The situation today has not changed, in that, pragmatic recommendations for dealing firmly with China are being brushed under the carpet as ranting by ‘China bashers’. Same was the case in building public opinion for withdrawing from Siachen on grounds it had no strategic significance – now acknowledged otherwise. Similarly, some military veterans and scholars were roped in to portray India’s shameful response to China’s intrusion in Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) into some sort of diplomatic victory, some even saying that the Chinese intrusion was because of ‘forward’ movements of the Indian Army, knowing full well that Indian Army unlike Pakistani Army will not move an inch forward without political approval.
It is only after public pressure for past few weeks that AK Anthony ventured to give a statement on 12 May 2013 (first statement as Defence Minister 42 days after the Chinese intrusion of 15 April) that India has the right to develop infrastructure on own side. But the question remains as to what is ‘own side’ and have we exchanged the claim lines with China? The answer appears to be no, as per an article by a recently superannuated former Chief of Staff of Eastern Command. What then has been the purpose of the numerous meetings on the border issue over the years?
The statement by Sushil Shinde that India has no jurisdiction over the area of Chinese intrusion is ominous. Strategic importance apart, we don’t seem to have any inkling about something known as ‘resources’ over which conflicts are likely to rage in future. Are we to blindly follow Nehru’s legacy of “not a blade of grass grows there” with reference to Aksai Chin.
Take Siachen; India constitutes 17 percent of world population but has access to only four percent of global fresh water reserves. Musharraf as a Lieutenant General (much before he became Chief) gave a presentation to Pakistani Defence Ministry stating that at the time of Independence, per capita availability of water in Pakistan was 6000 cusecs which had already come down to 1000 cusecs per head. He strongly advocated that Pakistan must capture Kashmir to meet future requirements of water, besides other reasons. China occupied Shaksgam Valley because of its glaciated fresh water reserves. Yet we are talking of vacating one of our largest fresh water reserve in Siachen despite India heading towards being a water starved nation and China already deploying water weapons by damming rivers flowing into India.
Both Aksai Chin and Ladakh are known to have large uranium and mineral reserves though no mining has been undertaken. Yet we are gradually ceding to Chinese intrusions. Former ambassador P Stopden (who hails from Ladakh) said on national TV post the Chinese DBO intrusion that over the years India has ceded to China over 400 square kilometres of territory in Ladakh alone. This is not counting Chinese illegal occupation of Aksai Chin (38,000 square kilometres) and Shaksgam Valley (5,800 square kilometres). He would not make such statement without basis. The implications are therefore clear – there have been many intrusions in the past that have been hushed up, as would have been done in the recent one in DBO (acknowledged officially as 19 kilometre deep but actually 30 kilometres) had not an enterprising journalist spilled the beans.
If we have actually ceded some 400 square kilometres of territory in Ladakh, it would not be surprising if similar has been the case in the central sector and northeast. The recent Chinese intrusion at DBO would give them another 275 square kilometres and it is not known whether they came down from KK Pass or Aksai Chin. Times of India of 4th May states that surveillance imagery captured by spy drones showed the PLA made three simultaneous intrusions in the adjoining areas of the DBO sector in mid April this year. But there is silence whether the Chinese continue to sit at these three locations or have gone back. A linked serious question is that when the DBO Sector was earlier held by Ladakh Scouts and controlled by the Army, when, why and on whose order was this sector allotted to the ITBP and given command channels through the ITBP chain. Was this deliberate to facilitate Chinese intrusion, firming in, and to eventually turn the flanks of Indian defences at Siachen, concurrently facilitating handshake between Chinese sitting in Gilgit-Baltistan with Aksai Chin. This actually amounts to silent war crime and the government must come out clean.
If we have been acquiescing to Chinese intrusions deliberately and the army not responding because of political gagging, this may yet turnout to be the mother of all scams paling all the gates (Coalgate, Railgate etc) and scores of scams including 2G, if investigated.
The government says there is no deal with China in exchange to withdrawing their intrusion from DBO. Are we expected to actually believe this? If there is no deal, then why have we agreed to simultaneously withdraw from an area which is 30 kilometres (officially 19 kilometres) inside our territory? Why have we agreed to demolish our fortifications from Chumar and why are we referring to these fortifications as “tin sheds”? if this is not a deal, what is?
Ironically, even former ambassadors and diplomats are questioning why Salman Khurshid went running to Beijing to tie up the visit of Li Keqiang whereas protocol demanded that the Chinese Foreign Minister should have come to India to tie up to the visit of his Prime Minister. In hindsight, government may claim that Salman’s visit was independent of Li Keqiang’s fortcoming visit to India but the facts, in sync with our current policy of bending backwards, are quite apparent. It is obvious that Chinese would have been pleaded to for Li Keqiang making the right noises in India to strengthen government’s hand in forthcoming elections. The Chinese would have readily agreed in exchange to more concessions, that would have been quietly accepted by the Indian side. The public can continue to be kept at bay under the cover of ambiguity of ‘their perceptions of LAC’ and Shinde can be banked upon for more statements of ‘no jurisdiction’ as backup.
At an international seminar on Asia Pacific held at the United Services Institution of India in November 2011, a spokesman from the Chinese Foreign Ministry described China’s foreign policy as “Biang Biang Noodles”; a Chinese delicacy loved by all. What he left unsaid is that China can tie you up in knots in a manner similar to these noodles that may defy your spoon and fork but can be handled deftly by China holding the chopsticks.
