“It is astonishing that we have never till date asked China to vacate our territory occupied by it in Aksai Chin. We go out of our way, even today, to explain away every Chinese intrusion into our territory on perception difference of the Line of Actual Control.”
History is repeating itself. The two Asian powers are poised to confront each other to find strategic space in Asia and subsequently the world, spurred by their economic growth. At the moment, China appears to have stolen the march over India.
…Nehru flared up, thumped hard on the table and said: “It is not the business of C-in-C to tell the PM who is going to attack us where. In fact the Chinese will defend our NEFA Frontier. You mind only Kashmir and Pakistan”.
Contrary to popular belief, the two great civilizations in Asia – China and India had very little interaction historically. Barring an odd Huen Tsang visiting India or Dr Kotnis going to China much later, the two countries remained largely oblivious to each others existence, and Tibet and Himalayas ensured that. It is in the 19th Century when the British, while ruling India, were engaged in the Great Game against the Russians, Tibet engaged their attention. Far sighted that the British were, they ensured that Tibet remained a buffer zone between China and India. Closer to independence however, for whatever reasons, the British made little effort to demarcate the boundary between Tibet and India and formalize it which they could have easily done, being the supreme world power then. Therefore the boundary dispute between People’s Republic of China and India is a direct result of British unwillingness to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of both India and China.
The Chinese, very early, after becoming a communist nation realized that the only nation in Asia which could challenge them was India and therefore from day one they evolved policies to strategically isolate India in South Asia and create a boundary dispute to keep India permanently anxious and unbalanced despite India’s best efforts to befriend the PRC even at the cost of its strategic interest in Tibet. India followed a policy of appeasement right through the fifties and it persists till today. This policy of appeasement did not prevent the Chinese to launch the ’62 war against us and later follow a concept of strategic encirclement on land and a string of pearls strategy in the Indian Ocean to isolate India and keep it confined to South Asia, unable to break out on the big stage.
Our Policy of Appeasement and Consequences
Pandit Nehru, who was both the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister of independent India was completely dazzled by the Chinese success in its communist revolution and thought that by making much of China, India would strike friendship with it and everything would be hunky-dory. In the process he completely ignored the Chinese history. China has been imperialistic throughout its history and never forgot its humiliation by Western powers and Japan in late 19th and up to mid 20th century. The Middle Kingdom syndrome has always stayed with it.
As per Prof CP Fitzerald of Royal Institute of International Affairs: “China was the civilized world; for centuries this was perfectly true as far as Chinese experience reached, and the idea remained firm in Chinese minds, long after it had ceased to be a fact, territory once won for civilization must not be given back to barbarism; therefore territory which was once Chinese must forever remain so and if lost, must be recovered at the first opportunity. Such loss cannot be legal or valid; it is at best a recognition of passing weakness. The whole growth of the Chinese empire, throughout more than 3000 years, had been built on this principle, the barbarians were conquered and then absorbed and turned into Chinese by slow assimilation and cultural influence. To deny this process, to claim that it had or should come to and end, was to Chinese thought a denial of the right, a recognition of failure”.
The chronology of appeasement makes sad reading.
Occupation of Tibet by China and India’s Meek Response
…Nehru went out of his way to introduce Chow En Lai to Asian and African leaders. His patronizing attitude was even resented by Chow En Lai.
When Chinese forcibly occupied Tibet in 1950-51 and turned it into a Chinese colony India’s response was completely weak-kneed and we even did not support the Tibetan plea for a discussion in the UN. A prophetic latter written by late Sardar Patel to Nehru during Chinese occupation of Tibet did not even elicit a response from Nehru. Similarly an apprehension expressed by late Field Marshal Cariappa, who was C-in-C then was contemptuasly dismissed by Nehru.
In his book “Cariappa – His Life and Times,” Brig CB Khanduri, writes: “In May 1951, Cariappa, accompanied by Maj Gen Daulat Singh, the officiating Chief of General Staff, outlined his plan for defence of NEFA. Having listened to him, Nehru asked for reasons. When Cariappa mentioned that the Chinese may have designs on the region, Nehru flared up, thumped hard on the table and said: “It is not the business of C-in-C to tell the PM who is going to attack us where. In fact the Chinese will defend our NEFA Frontier. You mind only Kashmir and Pakistan”.
