China’s Unabated Cartographic Aggression
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 06 Jul , 2017

China’s global cartographic aggression has no parallel. The periodicity with which China changes its territorial claims gives an indication that the Communist Party of China (CPC) treats maps like toilet paper; pulling out old rolls lying in cupboards sometimes and another time producing a newly hand-crafted one – all to suit China’s hegemonic ambitions.

What made China so pig-headed was due to the ease with which Mao Zedong annexed Tibet, Xinjiang, Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, occupying these territories illegally, while the world looked away. Ironically, instead of raising hell at the UN against Chinese genocide in Tibet (which continues to-date), Nehru made India supply rice to the PLA marauding the Tibetans.

So Mao went ahead and proclaimed “Tibet is the palm of China and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA are its fingers”, repeated later by his midget copy Deng Xiaoping.

Surprisingly, Mao and Deng didn’t visualize Pakistan as the Spine of China leading to the Indian Ocean. But then began the Himalayan Plunder by China starting with capturing 38,000 sq kms of Aksai Chin. Later Pakistan gifted away the Shaksgam Valley to China, as the Pakistani hierarchy has done for Gilgit-Baltistan and Gwadar. Not without reason defence analyst and veteran Pakistani army officer Agha H Amin says that “There is no doubt that Pakistan will be a semi autonomous Chinese province by 2030 or so… Pakistani Baluchistan by 2030 would be a completely Chinese run show”. But while Amin said so in 2012, this may actually happen much earlier.

One fine morning, Communist China discovered an old ‘sketch’ of the Kuomintang regime it did not recognize and had overthrown in 1948. So years later, China staked claims to entire South China Sea (SCS) and parts of East China Sea (ECS) based on a line drawn well before 1948. The claims became more pronounced after China became net importer of oil in 1993 for the first time. The logic was very simple – control the seal lanes of communication.

Hence China demonstrated her intentions to step out from the traditional continental land-oriented security paradigm. Then Xi Jinping crafted the ‘China Dream’, with the CPC intent on transforming China into a ‘Great Power’ quickly.

Topographical conditions exist in SCS that makes it a sanctuary for submarines from attacks since submarines can submerge quickly in deep waters. This led to China militarizing the SCS with the future aim of advancing SSBNs from SCS to the Pacific Ocean. China continues to lay claims to territories exceeding her present bloated size after occupying Tibet, Xinjiang, Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. This does not include her semi-permanent presence in Pakistan; Gilgit-Baltistan and Gwadar, which is set to swallow most Pakistan eventually.

According to an article titled ‘China claims territories of 23 countries, even though it only has borders with 14’ by Daniel Craig published on December 1, 2013, Chinese territorial claims include: Afghanistan (Bahdashan despite treaty of 1963); Bhutan (Bhutanese enclaves in Tibet, namely Cherkip Gompa, Dho, Dungmar, Gesur, Gezon, Itse Gompa, Khochar, Nyanri, Ringung, Sammar, Tarchen and Zuthulphuk, Kula Kangri and mountaneous areas west of this peak, and Western Haa District): Brunei (SCS especially Spratly Islands); Myanmar (large areas on historical precedent of Yuan Dynasty of 1271-1368); Cambodia (areas based on historical precedence of ming Dynasty of 1368-1644); India (Aksai Chin which is part of J&K, Demchok, Chumar, Kaurik, Shipki La, Lapthal Shaksgam Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, Trans-Karakoram Tract); Indonesia (parts of SCS); Japan (parts of East China Sea particularly Senkaku Island, even Ryuku Islands being one-time vassal state of China even though the Kingdom of Ryukyu terminated tributary relations with China in 1874; Kazakhstan (continual unilateral claims by China on Kazakhstan territory, despite new agreements, in China’s favour, signed every few years); Kyrgyzstan (claims majority Kyrgyzstan on grounds it was unfairly forced to cede to Russia in the 19th century); Laos (claims large areas on historical precedence of Yuan Dynasty 1271-1368); Malaysia (parts of SCS particularly Spratly Islands);  Mongolia (claims Mongolia on historical precedence of Yuan Dynasty 1271-1368 even as Mongolia under Genghis Khan conquered China; Nepal (claims parts dating back to the Sino-Nepalese War 1788-1792); North Korea (Baekdu Mountain, Jiandao, at times even whole North Korea on historical grounds of Yuan Dynasty 1271-1368); Pakistan (some territory still claimed despite signing numerous agreements); Philippines (parts of SCS particularly Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands); Russia (160,000 sq km claimed despite signing numerous agreements); Singapore (parts of SCS); South Korea (parts of ECS, at times even whole country based on historical claim of Yuan Dynast 1271-1368); Taiwan (entire Taiwan but particularly Macclesfield Bank, Paracel Islands, Scarborough Shoal, Senkaku Islands, parts of SCS and Spratly Islands); Tajikistan (parts of Tajikistan on historical precedent of Qing Dynasty 1644-1912); Vietnam (large parts based on historical precedent of Ming Dynasty 1368-1644, also Macclesfield Bank, Paracel Islands, Scarborough Shoal, Senkaku Islands, parts of SCS and Spratly Islands).