China has been propagating to the world that it does not accept the Mcdonald-McCarteney Line but the fact is that China’s Representative (read Ambassador of those days) not only affixed his full signatures agreeing to this line on the map during the Simla Convention of 1914 but acknowledged Tibet as a separate country since he put his signatures alongside the Representatives of Tibet and British India – see map below (details available in Atlas of The Northern Frontiers of India with our Ministry of External Affairs):
If China refuses to acknowledge the above map and signatures of its own Ambassador (read Representative), did it expect that the Chinese Premier should have signed such a map? It would not be surprising if China executed her ambassador for signing the map but what is certain that China has habitually gone back on its word and made preposterous claims, as in South China Sea, East China Sea, Tibet and against India. This pattern of deceit was very well foreseen by Sardar Patel who forewarned Nehru but that is another story.
Noteworthy is that it is only in 2006, that China expanded her claim from Tawang to entire Arunachal Pradesh. China’s claim to Tawang was also on the plea that residents from Tibet come to Tawang monastery to pay obeisance. That is some strange logic but if this logic is to be accepted then what stops India claiming the sacred Mansarover region where thousands of Indians go for pilgrimage annually organized by Government of India?
The recent Chinese intrusion in DBO was to put India inexorably on the back foot, in which it has succeeded despite it being done in gross violation of the 2005 India-China Agreement on Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity that included maintaining peace and tranquility on the border. The obvious intent also is to push India into a boundary settlement in China’s favour, India having dithered woefully in even developing its border infrastructure with a petrified hierarchy that is alien to both future resources and strategic advantage.
Significantly, in 2005, a Deputy Political Commissar of PLAAF had said, “When a nation grows strong enough, it practices hegemony. The sole purpose of power is to pursue power …… Geography is destiny ….. When a country begins to rise, it shall first set itself in invincible position”. But the question here is that has China really reached that “invincible position” having nuclearised Pakistan and North Korea while antagonizing bulk of the world? This perceived invincibility must be viewed in the backdrop of China having too many fault lines that the world may just choose to exploit to desist China from practicing her “Tian Xia Concept” that views “all territories” under the skies (Heaven) as belonging to the Chinese. Chinese economy is linked to the world economy – holding more than a trillion dollars of US debt is just one example. Questions about China’s economic invincibility are already cropping up with growth having gone down to 7.6 percent (three year low) in the second half of 2012.
Analysts suspect economic growth this year will fall between 7.5% and 8.0%, but corruption and policy issues bring it down to 7.0%. Rapid economic growth has developed a whole series of bubbles whose future is unpredictable. The question being asked is whether the Chinese economy is on the brink of decline. China needs Indian markets.
It is time China realizes that she is hindering her own dreams of consolidating in the Indian Ocean Region by following a policy of confrontation with India no matter how sugar coated. How much this aggression can push India into the US Asia Pivot and with what consequences to China is a matter of conjecture but something that Chinese policy makers need to examine. Her supporting and meddling with insurgencies within India bares her actual intentions and it is time for India to do some plain talking with China including Pakistan’s terror factory and China’s tacit support to Pakistan’s anti-India jihad.
A boundary settlement proposal is reported to have been proffered by China during Salman Khurshid’s visit to Beijing, details of which have not been released to the media. This should have actually been done or debated in public or at least discussed in Parliament or in an All Party Meet. However, the federal structure of the country having evaporated and with talks of even clipping the wings of the judiciary, that is unlikely to happen.
Nevertheless, what India must realize is that China with her extended hegemonic claims wants to settle once for all the question of Tibet by settling the border with India. It sees itself at an advantageous position having developed infrastructure in border areas. But she actually fears enhanced Indian military capability with infrastructure development being attempted on the Indian side and knows our army has no problems in giving a bloody nose to an aggressor at any point along the LAC, fears of hierarchy including cyber and nuclear attacks notwithstanding.
We must realize that it is not China but India that is in a position of strength though the psychologically weak may consider otherwise. The Tibet Card must remain open till China agrees to a ‘One India’ policy with J&K as Indian Territory. Shaksgam must be part of the discussion and our LAC claims must be projected strongly. If Tawang is being claimed by China on ‘religious pilgrimage’ grounds, then we should set forth our claim to the Mansarovar region including the approach to it.
On no account should we agree to stop patrolling and developing infrastructure up to what we perceive as the LAC. Most likely, this is part of the proposal by China and the very reason why the government is shy of sharing it with the media or other political parties.
There is absolutely no doubt that Li Keqiang and his entourage will make noises ‘what Indians will like to hear’. It has happened earlier with Chinese visitors (copied by Pakistanis) but actions on ground have been exact opposite. The biggest disservice that the government can do to the nation is to agree to stop patrolling and developing infrastructure up to what we perceive as the LAC (freezing development and enlarging our military capability before the final boundary settlement should simply be out of the question),
and signing an overall agreement with China underhand; implying without any political / public debate and then put the spin doctors to work to morph public opinion under garb of ambiguity. To quote Tavleen again from her book ‘Durbar’, she writes thus about government manipulating the media, “In insidious form of bribery, they are offered not just access to leaders and junkets when such leaders travel abroad, but nominated seats in Rajya Sabha. Subsidized housing and all sorts of other perks that are usually available only to politicians and high ranking government officials”. We saw this in action in recent months.
Li Keqiang’s visit is litmus test for the Indian resolve and the government must ensure it does not fail the billion plus Indians. It will be better for credibility to take the nation into confidence both before and after Le Keqiang’s visit. Any shady deals are unlikely to remain secret no matter what the veils of secrecy. Can the government for a change desist from media manipulation and more importantly, nation fixing?