Support to Chinese in UN and Asia-Africa
Our support to China in becoming a member of the UN is classic Arab and camel story. No country in the world was supporting this after Chinese aggression in Tibet and Korea. We continued to support it even after the Chinese aggression against us in 1962. No one could be more naïve and myopic. The result was China not only became a member of the UN but also of the Security Council and we are still lobbying with nations of the world to prove our suitability to be a member of extended Security Council if ever it comes about. Similarly Nehru went out of his way to introduce Chow En Lai to Asian and African leaders. His patronizing attitude was even resented by Chow En Lai.
Not a Whimper on Chinese Occupation of our Territory
Our foreign minister and his mandarins glibly explain that this year so far only 242 intrusions have taken place which is same as last year so why worry. Have we no self respect as a nation?
The Chinese systematically started nibbling at our territory in Ladakh right from early 50s. It was crucial for them to construct their Xinxiang – Tibet road called the Western Highway through Aksai Chin, the Indian territory in North Eastern Ladakh. Our intelligence, true to its glorious record of complete incompetence did not even come to know about it. We were put wise by the Chinese themselves when they announced completion of Western Highway in Oct 1957.
Instead of outrage, Nehru tried to be blasé about it to explain to the nation that this territory was devoid of any vegetation and therefore useless to the nation, This prompted a hilarious rejoinder from one of the members of parliament that since there was no hair growth on Nehru’s head, should it also be considered useless. Even at this belated stage, it did not occur to Nehru to accept that boundary talks need to be initiated with China and this issue cannot be brushed under the carpet anymore. It is astonishing that we have never till date asked China to vacate our territory occupied by it in Aksai Chin. We go out of our way, even today, to explain away every Chinese intrusion into our territory on perception difference of the Line of Actual Control. Our foreign minister and his mandarins glibly explain that this year so far only 242 intrusions have taken place which is same as last year so why worry. Have we no self respect as a nation?
The Political Leadership and MEA in a Fear Psychosis
While the Armed Forces have got over the humiliation of the ’62 debacle, our political leadership and particularly MEA appears petrified of the Chinese. Whatever be the Chinese provocation, all attempts are made to justify it. No sooner does an Indian leader land in China, he pronounces Tibet as an integral part of China. Chinese on the other hand have never extended to us the courtesy of saying that Sikkim is an integral part of India. They pronounce Arunachal Pradesh as part of China which elicits just a whimper from us. No one is advocating about going to war against China immediately but at least we need to give a strong reply befitting a nation aspiring to be a regional power.
The Criminal Neglect of Infrastructural Development in Border Areas
We have learnt no lesson from ’62 debacle. Indian forces were defeated basically because they were deployed in areas completely devoid of infrastructure of any sort. Yet nearly fifty years down the line, situation remains more or less the same. Who is to answer for this criminal neglect? Our infrastructure in border areas is in a complete shamble which will put our forces at a great disadvantage in a future conflict scenario. No one of consequence in the political hierarchy has visited our border areas to see things for themselves.
The Chinese Concept of Strategic Encirclement of India
Chinese on the other hand have provided Pakistan with missile and nuclear technology in flagrant violation of all international norms.
The Chinese believe in the concept of a multi-polar world but a unipolar Asia. India on the other hand believes in a multi-polar world as well as Asia. A conflict situation is thus bound to arise. The Chinese obviously do not want India to become strong and be in a position to challenge Chinese supremacy in Asia, What better way to hem in India in South Asia by creating a ring of hostile and inimical states around India’s periphery.
Pakistan, like North Korea is more or less like a Chinese colony, ever ready to do their bidding be it ceding Indian territory to China in Saksgam valley in 1963 or allowing Chinese troops to be stationed in Northern Areas to oversee construction of oil pipeline and railway line to Gwadar port. Chinese on the other hand have provided Pakistan with missile and nuclear technology in flagrant violation of all international norms. In Nepal, Chinese are going full blast to make sure Maoists come to power there. It has major influence in Bangladesh and Myanmar. China has been forcing Bhutan to establish diplomatic relation, with it by occupying territory in Western Bhutan.
