Geopolitics

India-China: Border Defence Cooperation Agreement
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 16 May , 2013

The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at a bilateral meeting with the President of the People’s Republic of China Mr Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Fifth BRICS Summit, at Durban, South Africa

The events of the past week and half are gradually clearing the fog over why China did what she did at DBO on 15th April 2013. Though a surfeit of motives were assigned, a careful review of the recent events and the sequence in which these have been played out, point towards a possible umbilical link to the Chinese proposed “Border Defence Cooperation Agreement” (BDCA), the draft of which was given to India on 04 March 2013 during a secretary-level meeting.

…the DBO incident is perhaps the Chinese way of highlighting the need for border talks and compel India to the negotiating table for conclusion of BDCA.

The Chinese President Mr. Xi Jinping on 29 March in Durban during the BRICS Summit expressed the desire that the border issue with India should be resolved as soon as possible. Immediately following this came the surprise initiative and announcement by China that her Premier Li Keqiang will be visiting India from 19 May 2013 as part of his first four nation foreign tour, and India is the first country to be visited by him after assuming premiership. It is said that a lot of deliberation has gone into while deciding India as the first destination. More surprising than the announcement, was the Chinese intrusion into DBO Sector, particularly at a time when their Premier was about to visit India. Some analysts in the media and as well some officials in the Indian security establishment viewed that the DBO incident is perhaps the Chinese way of highlighting the need for border talks and compel India to the negotiating table for conclusion of BDCA.

According to a report published in The Hindu dated 10 May, it is said that the Indian External Affairs Minister did not think that the incursion was related to ongoing talks between India and China over BDCA. He said that, “I don’t think this incident should be seen or indicated as part of flagging or a reminder as a nudge or push to solve the border issue”.  Conversely, there may not be many takers in India for this line of view.

The Chinese side is reported to have put forward 16 proposals which they hope, will be approved before Premier Li arrives in New Delhi on 19 May. China is particularly keen on India signing the BDCA proposed by them. In response, India is said to have agreed to consider the proposal and had given some counter suggestions from their side including reiteration of the need for clarification and confirmation of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) pending final settlement, so as to eliminate grey areas or differing perceptions of the LAC. This has been the long standing demand of India which China has been stone walling.

In the absence of any details being made public by either country, it is difficult to analyse the intrinsic content and value of BDCA about which China is working overtime.

The Indian External Affairs Minister stated that the BDCA proposal is a broader agreement, so it will take some time to go over every aspect of it. He further added that the 16th round of talks between the Special Representatives on the boundary question will take place in the next two months and they will discuss in detail the issues related to the boundary. On his return from visit to China, Mr Khurshid while referring to the proposed BDCA stated that, “ this brings us together and rationalizes all the existing arrangements”. He, however, could not justify the necessity for such an agreement, particularly when he praised how effective the current arrangements and agreements were in resolving the situation on the LAC. From the Chinese side, there was wide spread clamour and a sense of urgency on the part of their leaders, officials and media, to get the BDCA concluded at the earliest. “We need to redouble our efforts to push forward framework negotiations so that we can reach at a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution at an early date” said Qin Gang, the spokesperson and Director General of Information Department in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Most of the sound bites originating from China of late, advocate that both the countries should work towards strengthening the bilateral strategic relationship; perhaps an euphemism for saying that both should conclude BDCA. How is it that China who for decades have been advocating “Patience” and “Perseverance” in settling boundary issues, suddenly turned to “Speedy”, “Urgent” and “Redoubling” of efforts? Considering that China is a great believer of the principle of “Expediency”, this should not come as a surprise to any.

In the absence of any details being made public by either country, it is difficult to analyse the intrinsic content and value of BDCA about which China is working overtime. From the views emanating from various sources who are said to be in know of the proposal,  it seems that the agreement does not serve Indian interests and some clauses are in fact detrimental to India. According to some informed sources, India is not very enthusiastic about the proposed agreement.

Many in the Indian Security establishment believe that such an agreement could allow China unprecedented insights into the Indian defence system and requires India to share details of patrolling schedule of Indian troops on the border (whether this criteria is equally applicable to China is not known). Indian officials are also concerned that signing such an agreement could signal that India is veering towards a Chinese sphere of influence. They see no need to change the 2005 Protocol on LAC management. Some eminent defence analysts also reported that the draft proposals envisage freezing of troop levels and defences on the LAC institutionalizing India’s disadvantage. They also questioned the viability of this agreement in preventing DBO type of stand-offs in future, particularly when the existing comprehensive agreements could not do so. It is also very interesting to note a remark reportedly made by some sources in Indian Government which in a way explains why BDCA is important to China.

