Dec 11, 2023
Dec 11, 2023
Continued from "Doklam: The Tri-Junction Standoff"
The Doklam standoff between Chinese and Indian troops has continued in the third month with no solution in sight in near future. The belligerent and bellicose approach adopted by the Chinese state department and media is leaving hardly any room for a negotiated peaceful settlement. If their aggressive overture in showing firepower through military exercises near border areas in Tibet is of any indication, they are flexing muscles for a confrontation with the Indian forces. Neither India nor Bhutan desire a conflict or war with China and aspire for a peaceful resolution of the issue but a high scale Chinese melodrama and offensive accusations almost on daily basis is fast narrowing available options.
Should China feel obliged to take some precipitate action, a firm and resolute India is not likely to be caught off-guard this time. Reports are that in Doklam, Indian troops have a positional advantage and are fully geared up to handle any localised Chinese adventure. Besides, there is a general alert across the LAC in all sectors for troops in defensive position in view of China’s repeated war cry. There is no doubt that China significantly outspends on military budget and outnumbers India in number of personnel and military equipment but then it has a far too long land frontier and coastline too to defend compared to India necessitating a larger military force and arsenal. Besides, it has conflicts and territorial disputes with many neighbouring countries thanks to its hegemonic approach.
It may also be remembered that mere numerical superiority of troops and/or quality of weapons does not guarantee victory a war. A case in point is India – Pakistan 1965 war which the latter fought with the superior armour and air power viz. US supplied Patton M-47 tanks on land and sophisticated F-86F Sabres in air, respectively. It is widely known how the diminutive Indian Folland Gnat fighter aircrafts outsmarted sophisticated F-86F Sabres of Pakistan in dog-fights. Similarly, Pakistan armour comprising of Patton M-47 tanks, considered both numerically and qualitatively superior in battlefield, was outfought in most sectors against not so advanced Sherman tanks largely due to individual courage and valour of Indian soldiers. So if Chinese leadership today perceive that with rising economy and military strength they can subdue and humiliate India, they are sadly mistaken.
Be it Indian military, diplomats or even common man, everyone is baffled with possible reason behind the continued Chinese belligerent approach and malicious propaganda: is it a reaction to India’s deepening US relationship, a retaliation against India’s boycott of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, a move to chide and prise Bhutan away of the Indian influence, India’s resurgent mood in recent years to stop Chinese incursions and transgressions across the LAC, or a combination of all these factors and some more combined with the Chinese boisterous intent to ‘teach a lesson’ to their only rival in Asia. It will be difficult to find a precise answer but let us briefly explore the historical legacy and important developments as probable cause behind the current Sino-Indian freezing relationship and standoff.
Chinese Betrayal and 1962 War
A lot of discussion and documents are available in public domain, including declassified CIA documents, highlighting the intrigue and deception that led to the Sino-Indian 1962 war causing a humiliating defeat for India – a sordid story how then Chinese Premier Chou en Lai constantly tried to deceive and back-stab the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, through a strategy of persuasion and coercion through the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai chorus.
The sequence of important events since 1949 (People’s Republic of China came in existence) talk a volume in itself about the Chinese intent, double speak and betrayal:
In 1949, India was among the first few countries to recognise the Communist People's Republic of China. In 1950, with a view to show solidarity with China, India opposed UN resolutions branding China as an aggressor in the Korean War. Besides except mild observations, India did not oppose Chinese claim and subsequent annexation of Tibet in 1950-51. India and China signed Panchsheel Treaty in 1954, Nehru giving a slogan Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai. During the period, Prime Minister Nehru’s concern about Indian territories shown in official Chinese maps was brushed aside by Chinese premier as a mistake not to be given importance while PLA quietly continued with occupation and infrastructure development in largely unmanned and ill-defined border areas. Chou en Lai visited India in 1956 but was as usual soft and evasive on border issues. From 1959 onwards, things started worsening after popular uprisings in Tibet were crushed, Dalai Lama fled and sought asylum in India. Sensing the expansionist approach of China through numerous border incursions, India resorted to the Forward Policy in self- defence that led to several skirmishes between the two armies. The final betrayal came in October 1962 when China surprised with simultaneous attack in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh (erstwhile NEFA), the war was something beyond the imagination of Nehru who had unclenching faith on China.