Chinese Infrastructural Build up in Tibet and Implications
The Chinese concept of infrastructural development in Tibet has kept in mind both economic as well as military aspects. The facets are:
- Use territory in Tibet for deployment of missiles in ground based silos aimed at Indian targets. This is a clever concept. In a hypothetical war situation, these silos will be the first to be taken out whether by conventional strikes or nuclear tipped war heads. By deploying missiles in Tibet instead of mainland China, it has ensured that the collateral damage will occur in Tibet and not in the mainland.
- Upgradation of airfields – Ngiti, Kongka, Pangta, Hoping, MarkhamDzong and Lhasa is being done to offset the disadvantage of there airfields being in high altitude areas imposing severe restriction on carriage of useful load.
- The three highways – Western, Central and Eastern are to join mainland China with Tibet and facilitate movement of not only economic cargo but troops and warlike stores as well.
- A modern railway line has been commissioned from Gormo to Lhasa with future plans to extend it to Nepal border. Obviously this will enhance Chinese capability to apply force where required.
The Chinese believe in the concept of a multi-polar world but a unipolar Asia. India on the other hand believes in a multi-polar world as well as Asia. A conflict situation is thus bound to arise.
- The oil pipeline which generally follows the Central Highway has a current capacity of 5 million tons annually. Although it caters for fuel needs of the populace, it would contribute geatly to a logistics build up for a conflict.
- Infrastructural improvement in the border areas has been remarkable. Apart from link roads, it also includes ware houses, storage shelters both over ground and under ground and weapon emplacements. These are absolutely necessary in the high altitude terrain of Tibet.
What is China upto in Gilgit – Baltistan and Pok
While India has independently confirmed that the presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit and Baltistan is a bit exaggerated in terms of numbers, the real concern here is on the number of projects and works China has undertaken in those areas and in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). And the footprint is only growing larger.
At last count, South Block had noticed at least 17 confirmed projects in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
These constitute more than half the Chinese projects in areas under Pakistan’s control, making it a cause of major concern because of the disputed status of the areas. At present, according to government inputs, 122 Chinese companies are active in Pakistan, and most of them are also involved in projects in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan areas.
China, sources said, has suddenly increased its involvement in almost very key sector, and has virtually taken upon itself the responsibility of building basic infrastructure in these areas. The list of projects range from providing mobile connectivity services to building power projects, highways and rail links.
Karakoram Highway Upgradation: The China Road and Bridge Corporation has taken up this project and will give preferential credit of $327 million through its Exim Bank in what is a $491 million project. Two other MoUs on double-laning of the Karakoram Highway as well as widening of the Jaglot-Skardu road have also been signed.
There is a school of thought which says US cleverly encourages India’s anti-China thought while at the same time encouraging China to treat Asia as its backyard…
Pakistan-China rail link: This is a 750 km long rail link between Havelian and the Khunjerab pass along the Karakoram Highway. While feasibility studies are on for this project, Pakistan and China have agreed to establish a joint venture between Pakistan Railways and Dongfang Electric Corporation to initially run only freight trains on this route.
Jhelum Bridge: Pakistan has awarded Rs 1.2 billion contract to a Chinese state company for constructing a major bridge on River Jhelum at Dhangali in Mirpur district.
Five bailey bridges on Gilgit-Skardu road: Xin-jiang Road and Bridge Construction Company of China is replacing five existing beiley bridges on the 167 km long, strategically important Gilgit-skardu road.
Mining: A Chinese company called MCC Resources Development Company Ltd has been allowed to start a mineral exploration exercise in these areas. The Gilgit-Baltistan government has given a reconnaissance licence to the company. Pakistan Surpass Mining Company, which is subsidiary of China’s Xinjiang Surpass Mining Company Ltd, has submitted a $6 million investment proposal for mining in these areas. It plans to set up a hydropower station and molybdenum processing plant in Chupurshan Valley.
Sust dry port: A joint venture named Pak-China Sust Port Company is managing the Sust dry port, 200 km from Gilgit on the Karakoram Highway. Opened four years ago, the Chinese side is the principal stakeholder in the joint venture.
Mobile communication links: China Mobile is providing mobile services in PoK and certain areas of Gilgit-Baltistan. The company has major plans to set up more towers and expand coverage.
China Mobile is providing mobile services in PoK and certain areas of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Diamer-Bhasha dam: China is said to have agreed to finance this $11.3 billion, 4500 MW project. Also, it has agreed to provide the services of the China Three Gorges Project Corporation for the construction of the dam. Sinihydro has shown interest in the development of the project.
