China’s refusal to give a visa to Lt Gen BS Jaswal should not surprise anybody including those among the Indian establishment and political leadership dealing with China. China has been allowed to deceive and ride roughshod over India these decades following its attack in 1962.
What surprised watchers of India-China relations in the Indian establishments was the correct response to China’s action by not only cancelling the Indian army delegation’s tour of China, but also suspending all military-to-military contacts with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) till further notice.
This is the first most definitive action on the part of New Delhi since the withdrawal of ambassadors following the 1962 war. Such action by sovereign states who are attacked by non-military means but diplomatic snub with strategic aims, are not new. US-Chinese relations are replete with such incidents. The issue is the timing of these discords and how they are resolved. In relations with the USA, China has always sought a face saving way out and, Washington being the stronger of the two, has usually condescended.
US China relations and India’s China relations are not comparable, especially in terms of scale. But in India-China relations lie the critical issues of peace, development and stability not only in the South Asian region, but also in greater Asia including the Indian Ocean Sea lanes which are vital for the countries east of the Malacca strait.
The main question is how will India deal with the military diplomacy face off henceforth. There are signs that China is trying to make it a non-issue in its usual deceptive manner. The Chinese, habituated with India’s lukewarm reaction or non-action in the past, may have miscalculated New Delhi’s response to the refusal of visa to Lt Gen Jaswal.
At the same time, it appears the Indian establishment did not want to blow up the incident. There has been little comment from the establishment, and Defence Minister AK Antony’s brief observation to television channels suggests they are going to sweep the issue as usual under the carpet. It is India’s free media which is increasingly playing the real role of the fourth estate, that has brought the issue to public notice. If the Indian government tries to brush aside this incident, then not only the government but also the people, would have to pay dearly for this omission.
It is time to face some questions squarely. The Indian establishment including the army, demoralized by the
1962 reverses and the more recent Chinese economic and military development surge, appears to have adopted a defeatist complex, contrary to the assessment of independent Indian experts and analysts. Of course, some independent China experts who receive regular invitations from China and enjoy their hospitality, try to devise reasons on behalf of Beijing’s policies. Otherwise, those invitations will dry up. Equally important, there are political parties and leaders who indulge in America bashing, who are active votaries of China in the Indian context.
Chinese military strategists who provide inputs for the PLA’s strategic and tactical plans do not think that the 1962 situation entails today. Apart from their advantage in strategic nuclear warfare, they do not see that the PLA as a whole holds any significant advantage over the Indian forces. In fact, in some ways, they recognize certain drawbacks. The PLA is not battle tested. The last limited war they fought was in 1979 when Chinese forces entered Vietnam to teach them a lesson, but instead suffered a bloody nose.
The Indian establishment’s strategic planners must, first of all, revisit 1962 and compare the state of Indian and Chinese soldiers. The Indian soldiers did not even have the minimum winter clothing, and arms. Whereas, the Chinese soldiers were well prepared in every manner, suggesting the attack was well planned in advance. The Chinese army withdrew, especially from the Eastern Sector, because they found themselves overstretched and unable to hold on to territory.
The Chinese sabre-rattling in the Eastern Sector in 1987 land threatening to teach India (a) lesson must also be reexamined. When the Indian army started moving to the sector from the mainland, the Chinese sued for friendship and political solution to the boundary issue. The fact is, that the Chinese saw if they opened a military front in the Eastern Sector, 1962 would be reversed.
In 1993, two PLA Colonels wrote a book The Next India-China War II, in which they stated that the next war will be three-dimensional-land, air and sea. Thereafter, China started building infrastructure along the border with India at a hectic pace. Today they have built military airports along the border, brought the railway to the Tibetan capital Lhasa, and are getting prepared for a round the year air force presence with similar logistic support.
The Indian army lagged well behind in building infrastructure along India’s borders with Tibet. There was no lack of finances. But the army’s view was that if India built the roads, the Chinese would use them to roll into India! Appalling to say the least. Why cannot they think that they can also roll into China? It was a psychological auto-suggestion of fear.
Finally, when it was decided to place two Divisions in Arunachal Pradesh along with SU-29 fighters, and preparation for a strike corps, the Chinese criticism engineered a doubt in parts of the establishment. Thankfully, there has been no retraction of this policy of deployment.
Does the Indian establishment become a hypochondriac when faced with China? Nothing else explains why India stands up to the USA and others, but not to Beijing.
Nothing can be more nonsensical than the coinage “CHINDIA”. The expression suggests an enmeshing of China’s and India’s interests seamlessly. Contemporary history of accounts, suggests this is farthest from the truth. Indian political leaders must understand personal promotion against national interests. A former petroleum minister pushed India-China joint action to secure energy resources. He was jolted when the Chinese upstaged him through the backdoor for a stake in Kazakhstan.
The current mantra is the $60 billion trade with China, co-operation in climate change, co-operation in international fora like WTO and the G-8, and the old 1992 understanding to counter the West on human rights charges. A close look at each will classify that it is China that is the beneficiary, not India. In the area of trade, China benefits from iron are imports, and pushing substandard goods into India. In climate change, there is no comparison with China being the second highest polluter in the world, with India way behind. On human rights issues China’s excesses with the law being dictated by the party does not compare with India’s legal system that the charged is innocent unless proved guilty. China’s persecution of minority rights is legendary. Is this the CHINDIA or Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai we are looking for?
On the other hand, the demands of
friendship should not go too far. For example, espionage is a game played by all countries, small or big. If China breaks into Indian government sites, this is to be expected. It is for India to put up a secure barrier, and engage in similar action against China. For example, the US and lsrael, the closest of allies, spy on each other. Similar is the situation between China and Pakistan, time tested allies.