A firm believer of Panchsheel, Nehru perhaps never gave any serious thought about the defence preparedness. Obviously, the Indian troops were taken off-guard with the simultaneous Chinese offensive in Ladakh of western sector and across the McMahon Line in eastern sector on 20 October 1962. Much has been debated and written about the ill-preparedness of Indian side. Consequently, the Chinese troops quickly advanced in both war theatres and by the time they declared a unilateral ceasefire on 20 November 1962, they had already captured entire Aksai Chin in Ladakh and important towns like Tawang and Bomdila advancing deep into Arunachal Pradesh (then NEFA). Following the peace negotiations, out of the two major disputed areas while the Chinese retained control on Aksai Chin, they withdrew their troops in the eastern sector.
According to a declassified CIA analysis available in public domain, even in those years China had started considering India to be a long term threat and so the Chinese leadership wanted to deliver a major blow to India's political and military leadership to demoralise and humiliate them. Among other priorities of the Chinese strategic thinking was to seriously damage Nehru’s international prestige and credibility, and to achieve this objective they successfully even used the Indian communists. Whatever may be the truth but the Indian side was clearly caught on the wrong foot in miscalculating Chinese strength and intentions in war.
The learning lesson from the Chinese betrayal of Nehru and 1962 war was that the authoritarian Chinese leadership, devoid of basic ethics and principles, can go to any extent any time with their neighbours in achieving their objectives. This is how they have conducted with Russia, Korea and Vietnam in the past and this is what they are doing again with India by resurrecting their claim on Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere across the LAC. Chinese are habitual double-speaker; they can go back on their words and cannot be trusted.
Chinese Incursions and Face-offs
Ironically, China purportedly blames its neighbours of being hegemonic while this is what it is precisely doing with others. A recent case in point is South China Sea where it has constructed several artificial islands and military bases arbitrarily and taken control over approximately 3.5 million square kilometres of maritime zone, despite EEZ claims and resistance from neighbouring small nations like Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and the verdict by the International Court of Justice. An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is a sea zone extending to 200 nautical miles from the baseline prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind. Usual tactic of China remains making a claim on territory citing even vaguest past, a mutual resolve to settling issues with peaceful means yet keeping pressure and threats on with incursions and building infrastructure.
Reportedly, China had attempted a bargain with India prior to 1962 whereby they were willing to forgo their claim on Arunachal Pradesh if the latter accept their sovereignty on Aksai Chin area in Ladakh. This view is strengthened with fact that after war, they retained captured territory of Aksai Chin but retreated back to LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. One would surmise what negotiations could not achieve, was settled by the war. But after a hiatus of more than two decades, when India granted statehood to Arunachal Pradesh towards the end of 1986, the Chinese government again revived their claim on Arunachal Pradesh by recording a protest and asking India to maintain status quo in the disputed territory.
In early 1987 China's tone became similar to that of 1962 with India refusing to relent, a war like situation was created in the Sikkim-Bhutan-India trijunction, in Sumdorong Chu area and other places where the claims were disputed. After protracted diplomatic overtures and flag meetings, the war was averted. Finally, the two countries signed an agreement in 1993 to ensure peace along the LAC which inter alia provided the concept of ‘mutual and equal’ security and working out a mutually acceptable LAC through peaceful negotiations.
Needless to say that such peace initiative works only when both sides are willing to understand and accommodate each other’s point of view. In the long Indian history, one would not find a single instance of India ever invading or claiming any foreign territory. The democratic India is more so inclined towards respecting the sovereignty and integrity of its neighbours. On the other hand, the authoritarian and hegemonic regime of China, with the growing economic and military power, have been pitted against so many neighbours due to their territorial ambitions on land and sea. Their renewed attempts of incursions and transgressions in Indian territories could be largely seen in this context.
In the past, on several occasions China has just sought to pass off military incursions into India and Bhutan as instances of Chinese troops ‘losing their way’. Thus in 2008 alone, PLA troops lost their way into Indian territory at least 270 times besides more than two thousand instances of aggressive border patrolling. Ironically, such a pattern of aggressive patrolling and intrusions (losing their way) has been on a continuous increase over the years. For illustration, there were about 500 hundred instances of faceoff, incursion and transgression in 2014 which came down to about 300 in 2015 due to enhanced vigil and aggressive patrolling by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Indian Army.
The continuing border tensions reflect a growing strategic incongruity between China and India and Tibet has increasingly emerged as the centre of escalating tensions with the border talks regressing off late. In fact, a pre-1962 like situation is emerging now with the Chinese increasingly becoming assertive and pressing claims on more Indian territories. They are ramifying their territorial dispute by violating Indian territories even which never hosted any controversy in the past. For illustration, about 50 Chinese soldiers breached deep into the Indian territory in Uttarakhand’s Barahoti region (Central Sector) on 25 July 2017 and went back only after a brief verbal face-off when halted by the ITBP.
