Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beijing’s moves along the disputed border are aimed at achieving India’s strategic encirclement

Pravin Sawhney | Apr 24, 2013, 12.00 AM IST

A Chinese border guards' platoon (40 soldiers) has pitched tents ten kilometres inside Indian territory overlooking Daulet Beg Oldie (DBO) in Ladakh in the Western sector. The last time they did a similar thing was in 1986 in Sumdorong Chu in the Eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh). Both times, the Chinese forces had blessings from the highest quarters: then supremo Deng Xiaoping and now the President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi Jinping.

Then, the Chinese were not a risen power and the occupation of Sumdorong Chu, of little tactical significance, was meant to test Indian gumption after the passing away of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who Deng admired for being a strong and determined leader. The Chinese finally left Sumdorong Chu of their own accord in 1995, with India calling it a historic win-win situation. This time around, the Chinese forces are unlikely to withdraw because as a risen power, the occupation is a well-crafted act of an unfolding grand strategy.

According to the Chinese, they are technically correct in insisting that the present occupation does not transgress the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This is not all. India, according to China, has done more transgressions into the Eastern sector than the other way round. China further says that it has refrained from making noises because it wants good neighbourly relations, but it will act in self-defence if the need arises.

India, on the other hand, says that differing perceptions about the LAC are responsible for numerous transgressions as well as the present stand-off in the Western sector. Meanwhile, treating it as a military matter, the Indian army has reportedly pitched its own tents facing the Chinese. What is the truth in this game?

The Chinese position on the disputed border is rather simple: it is merely 2,000 km long and not 4,056 km as India would have its people believe. The Chinese said this publicly on the eve of their Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India in December 2010.

What is the 2,000 km long disputed border that the Chinese are talking about? This is the total of the Middle sector (554 km), Sikkim (198 km), and the Eastern sector (1,226 km), which comes to 1,978 km or 2,000 km when rounded off. According to China, they do not have a border with India in the Western sector or the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Now, if the Chinese do not have a disputed border with India in Ladakh (J&K), the LAC there becomes meaningless. By definition, a LAC is a military-held line which can be shifted by either side by force. Thus, the present Chinese tent pitched close to DBO is on friendly Pakistani territory.

How did China, who all these years was talking of border resolution in all three sectors, namely, Western, Middle and Eastern, decide to unilaterally shrink the border? This was done in four choreographed moves. In 2006, the Chinese ambassador in India claimed the entire 90,000 sq km Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh (Eastern sector) as its territory, calling it, for the first time, as Zang Nan or South Tibet.

Following Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's 2003 visit to China when India formally accepted Tibet as a part of China, the Chinese started hinting at the Indian army presence in South Tibet as intrusions in their territory. It is obvious as the Indian army increases its numbers by raising a new strike corps that the PLA will react in what they call self-defence.

The second Chinese move was in 2009 when they started issuing stapled visas to Kashmiris visiting China. Beijing refused a visa to Lt General B S Jaswal, head of the Indian army's northern command responsible for J&K, in July 2010. When I asked Colonel Guo Hongtao, staff officer of the Asian Affairs Bureau, Foreign Affairs Office, Ministry of National Defence, why this was done, he said, "The general was posted in Kashmir (disputed area with Pakistan) and we had to keep Pakistan's sensitivity in mind. We offered a compromise to India that Jaswal should be made a member instead of the head of delegation but the Indian side refused."

The third Chinese move was in December 2010 when they publicly announced that the disputed border was a mere 2,000 km. This made the need for stapled visas for Kashmiris unnecessary; India immediately claimed to have resolved the visas issue amicably. Moreover, the Chinese announcement ended the need for further Special Representatives talks; once a side discloses its position openly, the give-and-take option for resolution is not possible. For this reason, during the 15th round of talks, it was decided that the Special Representatives need not work on border resolution. Instead, they will devise and execute a 'Mechanism on Coordination and Consultation on Border Affairs'.

The fourth Chinese step regarding the Western sector was the moving of PLA forces in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The Indian chief of army staff, General V K Singh had, in 2011, repeatedly spoken of about 3,500 to 4,000 PLA troops in Northern Kashmir, something denied by Beijing and downplayed by India.

All these moves have culminated in the present tent pitching by Chinese border guards near DBO as part of their grand strategy of 'strategic encirclement.' India, by underplaying this as a matter of differing perceptions about the border, will embolden China further.

The writer is editor, FORCE magazine.

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