Having said the foregoing, the soul of India’s relations with China lies in China’s decades old strategy to keep India caged in South Asia by various means, and to keep India insecure. This emanates from Mao Zedong’s strategy which saw India as the main obstruction to communist China’s uni polar domination of Asia.
China’s arming of Pakistan including with nuclear arms, support to Islamabad in the international fora, encirclement of India in South Asia using Pakistan as the pivot and preying on the misplaced insecurity of other neighbours of India, is well known and needs no elaboration.
What is important is China’s false stepping India in India’s strategic civil development. It opposed the India-US civil nuclear deal, India’s clearance by the Nuclear Suppliers Groups (NSG), and is now pushing for new China-Pakistan nuclear co-operation, contravening the NSG guidelines. China is a member of the NSG, and could destroy this non-proliferation body by just one stroke. But the Beijing leaders feel they can push this through and other members will finally fall in line.
One of the reasons why China may be able to push through its nuclear deal with Pakistan is the fact that Pakistan is the biggest terrorism nuisance in the world and China enjoys huge influence on Pakistan.
Questions have been raised in the Indian media about why Lt.Gen. Jaswal, when he was the Corps Commander in charge of Arunachal Pradesh, was given a visa by the Chinese, and why Army Chief VK Singh as Eastern Command Chief was also accorded similar courtesy.
The answer rests in the international and domestic situation China was facing at that time, and weak Indian response to China giving stapled visas to Indians from J&K. China first tests the ground. The other parameters assess foreign pressures, the need to seek friends or supporters, and internal issues.
Another critical aspect is the PLA’s power and influence in shaping foreign policy. The PLA always had a major say in territorial disputes including the issue of Taiwan, and relations with the US, Japan, Pakistan and India. Over the past one year the PLA has been demonstrating its power both internally and externally, notwithstanding the fact that the communist party is supreme. Today, the party-PLA relations are not the same as it used be in the pre-1988 period.
The Lt Gen Jaswal case is intrinsic to the party’s and PLA’s shifting position on Pakistan and India. The reason given by China that Lt Gen
Jaswal was the Commander in J&K, which China considers disputed territory, is facetious. If China wants to keep its hands off this disputed territory, then they have no locus standi to enter into an agreement with Pakistan in 1963 in which Pakistan ceded 5000 sq kms of Kashmiri territory in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) to China. The Karakoram highway should not have been constructed through this territory as per China’s “disputed area” policy. Nor should they be constructing new infrastructure in this area. It is now reported China has positioned 11,000 soldiers in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of PoK.
The Indian authorities must consider the following upcoming developments very seriously. The Jaswal incident is clearly to renew support to Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir issue, to return to the UN resolutions. It has very little to do with Pakistan being in a weak position, suffering from devastating floods.
The crux of this Chinese move is much larger. It is a Pak-China strategy to convert the Kashmir issue into a India-Pak-China issue, making China a stakeholder in the Kashmir issue. China’s de facto position has been that PoK is Pakistan’s possession as revealed in the 1963 treaty, and it can be renegotiated when a final de jure position comes into force. The strategy is to ensure that such a situation does not come about. But they treat Indian Kashmir as a disputed territory which China does not want to touch. There can be no clearer indication that China may be in the process of recognizing PoK as Pakistan’s defacto sovereign territory.
It is time the Indian government took a hard look at the three agreements signed with China in an effort to resolve the border issue, and how they have worked. The first was the Peace and Tranquility (P&T) treaty of 1993 signed in Beijing, the second was the Confidence Building Measures (CBM) agreement of 1996 signed in New Delhi; and the third for the modalities to resolve the boundary issues signed again in New Delhi in 2005.
The P&T treaty removed the eyeball to eyeball situation between Indian and Chinese soldiers at some points in the Eastern Sector of the border. The CBM treaty was to ensure safe distance between the troops of the two sides and prevent any untoward incident. The modalities agreement stands still as the Chinese now insist that the article saying no transfer of settled population be removed. This treaty, therefore, remains as a “living dead”.
During the period that China signed these agreements when it was under pressure from the West especially the USA, following the 1989 quelling of students’ protests in Beijing. China also sought a stable and peaceful atmosphere for them to concentrate on economic development.
Looking back, China has achieved its objective and the agreements remain on paper only. As China grew stronger, both the P&T and CBM agreements have been violated by Beijing repeatedly and with impunity, while the Indian government brushed it under the carpet.
There is the issue of the length of the Sino-Indian border. The Indian position remains that it is around 4000 kms long starting from the north-western tip of Kashmir in PoK, to the eastern tip of Arunachal Pradesh and the Sikkim border in the middle.
The Chinese quietly hold that the border is between 1900-2000 kms negating Indian’s sovereignty over the whole of the J&K state, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Sooner rather than later the Chinese would be raising this position loudly in bilateral meetings, and their official propaganda.
Prime Minister AB Vajpayee made a major mistake by agreeing in writing that Tibet Autonomous Region was an integral part of China. The expected Chinese reciprocal position on Sikkim as a sovereign state of India, never came.
New Delhi must keep aside agreements and Chinese verbal promises, and return to the drawing board. China has attacked Indian core interests of territorial sovereignty, and no one can blame India if it revived the Tibet issue. Kashmir had acceded to India voluntarily through an instrument. An independent Tibet was invaded by Chinese forces in 1951. There is also the Taiwan question and issue of the Spratly islands in the South China Sea. India has followed the “One China” policy strictly, and has kept away totally from other Chinese territorial issues and claims. But by sending soldiers to the Gilgit-Baltistan region in PoK, China has violated a cardinal principle of trying to split India.
The curtain is up on China’s “denial and deception” strategy. New Delhi will have to consider China’s threat from all strategic directions.
By Bhaskar Roy