More than 15,000 police and paramilitary security forces today patrolled the center of New Delhi and successfully protected the Olympic torch – and China’s sensibility – from interference and upset as the flame passed briefly through the capital on its way from Pakistan to Thailand.
Under intense pressure from China following the Olympic protests elsewhere, the Indian government sealed off a large part of central Delhi. No spectators, apart from small groups of school children and invited guests, watched the torch being carried along the grand Raj Path processional avenue.
A rival pro-China march was allowed a couple of miles away, but the torch itself had a cocooned and sanitized – and uninterrupted – journey. That may be contrary to the Olympics’ traditionally inclusive spirit, but it pleased China.
India has been wary of upsetting China since it was defeated in a border war amid the Himalayan mountains in 1962. That is the only time India has lost a war since independence in 1947 (it has defeated Pakistan three times) and it has been wary since then of upsetting its larger neighbor.
That virtual fear has been more evident in the past four weeks than for many years, with parts of New Delhi being barricaded to defend China’s embassy against Tibetan protestors. Delhi has not seen such a progressive lockdown – at least since the early 1980s – not even to protect a visiting head of state or to fend off terrorist attacks.
The nearest equivalent is the annual Republic Day parade of massed bands, guns, missiles and dancing children, when Raj Path is closed and nearby buildings emptied – but with a much smaller police presence than was deployed today.
The boundary wall of the Chinese embassy compound has been surrounded with huge rolls of barbed wire and masses of police since Tibetan protestors scaled the wall on March 21. Roads around the embassy have been partially closed for four weeks, including an entrance to Malcha Marg, an elite housing area. From yesterday afternoon, 1,100 security forces guarded the embassy perimeter.
No other country has such a tortuous relationship with China. Many nations try to please the emerging superpower for commercial reasons – to ensure their companies have access for major contracts and trade, and so that they can try to influence China’s economic policies. India mixes a continued stand-off on the disputed Himalayan border with rapidly expanding trade and economic links.
Two-way trade is currently worth over $30 billion, and China has overtaken the United States as India’s biggest trading partner. Cross-border business investments are also increasing – Chinese telecom companies like Huawei and ZTE have made substantial inroads into the Indian market.
But India has never been comfortable about allowing Chinese investments in sensitive areas such as ports and high technology, and has frequently delayed Chinese business visas and investment permissions.
The fraught relationship was demonstrated after Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, made what appeared to be a successful and friendly visit to Beijing in January. Two weeks later, he visited the state of Arunachal Pradesh, in the far northeastern corner of India that China still regards as disputed territory. He described Arunachal as “our land of the rising sun,” which immediately brought diplomatic rebukes from Beijing.
Regular talks are held between the two countries on the border issue. India knows China has no intention of reaching a settlement, but plays along with Beijing’s tactics.” India gets nowhere in these talks,” a former Indian participant told me recently. “We make our presentations in detail. China listens impassively, and concedes nothing, and we issue a joint statement saying progress is being made. India is soft and China knows it.”