Despite the grave issues that China has consistently stacked up against our national interest, our penchant for flattery instead of business with them is turning increasingly detrimental
A fortnight ago in China, this time India’s External Affairs Minister, SM Krishna, ensured the devaluation of the Tibet card. In diplomacy, like in other walks of life, by constantly repeating something, it becomes an undeniable fact – question is whether it is in India’s interest to make Tibet’s occupation by China, an undeniable fact? Haven’t we paid the price 50 years ago, for decimating Tibet’s importance? Have we given up on further exploiting Tibet, a raw nerve of the Chinese, like they do with Kashmir?
Even though not put up on the MEA site, perhaps for obvious reasons, the following is what has been attributed to Krishna across several print reports: (with reference to the persistent self-immolation and civic unrest by Tibetans in Tibet and the nearby province of Sichuan)
“It is the government of India’s position that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is part of the People’s Republic of China, and as a result of that we are dealing with the internal affairs of China. Hence we will have to be very cautious, and any help that we can render to ease the tension we are willing to do it but I don’t think that situation will arise.”
Certainly the Chinese would have expressed an ‘appreciation’. But the point is what does India achieve here? Apart from the inauguration of the embassy building in Beijing, the Chinese ‘responding positively to (India’s proposal for) designating 2012 as the Year of India-China Friendship & Cooperation’, and the above statement, there is very little that even the MEA site mentions as far as Krishna’s visit is concerned.
Clearly we seem to be abandoning caution and the need for some tough talking when it comes to dealing with the Chinese. Agreed Lt. Gen (retd) DB Shekatkar, former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) and someone who has confronted the Chinese be it on the ground at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) or sitting in plush conference rooms with them for official border talks. “It would be very interesting to know exactly how India wants to render help to Chinese for suppressing the tensions in Tibet. He was lucky the Chinese did not ask him to explain his plans to ‘help’,” he said. According to the general, such glib remarks are looked down upon in a country like China. “They only respect power and unless you talk strong, you will achieve little,” he added.
Given the pernicious nature of developments which have taken place in the recent years, the least we must be doing is seek explanations from the Chinese (the way they do when we construct a road even within our territory) and not deploying the policy of WHAM (Winning Hearts And Minds) with a competitor who recognises nothing but power.
Former foreign secretary, Shashank, felt the devaluation of Tibet card was not in India’s interest. “Successive governments have eroded the strength of this card by terming Tibet and TAR as China’s internal matter. We can’t go back on our words. But the least we can do is support and appreciate the plight of the people who are being suppressed and are agitating in Tibet,” he said. He was also of the opinion that there were issues that India needed to hammer China with, which included its meddling in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and construction activities on Brahmaputra river.
Notwithstanding these remarks, this tradition of dishing out one-sided niceties for the Chinese is an old one. Quotes Brigadier JP Dalvi, in his book, ‘Himalayan Blunder’, “in early 1951, a very senior official of the External Affairs Ministry gave us a talk on the history of Sino-Tibetan relations over the centuries…his summing up was that China might be behaving crudely but legally she was exercising her traditional rights and jurisdiction (in Tibet).” On this, Brig Dalvi says, Gen WDA ‘Joe’ Lentaigne, first Commandant of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, countered the diplomat on the strategic implications of accepting the take over of Tibet. “General, I thought you had asked me to give a talk on the history and not strategy – strategy, I leave it to you soldiers,” said the diplomat.
It is evident that the discord between our policy arms, then and now, certainly remains.
Following are some of the issues where China would do well to earn India’s appreciation:
Illegal occupation in Arunachal Pradesh
Even though China’s illegal occupation of Aksai Chin in J&K (over 43,000 sq km of land) is widely known, what is not so widely known is that the Chinese continue to illegally occupy 28-sq km of Indian land in Wandung, adjoining Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
History reveals that the presence of Chinese in an area where they were not traditionally present sparked off the Somdorong Chu crisis of 1986. It was after all a post vacated by India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) owing to winter, that the Chinese consciously took over before summer and commenced construction activities including building a helipad there. When local level talks did not help, India responded with Exercise Chequerboard and Operation Falcon – a resolve to fight it out with adequate preparation.