China perceives the present Indian endeavour as a threat to its interests and supremacy, and hence are its efforts to stall the process and put all sorts of restrictions on India…

While explaining the rationale for yet another LAC management agreement, it was pointed out that a “new equilibrium” has been reached between India and China, primarily because of New Delhi’s catch-up infrastructure development. Whatever be the tone, texture and content of the BDCA, India can ill afford to lower its guard. The need for a critical scrutiny of the proposal and the will to say a firm “NO” to anything that impinges on India’s sovereignty, security and defence preparedness needs no exaggeration. The Indian Defence Minister had rightly asserted India’s right to develop infrastructure and enhance defence preparedness on her soil as the Chinese had done.

Since long, China has been in the Driver’s seat  against the backdrop of its superior border infrastructure and military capabilities relative to India. The catch-up effort by India during the last 4 to 5 years in terms of improvement of border infrastructure particularly in areas adjacent to Aksai Chin which China considers as vital to its strategic interests, and enhancement of force capabilities has pinched China where it matters most. China perceives the present Indian endeavour as a threat to its interests and supremacy, and hence are its efforts to stall the process and put all sorts of restrictions on India curtailing her freedom to develop border infrastructure and patrolling of her territory. The underlying intentions and meaning of the sugar coated BDCA will be exposed when viewed in this context. This coercive and intimidating posture by China will most likely continue and in fact will increase in intensity and frequency as India cruises along its course of defence development

India is said to have completed her first phase of development and force enhancement & modernization which was launched about four to five years ago. It is reported that the Indian Government wants to commence the second phase to be completed by 2017 which among other things, include raising of a mountain strike corps and some armoured formations suitable for employment in mountains apart from equipment procurement for all the three services. The Government is said to have asked the three services to jointly work and submit an integrated plan in this context which is a welcome step.

…the Indian planners to assess PLA’s capabilities and strength by 2020, as also to articulate our own enhancement and modernization plans so as to deter any possible threat from China.

With the growing assertiveness and military strength of China and the continuing threat from Pakistan, India needs to evolve her long term strategy and a plan; say for the next 10 years, based on the combined threat perception and then evolve through it the yearly actionable plans for implementation. Indian Defence planners need to take a close look at the China’s Defence White Paper-2013 and also read between the lines the speech of Hu Jintao which was delivered at the 18th Party Congress regarding modernization of PLA by time line 2020. These should enable the Indian planners to assess PLA’s capabilities and strength by 2020, as also to articulate our own enhancement and modernization plans so as to deter any possible threat from China.

The biggest constraint for India in reference to the above will be availability of funds to match the defence strategy evolved. Chinese annual defence budget is about three times that of India. The defence budget of China for the Year 2013-2014 is  $115.7 billions (an increase of 10.7% over the previous year) against $37.4 billions of India (an increase of mere 5.2% over the previous year). Due to sluggish economic growth, the total defence budget this year is 1.79% of our GDP; a record low in the last three decades; a fall from 3.16% in 1987 to 1.79% in 2013. In the light of the new developments on the Chinese front, there perhaps is a need to find additional resources for defence. Further, the Defence establishment in India need to firstly lay greater emphasis on detailed and through planning lest the meagre resources get frittered away due to lopsided planning, secondly prevent un-utilization of allotted funds due to inertia and thirdly streamline procurement procedures which should be speedy, transparent and devoid of corruption.

India to-day is in the midst of defence development and modernization. Notwithstanding the pressures and intimidation from any, India should, with courage, firmness and perseverance, continue its course and acquire capabilities adequate to deter potential adversaries. Then only will India be in comfort zone.

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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

Brig Pillalmarri Subramanyam

Brig Pillalmarri Subramanyam, former Army Officer and served in DBO, Ladakh Area.

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3 thoughts on “India-China: Border Defence Cooperation Agreement

  1. The issue of BDCA has been analysed in depth and reasoning the urgency of the Chinese to sign this agreement, however the correct complexion of this proposal can be judged only once it is made public.

  2. The General says “The biggest constraint for India in reference to the above will be availability of funds to match the defence strategy evolved”. This is just hogwash. No military in the western world including the US receives enough funding for their strategic plans or hardware development . To give an example, look at the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) for the USAF. But they do the best they can with the available resources. And this must be the case for the Indian military also.

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