Additionally, China taunted Hillary Clinton about territorial rights on Hawaii saying Chinese sailors had settled in Australia centuries before Europeans discovered it. Significantly, Chinese claims on Indonesian, Malaysian and Brunei maritime territory is 1000 km from the closest Chinese land; well outside the internationally recognized 200 km EEZ.

Above nonsensical Chinese claims based on Qing, Ming, Yuan and What Not Dynasties are an amusing farce. They are as laughable akin to if India starts claiming not only pre-Partition Pakistan and Bangladesh but Indian Territories that once went  up to the Hindukush Mountains and included parts of Tibet and part Sri Lanka. British Indian troops were holding Yatung but it does not mean that we start claiming all this territory.

In the Seventh Century Tibet was an empire, spanning the high heartland and deserts of the north-west, reaching from the borders of Uzbekistan to Central China, from halfway across Xinjiang, an area larger than the Chinese heartland. Indeed in 763, the Tibetan Army had captured the Chinese capital Chang-an (today’s Xian) and much later it was the Mongols who later ruled China then occupied Tibet. So should Mongolia claim Tibet? Historically until the early 13th Century, China had no claims on Tibet. Indeed the opposite applied: Tibet ruled half of present day China, but looked to India for its most significant influence, Buddhism.

So on what basis does China claim authority? What is the justification for what happened in the 1950’s, the liberation by Mao’s army, when 30,000 battle hardened communist troops crushed 4000 Tibetans? Logically, Tibet should become independent and balance China divided between Tibet and Mongolia if ancient history is to be taken as yardstick.

A large section believes this Chinese mindset is well routed in her historical “Tian Xia” (Under the Heaven) concept which traditionally views “All Territories” as belonging to the Chinese and due to which, Chinese attach no sense to territory.  But this idea too appears to be deliberately planted by the CPC to cover Chinese actions over s century of so called humiliation.

Interestingly, Xi himself also went on record recently to say that in ancient times, a Chinese princess was married to moon – wonder if China will officially announce lien on the moon. But the fact remains that while these illegal Chinese claims are highly irrational, they are pregnant with rationality of somehow getting hold by hook or crook to  control  the immense underground and underwater wealth in these territories in the  form of unexploited minerals (both Aksai Chin and Ladakh are known to have large uranium and mineral reserves though no mining has been undertaken) and oil and gas, and enormous fisheries, besides dominating the maritime approaches not only to the Chinese coast but also securing sea lanes in the Indo-Pacific. Of course the overall aim is to parallel the US and eventually surpass America.

As a policy for boundary talks, China periodically resorts to add fresh expanded claim lines without ever handing over a map giving what her final claims are. This she has been doing with India and Bhutan as well. With India, she first claimed the Tawang Plateau on the pretext that Tibetans pray at the Tawang Monastry, even as China continues to rampage Tibetan culture in Tibet and has turned some monasteries into prisons. Then one fine morning Zhang Yan, Chinese ambassador to India pulled out another toilet paper roll from his collection to claim that entire 90,000 sq km Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory, calling it Zhangnan (South Tibet).

One wondered whether there is a connection between ‘Zhang Yan’ and ‘Zhangnan’, and whether Zhang Yan was fathered in Arunachal Pradesh? But the significant part is that this Chinese claim to entire Arunachal Pradesh came as late as year 2005. This Chinese move apparently was after India hinted that a package deal for resolving the border issue may be acceptable. More recently, on 19 April 2016, the officiating Chinese ambassador to India stated, “Someone in future may dispute the ownership of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands”. So anything can be expected from this rogue nation. Obviously, after militarizing the waters of Western Pacific, China has embarked upon building similar case in the Indian Ocean even though it may get the drubbing of her life here.

In the case of Bhutan too, China has been expanding her claim lines, jostling periodically with Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) troops on the northern tip of the Doklam Plateau. Simultaneous to this activity over the years, she constructed a Class 9 road leading to the Doklam Plateau, and is now endeavouring to extend it towards the RBA camp at Zompelri despite ongoing boundary talks with Bhutan and written agreements of 1988 and 1998 stating that the two sides agree to maintain peace and tranquility in their border areas pending a final settlement on the boundary question, and to maintain status quo on the boundary as before March 1959. The agreements also state that the two sides will refrain from taking unilateral action, or use of force, to change the status quo of the boundary, but this is what China is precisely doing.

China has issued a map showing her own version of the T-junction (see map); shifting the actual T-Junction by few km is fiddlesticks for a rogue like China that claims Indonesian waters more than 1000 kms away from her land borders.