And even though this led to several bilateral visits and signing of the agreements culminating in a Joint Working Group (JWG), in a meeting of which in April 1995, both sides decided to withdraw from four border posts – two Indian and two Chinese – China has, since the summer of 1986 steadfastly refused to vacate what we possessed. Innumerable and frequent representations by locally elected leaders to the government, pleas by the army, this report of the Hindustan Times and information from the ground sources confirm China’s continuing occupation.
The General’s word
If one is to believe the words of one of the highest-ranking generals of the Indian Army, who met me shortly after retirement, Indian troops in several areas are not permitted to even patrol up to what we perceive as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Sipping coffee, he recounted his experience of the China Study Group (CSG) meetings – India’s apex governmental body in dealing with matters related to China – which he had to attend whenever the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) was away.
“It was very clearly understood that only tens of kilometers, safely inside Indian territory (where no ambiguity exists) can the Indian troops freely move and patrol. Effectively, while we may have instances of Chinese soldiers walking into our areas, we were asked to strictly restrict ourselves. Yes, perception-wise differences do exist and sometimes we even pay them back in the same coin but this policy for our troops, I protested, was unhealthy,” he said. The China Study Group (CSG), chaired by the Foreign Secretary did not pay much heed. This was because of the fierce diplomatic pressure Chinese are known to bring whenever an ‘incident’ takes place. Should we not ask China to explain how they can come and destroy walls made within our territory – a fact admitted by the Defence minister on the floor of the House. That apart, Ladakhi tribesmen will tell you how Chinese soldiers are known to intrude and issue warnings against helping Indian troops. (http://www.timesnow.tv/Chinese-troops-threaten-Ladakhi-tribes/videoshow/4326656.cms)
No doubt a sovereign nation has the right to decide where and when it should upgrade its infrastructure. But a sovereign neighbour too has the right to worry about the intention behind it. As a matter of absolute fact, China has doubled its road network in Tibet region to 40,000 kms just between 1995 and 2005. It has decided to extend the Qinghai-Tibet rail line by 254km to reach Xigaze (or Shigatse as China terms it), closer to Indian border near Sikkim. Laughable as it may sound, the Chinese managed to successfully block our efforts at constructing a passenger shed in the Demchok region with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops physically arriving at site!
Said a senior officer working with the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which is constructing several ‘high priority’ roads in the region, “For decades, our policy remained that of not developing infrastructure. It was based on the denying any facilities to the Chinese in case of aggression. Today, we have turned around and started. But we are at least 20 years behind them.” On the other hand, China is not just linking up its remote border towns but also extending highways and rail links to states like Nepal and Bangladesh!
An interesting report by the Centre for Land And Warfare Studies (CLAWS), titled ‘China’s Infrastructure Development in Tibet’ takes a deep look into the Chinese manoeuvres in the restive area. Some of the details it brings out are as follows:
1. Tibet has been the largest per capita recipient of subsidy and funding from the Chinese central government.
2. China has been carrying out extensive infrastructure development in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and areas close to southern borders to include the development of road, rail and air networks, Fuel, Oil and Lubricants (FOL) pipeline, telecom and industrial base. Such an extensive development of logistics indicates impetus being made available to the PLA’s capability and enhancement of its operational capability.
3. Further 50,000km of expressways will be built in the region over the next 15 years.
4. An additional railway line planned from Lhasa to Nyingchi (Kongpo), besides the extension being sought to Xigase.
It is said that given the impetus, the facilities in TAR and surrounding areas will far exceed what Tibetans (and the migrating Hans) actually need. So the indication is obvious as to who is the ultimate beneficiary. Apart from keeping several air bases active in TAR (of which civilian-use bases hardly constitute ten percent), China has deployed even nuclear-tipped missiles to keep India in check and to look for larger targets in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Again quoting from the CLAWS report, it is very clear that China, in the garb of upgrading its infrastructure has worked on ensuring usage for the PLA and PLAAF. Even in field of communication, the Chinese have reportedly ensured all units of the PLAAF are linked up by satellite communication in the region with an extensive network.
