Letter From New Delhi: Clash of the Tigers

Is the Chinese-Indian Relationship in Danger?

Courtesy Reuters

One evening last September, Asgar Qadri, a wiry, 27-year-old credit analyst from Indian-controlled Kashmir, stood at the glittering departure terminal of New Delhi's international airport surrounded by a small group of friends. The boys hugged Qadri and patted his back with exclamations of random names they associated with China: "The Bird's Nest!" "Hu Jintao!" "Huawei!"

As Qadri pushed his luggage trolley toward the Air China counter, his eyes brimmed with tears. A schoolteacher's son from a remote Kashmiri village, he had recently won a scholarship to study public policy at Tsinghua University, in Beijing. "With that flight to Beijing," Qadri later told me, "I felt my life was about to take off."

But Indian immigration officials told Qadri that all Indian passport holders must have their visas pasted on, not stapled to, their passports. He was barred from boarding the flight.

Various meetings with Chinese and Indian officials revealed that Qadri had gotten swept up in a hostile diplomatic battle between the two rising Asian powers. In a signal of China's resistance to India's control of the disputed regions of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, which China has long claimed as "Southern Tibet," China began issuing stapled visas to Indian passport holders from those areas.

Qadri lost his scholarship in Beijing and quietly began to apply for graduate study in the United States. The Indian media, however, immediately went into hysterics over his case and those of other Indian nationals caught up in similar altercations; talk of Chinese interference and aggression was everywhere, as was the memory of India's 1962 border war with China.

China's decision to needle India over Kashmir -- long one of India's most sensitive diplomatic issues -- suggests a major departure from China's earlier noninterventionist policy. In India, the crisis has become perhaps the most visible sign of the friction that will accompany the so-called Asian century: as China's and India's economies continue to grow, the two countries will vie for greater influence, competing for both markets and resources.

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