Among the growing tension between the two countries consequent to standoff in Doklam, the Indian Army foiled yet another Chinese incursion along the banks of Pangong Tso lake in Ladakh on 15 August 2017 that involved jostling and exchange of blows between soldiers of the two armies followed by stone-pelting on both sides. It is alleged that after the Chinese troopers found their path blocked by the human chain formed by the Indian soldiers, following a brief scuffle they began hurling stones which was retaliated by Indian side too causing injuries on both sides. After the initial tempers cooled down, the customary drill was observed under which both sides display banners before stepping back to their respective positions.
Thus China appears to have revived its old pre-1962 tactic against India across the Himalayan border and incidents are reported from all the four sectors. They have resurrected claim on Arunachal Pradesh and stepped up military presence across the entire frontier with India. They have objected to the visits of senior Indian leaders and Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese incursion into Uttarakhand and Sikkim is an attempt to open new disputes and a threat which didn’t exist in the past. Apparently the Jinn which had gone into bottle after 1962 war, has come out and flexing muscles posing new challanges.
Nuclear Proliferation and Arming Pakistan
According to recently declassified CIA records (April 2013), China had exported nuclear materials to several third world countries without safeguards beginning in the early 1980s, and may have supplied Pakistan weapons design information in the early years of its clandestine program. The formerly Top Secret reports, published by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project clearly suggest that Beijing has been involved in proliferation of nuclear technology and supported Islamabad's nuclear ambitions.
India started its indigenous nuclear programme as back as 1944 and expedited it for nuclear weapon development after 1962 war with China. Though a low intensity device was tested in 1974 but India actually achieved full nuclear capability after successfully testing it in 1998. Similarly, the Government of India launched the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program (IGMDP) in 1983 to achieve self-sufficiency in the development and production of wide range of ballistic missiles, surface-to-air missiles etc and it has been a journey of success and failures of over 30 years to reach its present stage of development and deployment of various generation and range of Prithvi and Agni missiles. There has been a gap of minimum 3-4 years in development and testing of every next generation and range of missiles.
Till date, China has been the biggest arms supplier to Pakistan of all conventional equipment and weapons. It is not merely a question as to who and when assisted Pakistan in clandestine development of nuclear and missile development programmes. The moot point is that nothing in known to the outside world about Pakistan’s nuclear and missile development programmes and the high technology nuclear devices and nuclear capable missiles have been suddenly emerged, tested and deployed during the last two decades.
In the past few decades, the world has seen the gradual decline of erstwhile Russian influence and the emergence of China as new economic and military power readying to challenge the United States and its allies. Almost simultaneously, an axis or triangle of North Korea-China-Pakistan has also emerged, which together is posing a grave threat to world peace and security. While Pakistan is posing constant threat to India and Afghanistan, North Korea is far more aggressive and posing direct threat to South Korea, Japan and US. It is increasingly becoming obvious now that China has played the historic role of the facilitator to both errant nuclear powers and is the strength behind them in their nuclear blackmail posing constant threat to world peace.
This North Korea-China-Pakistan nexus certainly has some common interests and agenda to be fulfilled. All the three are authoritarian regimes yet to reconcile with their partition – China wants to integrate Taiwan in addition to its territorial ambitions with other neighbours, North Korea aspires the reunification of the Korean peninsula under communist rule and Pakistan has its unfinished dream agenda of Kashmir. Another common feature is that all the three countries have disproportionate military strength, accumulated weapons of mass destruction and deadly missiles with a clear intent to use them against adversaries. China though officially proclaims ‘no first use’ policy on nuclear weapons but it cannot be trusted upon due to its inherent nature of double-speak.
Chinese Support to Terrorism
The role of Pakistan in training, arming and sponsoring terror groups in Kashmir and elsewhere is widely acknowledged by the United Nations, US and many other countries. Leaders of the terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen (HuM) are openly living and carrying out their day-to-day activities from the Pakistani soil. India has accused JeM and its chief Masood Azhar of masterminding several terrorist attacks on Indian soil, including an attack on Parliament in 2001 and a more recent deadly assault on the Indian Airbase in Pathankot in January 2016.
