If territorial sensitivity was the issue with China, then Singh's visit should have been even more problematic because, as head of the Eastern Command, he had jurisdiction over Arunachal Pradesh, a state that is claimed by China.
The Chinese have been needling India on Kashmir for a while. Beijing refuses to paste visas on the passports of residents of J&K, and staples them instead, despite repeated protests from India. As the Indian government refuses to recognize stapled visas as valid travel documents, the upshot is that the people of J&K can't visit China.
Beijing, in fact, also denies visas altogether to the residents of Arunachal, claiming them to be Chinese citizens. Still, it did not have any hesitation in "welcoming" Gen J J Singh as the head of the Eastern Command in May 2007. This would make it appear that Beijing was going a step further to needle New Delhi on Kashmir. New Delhi has, however, has not allowed this issue to spill over elsewhere in the bilateral ties.
China's aggressive approach on J&K is, of course, directly connected to its close relationship with Pakistan. China- Pakistan ties is viewed to be aimed at keeping India boxed in, and this manifests itself in many different ways. In 2008, China started construction activities in PoK, which India regarded as provocative. In 2010, China announced that it would supply two nuclear reactors to Pakistan.
"I am told that the visit to China has been postponed for a while. I am not aware of why it is being delayed," Gen Jaswal said.
In Hyderabad, Defence Minister A K Antony ruled out snapping defence ties with China in the wake of the row.
"It is not a question of breaking defence ties with China. We have close ties with China, though there could be some problems occasionally," he told reporters at a function.
Antony said short term problems would not affect overall approach towards China.
Commenting on the development, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said the visit did not take place "due to certain reasons" but did not elaborate. He, however, made it clear that China needed to be sensitive to India's concerns.
"While we value our exchanges with China, there must be sensitivity to each others concerns. Our dialogue with China on these issues is ongoing," he said.
Upset over Beijing's action, New Delhi has kept in abeyance permission to two Chinese defence officials to come here for undertaking a course at the National Defence College. A pending visit by Indian military officials to China has also been put off by India.
Political parties slammed the Chinese action, saying it was an "insult" to India and asked the government to take up the issue strongly.
"We must strongly condemn the Chinese step. The Ministry of External Affairs and the Government must immediately convey our displeasure in the strongest terms to China. It is the worst kind of insult inflicted upon India by denying permission to Jaswal to visit China," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar said.