Mangla dam raising project: A joint venture comprising China International Water and Electric Corporation and some Pakistan companies have almost completed this project. Once operational, the average annual water availability for irrigation will increase by nearly 3 million acre feet.
Neelum-Jhelum hydro-power project: China Gezhouba Water and Power Corporation, which was part of the Three Gorges project, has formed a consortium and taken up this 969 MW project in Muzaffarabad district. Keen on completing this project before the Kishenganga project on the Indian side, Pakistan has obtained a commitment from the consortium that the work will be finished in eight years. Meanwhile, it has raised objections and gone for arbitration with India on the Kishenganga project under the provision of the Indus Waters Treaty.
Besides these, China has taken up at least four other hydropower projects in these areas – Bhunji project in Gilgit-Baltistan, Kohala project (1100 MW), Naltar project, and smaller projects in places like Phendar, Harpo and Yurlbo.
The US Factor in Sino–Indian Relations
There is a school of thought which says US cleverly encourages India’s anti-China thought while at the same time encouraging China to treat Asia as its backyard and manage it in order to leave America to concentrate on other parts of the world which are of strategic significance to it. This may well be true. In practice, Indo-US strategic partnership is more on paper than on ground. Apart from Indo-US civil nuclear deal, nothing of significance has emerged in Indo-US relations. US still feels India has no role in Afghanistan and Pakistan has a dominant role to play there. We need to wait for Obama visit in Nov to see what contours of an Indo-US Strategic partnership emerge.
China is not All-powerful
Chinese are very good at image projection. Their image projection of their comprehensive national power, nuclear and space capability makes most of the world believe, specially us Indians, that China is a giant and we are no match to it. China has its own problems. Internal stability today is the most critical component of China’s national security paradigm. The salient internal imbalances of China are:-
Five of the worlds most polluted cities are in China. Problem of acid rain is getting worse and total farmland has declined by 20 per cent.
Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region. Xinjiang region has been one of the major flash-points. Over the years, Uighurs and other Muslims have continued to nurse their grievances against issues like re-settlement of Han Chinese in Xinjiang, restrictions on the mosque building activities and population control measures. By revising their historical linkages to Central Asian Republics on the basis of religious identities, Muslim unrest in Xinjiang has revived. In the wake of Beijing Olympics, two major terrorists related incidents took place in Xinjiang claiming around 20 lives.
Tibet. While Tibet’s ties with India involved cultural and commercial interactions, the interface with China was primarily of military and administrative nature. Dalai Lama’s asylum in India and Sino – Indian War in 1962 made China highly skeptical of India’s intentions in Tibet. While Tibet has been largely peaceful, but for the monks initiated unrest in early 2008, it has a very strong political voice in Dalai Lama.
Taiwan. In 1949, as a sequel to the successful communist revolution, Kuomintang leadership set-up itself in Taiwan. President Richard Nixon’s visit to China, in 1972, paved the way for normalization of relations between the two countries. Thereafter, Taiwan no longer enjoyed formal recognition as a sovereign state by any major nation. In 1984, Deng Xiao Ping spoke of “one country, two systems” implying greater flexibility towards reunification with motherland, an issue which remains high on Beijing’s political agenda.
Uneven Regional Development – East vis-à-vis West. The inter-provincial economic gap in China has been growing at a rather fast pace. Western China remains land-locked and shares borders with countries that are unstable. Deng Xiaoping’s “get rich fast” policy resulted in faster growth of China’s coastal belt. Of the FDI actually invested in China, its Western Region has received only three per cent of it. China has taken a series of measures to rectify the imbalances by giving impetus to the development of Western region to bridge the East-West divide.
China’s most serious challenge in the 21st Century is that of securing enough energy resources. With large reserves, China is predominantly dependent on coal as the primary source of energy. This has raised serious environmental concern internationally.
Floating Population and Migration. China today has changed into a highly mobile society, which has been partly forced by the inherent requirements of a rapidly growing industrial economy. This floating population, estimated around 150 million, while in a way integrates China’s deprived sections, but it also exposes them to rapid development. Measures have been put in place to regulate the movement and employment of migrants.