In December 2016, China blocked India's request to blacklist Masood Azhar by the United Nations (UN). Ironically, the JeM was already blacklisted by the UN in the past but not its chief. In the recent past, yet another proposal of US backed by UK and France in April 2017 to designate JeM Chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist at the UN was vetoed by China. The incident shows the extent to which in an endeavour to support Pakistan, a close ally, China is willing to protect terrorist organizations and terrorists involved in heinous crimes against humanity. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the on-going India-China territorial dispute and rivalry could also be a factor for its support to Pakistan-based terrorists.
Indian Membership to NSG
China had thwarted India’s attempts for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership in the past. With the passage of time, a favourable majority opinion for the entry of India in NSG has been created with its own active efforts and support of the permanent members of the UN Security Council like US, UK and France. The NSG is an exclusive group of 48 countries that controls the global nuclear commerce. While favouring a global nuclear disarmament, India has not signed the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) so far on a principled stand that the said treaty is discriminatory allowing a unilateral privilege to a few hand-picked nations.
In a recent move in June 2016, during a plenary session of NSG in Seoul a fresh bid of India to enter the coveted group was scuttled by China on the plea that India’s application cannot be considered because it has not signed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). While the majority members countries including US, UK and France favoured India citing its impeccable record as a responsible nuclear nation, China and a few members insisted on India’s signing of the NPT as prior condition for admission to NSG while in the past France was admitted to NSG even though it was not a signatory of NPT.
The NSG is basically a consensus-based body and it does not have any legally binding rules. In the context of Indian entry, China has been insisting in the past too for creating an admission process for the countries that have not signed the NPT. Ironically, such a plea comes from a member which has been perhaps the worst proliferator in the recent times. Indian feels that China’s denial is purely for the geopolitical consideration that the Indian entry to the coveted group would bring a potential rival on par with itself. Besides, this may also give India some positional advantage over China’s closest ally Pakistan in the region.
One Belt One Road Initiative
With the underlying strategy of assuming a larger role in the global affairs, the Chinese leadership has initiated One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative in 2013. The overt defined aim is to augment connectivity and cooperation among the Eurasian countries through this development initiative. This includes five land based Silk Road Economic Belt projects and one oceangoing Maritime Silk Road connecting China with other countries. This initiative was formally launched in September-October 2013 as One Belt One Road and later around mid-2016 it was renamed as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as it was geographically structured in six corridors including a maritime silk road.
Of these, two corridors namely China–Myanmar–Bangladesh–India and China–Pakistan Economic Corridor have bearing on India; the latter being controversial because it passes through the Gilgit-Baltistan, the northern area of the combined state of Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory, which was forcibly occupied by Pakistan in 1947. India has strong reservations on the China-Pakistan corridor which, as it holds, ignores the core concerns of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The recent OBOR Summit convened by China on 14-15 May 2017 was boycotted by India making its stand clear that the connectivity projects must respects sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations. The proposed China-Pakistan Economic corridor passing through Gilgit-Baltistan violates this principle, besides the overall scheme looks like a colonial enterprise, with vague financial responsibility leaving heavy debt burden and broken communities in its wake. It’s obvious that India’s objections won’t go well with the Chinese leadership and are likely to be interpreted as obstruction to their ambitious programme.
China has been aggressively promoting One-China Policy since long which implies that there is only one state called China represented by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In effect this implies that countries seeking diplomatic relations with PRC must break official relations with the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan). Till around 1970, majority of the countries were recognising ROC as main China but the position dramatically changed thereafter. Currently, Communist China (PRC) has recognition and diplomatic relations globally with the majority of countries.
India under Nehru was among the first set of countries that recognised PRC in 1949, established full diplomatic relations and offered unconditional friendship and cooperation to the Communist China. India does not have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan (ROC) but 1990 onwards the bilateral relations between the two countries in economic, commercial and people-to-people contacts have considerably improved, a position often criticised and contested by China.
While China opposes any relation with Taiwan citing One-China Policy, it denies visa to Indian nationals from Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh or, if at all it does, it issues a staple visa. India has retaliated at occasions that if China expects India to honour One-China Policy then they should also recognize One-India Policy.
India’s Look East Policy
Traditionally, India has focussed on US and other western countries for the economic, trade, cultural and strategic relations, it’s Look East Policy commenced in nineties is an endeavour to develop extensive economic, trade and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia. While China itself is trying to build a formidable presence and strategic edge over India by wooing its neighbour Myanmar, Nepal, Lanka and Bangladesh with huge investments in various projects, it criticises India’s efforts to improve relations with southeast Asian countries as an attempt to bolster its image as a regional power and a counterweight to the strategic importance of China.