This is what the current standoff is about. China’s aim is to construct her road even beyond the RBA camp at Zompelri to her purported T-Junction and outflank Indian defences in East Sikkim completely. China is accusing India for violating the 1890 border agreement between Britain and China that settled the Sikkim part of the border, calling the action by India troops “very serious” and demanding Indian troops withdraw. India has warned China that construction of the road near their common border would have serious security implications. Bhutan anyway was not part of the 1890 border agreement, so the question of violating this agreement does not arise.

On the other hand, India and Bhutan are close friends and it is the duty of India to defend Bhutan from Chinese aggression, given the fact that in 2007 India and Bhutan formally agreed to “cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests”.  Besides, even after Bhutan served a demarche on China to cease arbitrary action of road construction, the Chinese showed no indication of withdrawing from the area.

The Modi Government has done well in taking firm action against the creeping Chinese move, unlike previous governments that ceded territory without a whimper.

It may be recalled there was considerable commotion when the Shyam Saran report about the willing surrender of hundreds of square kms of Indian Territory to China in Ladakh was submitted to Defence Minister AK Anthony on 10th August 2013. Leaks talked of some 654 sq km territory having been ceded to China over the years. Anthony when confronted by media on September 5, 2013 said he hadn’t had time to study the report – what a terrible shame! Also, rRemember, the April 2013 PLA intrusion in Depsang: Anthony termed it “small acne”; Foreign Minister said he is yet to figure out why this intrusion happened; Home Minister told the media “we cannot have soldiers everywhere”.

What a select bunch of anti-nationals; do we need such pussyfooter robot ministers? Former ambassador P Stopden, who hails from Ladakh, said on national TV in 2013 that over the years India has ceded to China over 400 square km of territory in Ladakh alone. This is not counting Chinese illegal occupation of Aksai Chin (38,000 sq km) and Shaksgam Valley (5,180 sq km). 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 case of the Depsang intrusion during 2013 (acknowledged officially as 19 km deep but actually 30 km) had not an enterprising journalist spilled the beans.

As to the current Sikkim Standoff, what happens beyond is anybody’s guess. It depends on President Xi Jinping riding the high-horse, even as his tutelage is parrying any action by saying ball is in India’s court and India must withdraw. Hopefully better sense will prevail because further Chinese high-handedness would certainly affect how the world views/ deals with the OBOR, MST and Xi’s pet project – the ‘China Dream’. In Western Pacific, China can hide behind her proxy North Korea but here China is directly involved. But India needs to go full hog preparing for escalation as happened during 1986-87 at Wangdung, and even beyond.

As in Wandung, China may also mobiles hundreds of civilian youth in the Himalayan region to build fervor against India. The Chinese concept of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ makes repeated emphasis on the “civilianization of war” thesis, which is already being enacted in ESC and SCS also in the form of civilian boat militias. The present increased Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean is perhaps more on account of Malabar 2017 rather than the Sikkim Standoff. At the same time, China cannot be discounted from muscle flexing in the mountains coinciding with Malabar 2017 commencing July 10, which is slated to be at much larger scale than before as alluded to by President Trump during the recent visit of Prime Minister Modi to the US.

The present challenge posed by China must also increase our focus on the border infrastructure and manning of the borders. With all the initiatives that the Modi Government has taken, it must take the unprecedented step of enforcing the concept of ‘One Border, One Force’ by placing all security forces manning international borders under the Army, and if not then certainly under MoD. The current turf war by MHA to the renewed demand by the Army to place the ITBP along the LAC under command is not in national interest. It may require the intervention of the Prime Minister, if the Home Minister is still not amenable to the idea.

Post the Kargil Conflict, the Kargil Review Committee and the follow up Group of Ministers (GoM) reports had recommended that para-military forces (PMF) may be deployed along international borders to relieve pressure on the Army, but had stipulated that these PMF must be placed under command the Army. The last part has been ignored perhaps because of the bureaucratic ploys of divide and rule despite its adverse effects on national security. This must be rectified by the Modi Government.  At this juncture it is imperative that the political class (Congress and the leftists) and the bureaucracy must fall in line; India must speak with one voice from now on wards.

Next is how should the world deal with rogue China, and its nuclear-cum-terrorist talons Pakistan and North Korea? Despite the economic oomph that China openly brags, it is a dying economy that China wants to revive through OBOR-MST.

