China’s reaction to India’s plan to construct a strategic road from Vijay Nagar to Twang in Arunachal Pradesh was rather offensive. Ignoring all diplomatic niceties, it threatened India of dire consequences if it pressed on with its plans. Since China claims Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet, it reacts to any initiative that India takes there. A few days later when India also announced its intentions to establish 54 new border posts along the Arunachal Pradesh border, China reacted again by warning India to refrain from taking any action that may “complicate or exaggerate” the boundary Issue. This time however China’s reaction was not as abrasive as its earlier reaction on October 15, 2014. Notwithstanding, China’s demeanour has invariably been intimidating when it comes to matters pertaining to Indo-Tibetan border. Despite the treaty of “Peace and tranquillity” signed between the two countries to keep the border peaceful, the Chinese continue to stir trouble by frequent intrusions across the LAC often when least expected.
Not wanting to ruffle the feathers, the government of India has been trying to down play such incidents. This not only puts India on the back foot but also conveys a wrong message. China misconstrues this propensity on part of India as its weakness.
The PLA engineered a major confrontation across the LAC at Chumar in South East Ladakh in September 2014, and created a potentially dangerous face off at a time when President Xi Jinping’s was to arrive on a maiden visit to India. One was left wondering as to what exactly led four hundred strong PLA contingent to intrude across the LAC at that juncture. The military establishment in India is still wondering at China’s motives. Again in April 2013, just ten days ahead of the Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s maiden visit to India, thirty odd Chinese soldiers intruded 19 km deep inside the Indian territory and set up a camp at Depsang in Northern Ladakh.
Engineering major face offs days prior to their political leadership’s visits to India is rather puzzling. Is it that the Chinese are trying to assert and strengthen their claims in the western sector in this manner, the eastern one being far more intractable and better left for the future? Apparently, it seems to be so. The Chinese have been observed quite active and invasive in the western sector for some time now. They have been carrying out aggressive patrolling all this while
Not wanting to ruffle the feathers, the government of India has been trying to down play such incidents. This not only puts India on the back foot but also conveys a wrong message. China misconstrues this propensity on part of India as its weakness. It believes that India fears escalation and avoids confrontation.
However, these tactical level confrontations do not pose serious challenges, for these are kept under control and not allowed to escalate beyond a point into strategic domain. The fact that both the stands offs coincided with visits of the Prime Minister and the President are suggestive of a definite game plan. These are not random occurrences. These are in fact systematic violations of the LAC at critical junctures designed to assert their position. The fact that on his return from India, President Xi went on to exhort his armed forces to hone their skills to win regional wars speaks for itself. The President at the same time talked of “a fair, rational solution framework acceptable to both sides as soon as possible.” For China, its core strategic interests remain paramount, uncompromised and undiluted, political process, trade, investment and general bonhomie notwithstanding, Chinese words do not always match their actions on the ground. They practice ambivalence with great finesse. Candour is rarely their forte’.
…the Chinese believe that by keeping the border dispute simmering would keep India under pressure.
There is a view in some quarters that President Xi’s leadership is under stress and currently being challenged by assertive PLA, otherwise how could it create confrontations just as its ‘supreme commander’ was visiting a country that required sensitive handling of inter-state relations. It is difficult to believe so merely because September 2014 standoff continued right through President’s entire visit to India and that he was not able to quell or prevent it. It’s really an enigma because he is not only the President of China, but also the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Therefore, one cannot rule out altogether the possibility of a tacit approval of these provocations at the highest levels of Chinese hierarchy.
Obviously, the Chinese believe that by keeping the border dispute simmering would keep India under pressure. They rather wait for more opportune time to assert their power credential and seek resolution on their own terms. In the interim, they would rather keep India guessing. That is why they are unwilling to demarcate the LAC and exchange maps.
Also, China is unhappy with India’s growing relations with Vietnam and other ASEAN countries. India’s widening arc of influence in keeping with its “look east” policy and long term strategic engagements with the region are viewed by China as inimical to its national interest. Burgeoning cooperation between India and Vietnam is not only confined to exploring hydrocarbons in South China Sea but also extends to wide ranging cooperation in the field of defence. Despite the fact that the oil exploration blocks offered by Vietnam lie within the territorial waters of Vietnam, China continues to warn India not to get involved in South China Sea. It does n’t want to see India playing a stellar role in a region that it considers as its sphere of influence. Also, India’s growing relations with Japan, Australia and the US are viewed by China with a certain degree of suspicion. It feels it may be able to constrain India’s strategic behaviour by keeping the border dispute simmering indefinitely.
One does not quite know the Chinese mind. It’s quite possible that they might have been trying to asses India’s new political leadership. And, if that be so, firm stand taken by Modi government against Chinese ingress into Chumar area has driven the point home. Government’s emphasis on economic engagement notwithstanding, instructions to the army not to blink first unlike the self defeating approach of the past was something new that the Chinese had never encountered before. Finally, the diplomacy prevailed without either side having the better of the other. Chinese may have to rethink their strategies afresh. The Indian government too has to be prepared to face new challenges.
India believes that there is enough space for both to grow simultaneously but China is not willing to accept India’s contention and its legitimate standing in Asian as well as global security calculus.
Both sides need each other and stand to gain from cooperative engagement rather than confrontation. India believes that there is enough space for both to grow simultaneously but China is not willing to accept India’s contention and its legitimate standing in Asian as well as global security calculus. The Chinese do not see India beyond a South Asian regional power. In fact, China tries to convey an impression that India does not figure in its scheme of things. It is the deep rooted geo-political rivalry between the two countries that is at the core of all issues. It is in this context that the Chinese have stepped up their efforts to negate India’s influence in its neighbourhood. Its emphasis on maritime diplomacy with economic and military succour is directed towards the very same objective of undermining India’s influence in Indian Ocean and the littoral states. Large scale help to Pakistan to boost its military and the nuclear weapon programme is part of the same strategy.
China being a global power has a dominant status in Asia. Currently, the balance of power is heavily biased in China’s favour and not likely to change for time to come. With China’s GDP nearly four times larger than that of India and fully developed indigenous design and production capabilities, Chinese politico-military leadership and its armed forces feel quite secure in the belief that they can meet the challenges of the hostile environment that prevails all around. That’s what perhaps makes them so assertive and even intimidating in their diplomatic conduct. .
In contrast, India’s financial resources limit its rise as a military power beyond a certain point. Against the requirement of around 3 percent of GDP, Indian armed forces are generally allotted a little over 2 percent. India’s defence budget at $ 38 billion seem rather meagre against China’s $ 115 billion. Whilst India cannot afford to match China gun for gun, ship for ship and aircraft for aircraft, what it can however do is to build comprehensive national power with simultaneous focus on up gradation of military industrial base in order to become self reliant. It’s an era of short and high intensity limited wars with limited objectives. We have to tailor our strategies to meet fast emerging situations in a way that the adversary is deterred from any misadventure. For this, India has to prioritise its options and work out alignments at regional as well as global levels to meet the fast emerging challenges. A fresh look at economic policies and politico- diplomatic initiatives would also be necessary to garner new partnerships to balance China.