In his book, ‘Asian Juggernaut’, noted analyst and defence author, Brahma Chellaney has brought out that the Chinese already operate electronic listening posts at the Pakistani port of Gwadar and the Burmese Coco islands.
Sadly, we have hardly heard India seeking a response from the ‘peacefully rising’ China on these issues. In fact, when it came to an issue as serious as positioning of nuclear-tipped missiles facing India, our response in Parliament on December 8, 2011, bypassed all records of indifference. While replying to unstarred questions raised by the Members of Parliament (MPs), MoS MEA, E Ahamed rose up and to simply read out what seemed like a template for all border woes we have with China. Instead of hammering the Chinese or replying in kind, we offered:
“Government pays close attention to China’s military modernization programme as well as its infrastructure development projects in the border regions opposite India in the Tibet and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions. Since 1993, the two Governments have maintained peace and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the India-China border areas. The two sides have reiterated their commitment to this goal on many occasions. Government is giving careful and special attention to the development of the border areas opposite China, in order to meet our strategic and security requirements and also to facilitate the economic development of these areas. Government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India’s security and takes all necessary measures to safeguard it. (http://www.mea.gov.in/mystart.php?id=100518712): MOS MEA E Ahamed.
Maps, stapled visas and more
Ever heard China ‘explaining’ to us on issues which outrage us? Apart from us lodging ‘strong’ protests and Chinese holding on, nothing is ever ‘explained’. For instance, in November last year, a member of an official delegation from the Xinjian Autonomous Region of China, in New Delhi dared circulating a map depicting large chunks of Arunachal Pradesh and J&K under the Chinese state.
Recently, when an Indian military delegation was to make its way to China, as part of bilateral exchange, the Chinese played their game of issuing stapled visa papers to our nationals from J&K and AP. The casualty was a certain Group Captain who had to opt out as he was based in AP. In fact, several of our cultural delegations in the past too have complained of this embarrassment. However, in December 2011, we declared in Parliament that we shall not retaliate for now. (http://www.mea.gov.in/mystart.php?id=100518796)
Sharing of river water
Concerns have been consistently raised about the possible diversion, and the intent behind, of the Brahmaputra river waters. China has initiated construction at Zangmu, Tibet, of what government of India terms a ‘run-of-the-river hydro electric project which does not store water and will not affect downstream areas in India’.
After denials were issued by the Ambassador of China to India as well as Chinese Foreign Affairs ministry in 2007, the Chinese did admit to this project recently. India has been highlighting this issue since the November 2006 visit of the Chinese president, Hu Jintao to India. Instead of a concrete river-water sharing mechanism (like we have with Pakistan on the Indus river waters, ensuring the downstream nation its rights), as per official data, we have till now managed signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) mandating an exchange of with them on flood season hydrological data and formation of Expert Level Mechanism (ELM).
India can barely take any comfort from the fact that having annexed Tibet, China today sits at the source of most major rivers in Asia including Indus, Brahmaputra and Mekong among others. And its voracious appetite for hydroelectric projects can threaten neighbouring states. This was confirmed by the veteran diplomat Shashank, who said, “There is a tremendous scope for cooperation with the other neighbours of China who are all wary of Chinese dam-building appetite because just like Brahmaputra for us, their important rivers originate in Tibet. We have been very tardy in our response. It is a fact that even India’s friends and neighbours have repeatedly highlighted,” he added.
Other issues and conclusion
Apart from the above-mentioned aspects, there are well documented issues like Chinese assistance to Pakistan for conventional and non conventional weapons and largely one-sided ‘bilateral’ trade between India and China, among others, that China owes us an explanation. But the question is are we even asking?
Chellaney has very sharply summarised India’s stance with the following words: “..India has over the years steadily eroded its leverage and room for manoeuvre against its main long-term rival. Unwilling to shape up to the challenge posed by Beijing’s accumulating power and strategic plans, India has become averse to treating China even as a competitor, preferring to shelter behind the calcinatory rhetoric of cooperation. But cooperation on equal terms demands at least the political will to face the competition…Just because India poses no threat to China doesn’t mean the converse is also true…Despite New Delhi’s accent on cooperation, Beijing is not going to shy away from ploughing more and more of its resources into activities and capabilities antithetical to Indian interest and security.”