If China continues being pig-headed then one good method to knock some sense in the bully is to commence a global movement to shun Chinese products, the lead for which should be taken by the 23 countries whose territories China illegally claims. Obviously, this can’t be at government level on account of WTO but certainly can be mass citizen movement. As Indian’s let us first negate the $60 billion China is pocketing annually as the imbalance in bilateral trade in China’s favour. Then of course are the multiple internal fault-lines of China, which obviously must be getting examined by concerned quarters.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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8 thoughts on “China’s Unabated Cartographic Aggression

  1. I fully agree with the author that Chinese goods should be boycotted. Its ambition is to become global power.Encroaching neighbors land has been its declared policy. The only way we can tackle the Chinese menace is by upgrading our military infrastructure- both hardware and software.

  2. Gen Katoch is to be commended for his well researched and well presented article on China mindset and Indian response towards China in the past. Current Indian outfit can learn a lot and benefit from this paper.

    Gen Katoch’s article is so informative and focussed on the issue that not only military strategists can benefit from it but common man can also understand what is the current situation on India borders and how he can contribute to strengthen India and weaken China.

  3. An excellent article by Lt Gen PC Katoch . It calls a spade a spade and the pussy footing that the Congress and the UPA Govts were doing over the years while the Chinese ate away Indian territory , square miles by square miles , if not by leaps and bounds. It is horrifying to note that the Country’s defence minster Mr Antony had no time to study the issue and so were the other ministers the home minister and the Foreign minister who too did not care .

    It is good that the present Indian Govt under Modi has taken a stand to Stop further ingress by the Chinese.Yes, we must as a nation, take the First Step to Stop buying Chinese goods worth over $60 billions annually which bank rolls the Chinese PLA , to a large extent and the resultant Chinese expansionist stance..

  4. Prima facie, the issue with the Chinese seems to concern their unabated cartographic aggression but from the stand point of psychoanalysis the malaise is deeper. That nation is suffering from a deep persecution complex. The fabled Middle Kingdom once had seen a golden era of prosperity for a fairly long time; both politically as also culturally. They had harboured the belief that they were cut above others and so looked down upon all and sundry. Later, like many other such nations its luck touched the nadir of worst kind. Though never reduced to the status of a colony, yet China was humiliated for centuries by many a country, not a few of whom were her small time neighbours and even vassals one time.

    When the Great Wheel of Time took a favourable turn and power and pelf returned after WW-2 [not without sweat and blood], the old ghosts became the perceived tormentors. Self drawn cartography and the moth eaten ancient treaties are only the visible tools, the real trouble is the mindset. Hope they find peace with themselves, lest they become a source of international trouble!

    The author of the piece, a friend and a fellow traveler, deserves our appreciation for a fine analytical presentation.

  5. While I respect and admire the nationalistic spirit with which LG Katoch has written this well researched article, I beg to differ on one crucial point – there is a difference in what we wish should happen versus ground reality. China has taken concrete steps in terms of building their infrastructure (be it in Tibet, SCS or PoK, Djibouti in W Africa to give a few examples) and executed on their global strategy (economic and political), India has sorely lacked infrastructure (due to corruption and lack of political far-sightedness) as well as wasted time on such things as non-aligned movement (NAM) in the past. The only way to protect our sovereignty and borders is to build capable infrastructure on a war footing basis and be ready to push back on any incursions from Chinese or Pakistani forces. India has to be extra cognisant of two-front wars – that will need to be fought with real assets and capability rather than rhetoric and haphazard amalgam of disparate assets. Our significant advantage in naval superiority has been washed away by not aggressively building aircraft carriers and submarines to protect our interest in Indian Ocean. That is why Chinese are having at-will tours of IOR while our neighbors abet its behavior. Our own REALISTIC and SINCERE assessment would show that we fall way short of what we need to defend our motherland and protect our geo-political interests across land, air, and sea. China is backing up its bravado and aggression with real capability. And we have very little time left, if at all any, to do the minimum job of protecting ourselves.

  6. A well researched Article….well explains the Chinese mind set….yet one wonders why does not the world say or do some thing about it. USA, under the present administration…and their Chief…Trump….has spoken about China…Pakistan and North Korea…how much will the words translate to action to contain these three rogues….is anybody’s guess. PM Modi needs to get his house in order to curb turf battles…this is a matter of national security and it is India’s territory that is at stake.

  7. Sir, bang on ! China has this habit of pushing us around on the LAC for a long time. Its because of the passivity of India which is a Nehru legacy. We should start calling Tibet and Sinkiang a disputed territory. As far as the border issue we should say that we will only deal with a legitimate Tibetan Government. We should also try to get international opinion about Tibet against the Chinese. Secondly we have been pussy footing for too long about the infrastructure in terms of a road net work on our frontier with Tibet . The Mountain Strike Corps is a big question mark. The Chinese consider us a militarily weak nation and rightly so. We need an increase in our defence budget and we have to bolster our forces facing the Chinese and take a hard stand on the LAC when ever an issue like this comes up. Regards.

  8. Excellent write up. The way it is written should be the basis for Indian govt. to present their case and stand to World and UN.O.

    This knowledge make you so special of special forces.

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