India’s priorities include forging close economic and commercial ties, strategic and security cooperation besides reviving the historic cultural and ideological links with the East Asian nations like Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Similarly it has sought more friendly relations with the neighbouring Myanmar military junta by signing trade agreements and increased investment in industrial projects, infrastructure and ports, oil and natural gas exploration etc. Strengthening of ties with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in recent years due to common democratic values, concern for human rights and strategic interests have also not gone well with China because of its on-going disputes and differences with these countries.
War Clouds on Asian Sky
From the foregoing, it is apparent whether it is the economy and trade or diplomatic and strategic relations or territorial dispute, the two countries are in some sort of rivalry and eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation over the issues. Both China and India are fast emerging as major economies and military powers in the global perspective. While China appears to have forged ahead in an endeavour to challenge global supremacy of US, India with its faster economic growth and growing military strength is emerging as another major power – understandably the only Asian country with a potential to match and/or outsmart the Chinese juggernaut in future.
In a way this explains the increasing belligerence of China towards its close neighbour. There is an old saying – you can change friends but you can’t change neighbours. Friends are indeed changing. There was a time in 1971 when US had despatched its 7th Fleet under the Flagship Enterprise in a threatening gesture to contain Indian advances in the erstwhile East Pakistan while today the same US is keen in 2017 for a friendship and strategic partnership with India. On the other hand, China was a hostile neighbour in 1962, and it is even more hostile neighbour today. None can change this destiny based on geographical contiguity.
Evidently China is hostile and working against the interests of India but the latter is also increasingly seen to responding to these challenges in a firm and resolute way. Then the ethical question arises who is right and who is wrong but here one need not go too far to derive the precise answer:
It is China which has been forcing its claim on Indian territories with shifting stands and ambiguous historical events, treaties or conventions. It forcibly occupied Tibet in 1950-51, and then on geographical contiguity and just because a particular Dalai Lama was born at a place, it starts claiming Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory. Yet another Dalai Lama was reportedly born in Mongolia, should it start claiming Mongolia? Or on the same analogy, should India claim Myanmar just because it was part of the British India till 1937 or a part of Emperor Ashoka's kingdom in ancient India? The answer is an emphatic 'No'. Due to severe heights and harsh conditions, Himalayan border is difficult to keep under round the clock vigil for India while the access from Tibet in many areas is relatively easier. Taking advantage of this situation, Chinese troops perennially make incursions and erect infrastructure on unmanned strategic points to establish their claim on the territory.
China has systematically attempted to influence India’s close neighbours with its increased presence and massive investments particularly in infrastructure and exploration projects. In India's vicinity, it has taken Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka on 99 years lease, acquired strategic Gwadar Port in Pakistan which is being linked with the Chinese Xinjiang province through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Coco Island from Myanmar for its strategic maritime operations. The very location of these ports suggests that the Chinese move and acquisitions are India centric. When India makes efforts to improve relations with East Asian countries, China has heart burning on the issue and has even vehemently opposed it. The case in point is the recent initiative of the Indian Oil & Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) in Vietnam for exploration of oil and natural gas in its EEZ abandoned by the latter under the Chinese objection.
Unlike China, India has never nurtured any territorial ambitions and always asserted on peaceful settlement of issues, if any, with the neighbouring countries. Territorial concessions granted to Myanmar (Kabaw Valley and Coco Island) and Bangladesh (Chitmahals) post-independence are concrete cases to illustrate this point. But of course, taking lessons from 1962 Chinese betrayal India has firmly and resolutely defended attempts of violation of its sovereignty and geographical integrity.
Even in handling of contentious issues with other sovereign nations, China shows lack of diplomatic disposition, decorum and niceties as is evident from their day-to-day use of crude and abusive language in an attempt to justify their untruth and wrong-doings through an aggressive propaganda. The history of Sino-Indian dispute reveals that China first moved its frontiers hundreds of miles annexing Tibet, then systematically encroached at Indian territories before waging open war in 1962, and now has revived additional claims on Indian territories. By contrast, the current tone and texture of China’s diplomatic and public language is similar to what it was around 1962, to put it in Chou en Lai’s words ‘teach India a lesson’. But India is also firmly and resolutely holding its cards this time, and more than anything, it is fully aware what it is doing.
More by : Dr. Jaipal Singh