Environmental Challenges. China currently has an “enormous environmental footprint” with regards to polluted air and water. The major challenge to China’s drive toward modernization is environmental degradation and its related problems. Five of the world’s most polluted cities are in China. Problem of acid rain is getting worse and total farmland has declined by 20 per cent. Environmental degradation in China is also contributing to mass internal migration.
Growing Energy Demand. China’s most serious challenge in the 21st Century is that of securing enough energy resources. With large reserves, China is predominantly dependent on coal as the primary source of energy. This has raised serious environmental concern internationally.
Demographic Clock. China has an ageing population which can impede its growth after 2025. While the numbers of people over 60 years i2000 were 123 million, this number is expected to swell to 350 millions by 2030. By 2065, 54 per cent of the population will be over 60. Unless the Government modifies its current one child policy, the ageing population will be a major constraint. As per Barry Naughton “China will grow old before it has had the opportunity to grow richer.
What Should be the Way Ahead?
- Assert your self respect. Ask China to vacate 36800 Sq Km of our territory occupied by it in Aksai-Chin and further West. Tell China categorically that border talks will only start once status quo ante as existed on 15 Aug 1947 is restored.
India’s strong points against China are its air force and navy.
- Stop justifying Chinese intrusions into our territory and do not give excuse of perception difference. In any case our perception of Line of Actual Control in Ladakh is an old Chinese claim line and not any line laid down by us. It is shameful for us to say that only 242 intrusions have taken place and that it is ok.
- Take immediate and urgent steps to improve our infrastructure in border areas. Force deployment and force projection is not possible unless you have the infrastructure in place.
- Concentrate on improving your Strategic Capability i.e. Missile/Nuclear and Space vis a vis China.
- India’s strong points against China are its air force and navy. Give priority for their modernization.
- Take urgent and required steps to improve our relations with our smaller neighbours. Do not neglect this aspect by only concentrating on relations with the US. Do not go running to the US to pull your chestnuts out of fire. They will not do it.
- Do not fall all over yourself to get a dialogue going with Pakistan. It makes no difference if we completely stop Indo-Pak dialogue. We must understand that Pakistan will never give up its terror card against us.
- We have never asked Pakistan to vacate PoK and Northern Areas in accordance with UNCIP Resolution of 13 Aug 48 and UN Security Council Resolution of Jan 1949 to which Pakistan had agreed. Do it on a daily basis. This automatically includes Shaksgam valley illegally ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963. The ball must be firmly put in their court.
- If you don’t have the courage to say that Tibet is a Chinese colony, at least do not parrot the line that Tibet is an integral part of China. Wait for reciprocity.
- All dealings with China and all talks must be in the public domain. Do not take cover under the fig leaf of national security.
- We need to use our leverages vis a vis China whether it is Dalai Lama, co-operation with Japan, increased economic interaction with Taiwan and strategic partnership with the US. We should not be coy about expressing our displeasure over Chinese intrusions, its visa policy in J&K and its complete disregard for our sensibilities on practically every issue that concerns us.
- Media must not go hysterical about Chinese intrusions and other anti India actions. It only puts under pressure on the political leadership. It has to be objective and pragmatic.
- And finally policy of Chinese appeasement must stop.
It would be foolhardy on our part to believe that our problems with China, including the border problem are nearer solution. China is not interested in solving the border issue since it keeps India anxious and unhinged. We need to quietly build our military strength, improve infrastructure in the border areas and concentrate on our strategic capability. We should also not hesitate to use our leverages. The need is to look the Dragon straight in the eye and not flinch. Remember what Winston Churchill said “Do not bend your knees before insolent might”.
- The Washington Quarterly. 31.3 pp 125–141.
- US Department of Defence annual Report to Congress – Military Power of People’s Republic of china 2009.
- M. Taylor Frovel – The Evolution of china’s Military Strategy.
- India’s China War – Neville Maxwell.
- Zhang Quanqui – Jiang Jemin’s Thought on National Defence.
- Dennis. J. Blasko – The Chinese Army Today : Tradition and Transformation for 21st Century.
- M. Taylor. Frovel – Security Borders: China’s Doctrine and Force Structure for Frontier Defence.
- Cariappa – His Life and Times – Brig CB Khanduri.
- Chinese Projects in PoK and Northern Areas – Manu Pubby – Indian Express.