When Cornered China’s Diplomacy Borders on being Boorish
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 28 Aug , 2016

“Should the Indian Government fail to change this decision at once, to have the Indian armed forces promptly withdraw from Chinese territory which they have seized unlawfully, responsibility for all the serious consequences arising therefrom will necessarily rest with the Indian Government.” [Note given to the Ambassador of India by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, 1 September 1959. Indian White Paper No. 2]

Strange but true, the tone, tenor and template of the Chinese diplomacy does not seem to have changed in these last 57 years!

“Recent years have seen the Western world giving too many thumbs up to India, but thumbs down to China. India is spoiled. Although the South Asian country’s GDP accounts for only 20 per cent of that of China, it is still a golden boy in the eyes of the West, having a competitive edge and more potential compared to China. The international ‘adulation’ of India makes the country a bit smug in international affairs.”

“Some Indians are too self-centered and self-righteous. On the contrary, the Indian government behaves decently and is willing to communicate. Throwing a tantrum won’t be an option for New Delhi,” it said.

“India’s nationalists should learn how to behave themselves. Now that they wish their country could be a major power, they should know how major powers play their games,” the daily said. [Write up in the Editorial of the State-run Global Times of June 27, 2016 in response to Indian public outrage on India being denied membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.] 

Strange but true, the tone, tenor and template of the Chinese diplomacy does not seem to have changed in these last 57 years!!!! As in the past it still smacks of condescension and is blatantly patronizing bordering on being boorish.

The dictionary defines diplomacy as entailing in the ‘skill of managing international relations’. At people to people level it relates to ‘skill and tact in dealing with people’ – as a corollary: it would, therefore, also apply to a country dealing with other countries. Another explanation of diplomacy is given as – “Diplomacy at its essence is the conduct of relationships, using peaceful means, by and among international actors, at least one of whom is usually governmental. The typical international actors are states and the bulk of diplomacy involves relations between states directly, or between states, international organizations, and other international actors”. [Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, Online Publication August 2013].  Apparently, China does not take cognisance of definitions from foreign language dictionaries and authors! Its diplomacy has the erudite “Chinese characteristics”!! 

…it is reportedly alleged that the acting Chinese Ambassador hinted that if India supported China’s stance on the SCS issue it (China) would consider India’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh more favourably!!!!! 

Case Study 1

China’s reaction to the verdict of the UN tribunal – The Hague based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that its sovereignty claims over South China Sea (SCS) and attempts to enforce them violate international law, was predictable.  Since it comes with no enforcement measures, China has outright rejected it. China warned that it would declare the SCS as an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). Simultaneously it alerted its military to prepare for any eventuality of conflict. It despatched naval ships to carry out exercises in those waters.

Here in Delhi it is reportedly alleged that the acting Chinese Ambassador hinted that if India supported China’s stance on the SCS issue it (China) would consider India’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh more favourably!!!!! As an afterthought he presumptuously suggested that may be some time in future Andaman and Nicobar Islands could also become disputed?!?! If he did actually say what is alleged then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should haul him up. Since the internal political noise in our country is so deafening such issues do not find place for debate or discussion in its din. It will be recalled that in November 2006, just days before Chinese Premier Hu Jintao’s state visit to India, Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi, stated that the whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. Its histrionics continued and in May 2007, China denied visa to Ganesh Koyu, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from Arunachal Pradesh, who was to be a part of a 107 IAS officer study visit to Beijing and Shanghai. China pointed out that Koyu is a Chinese citizen since he belongs to Arunachal Pradesh and hence could visit China without a visa. Once again in June 2009, China tried to block India’s request for US$ 2.9 billion loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as the request included US$ 60 million for flood management, water supply, and sanitation project in Arunachal Pradesh. This was the first time that China sought to broadcast its claim on Arunachal Pradesh in a multi-lateral forum.

In the course of the sixteen rounds of the meetings of the Special Representatives to resolve the boundary issue there is a grapevine going around that China may give up its claim of Arunachal Pradesh if India lets go Tawang. Here it would be pertinent to recount a bit of history. On 25th August, 1959, the Chinese troops came south of the Himalayan watershed and occupied Longju. They have continued to occupy Indian territory there till date. China’s claim to Longju was based on their interpretation of the alignment of McMahon Line. However, it was also a rejection of the principle that the alignment of the McMahon Line would be along the ‘highest watershed’. It is a moot point that after the Chinese unilaterally declared cease-fire at the stroke of mid-night of 21 November 1962, the PLA withdrew north of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh except in Longju. By the most liberal interpretation of the McMahon Line, Tawang lies well south of it and so probably the Chinese considered it prudent to withdraw from Tawang lest they are seen as reneging on what Zhou Enlai had accepted in 1959 – when he called it “the so called McMahon Line” (Zhou Enlai’s letter of 7th November 1959 to Mr Nehru refers).

Since the past few years, Chinese strategy vis-à-vis POK appears to be heading toward gaining tacit control of the region — both militarily and politico-diplomatically.  

Case Study 2

China is undertaking the construction of a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project – China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPC) – it enters Pakistan through the territory of J&K currently under Pakistan occupation and which stands disputed between India and Pakistan. India expressed its concern to China on its venture through a disputed area. China brusquely dismissed India’s sensitivity.  On the other hand, the political leadership in China is quick to interpret any movement in and around its areas of “core interest” as an attempt to contain its “peaceful rise”. However, the approach is diametrically opposite while explaining the crafty strategies put in place by Beijing in so far as dealing with regional challengers.

To cite an earlier example, in 1998-99, the Joint Working Group set up to address the India-China boundary question had proposed conduct of joint adventure activities by the India Army and Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) of the then Lanzhou Military Area Command. The first such adventure activity planned was a mountaineering expedition to the twin peaks of Nun-Kun in the J&K Himalayas. The Chinese backed out of the expedition stating that since J&K was a disputed area between India and Pakistan it would not be politically correct to venture into such a disputed area keeping the sensitivities of Pakistan in mind or words that that effect. Seventeen years down the time-line China has forgotten its own ‘principled’ stand and today has a large military and civilian presence in POK (that includes Gilgit-Baltistan).

Since the past few years, Chinese strategy vis-à-vis POK appears to be heading toward gaining tacit control of the region — both militarily and politico-diplomatically. China is forcing Pakistan to alter the current political status of Gilgit-Baltistan within Pakistan. From Beijing’s point of view, a political status for Gilgit-Baltistan would address the domestic concerns of the local people from being exploited by Islamabad, and externally the Indian objections. To enable this, a high level committee has been formed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, which is contemplating to elevate the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan in a bid to provide legal cover to the multi-billion-dollar Chinese investment plan. The proposal would see the region of Gilgit-Baltistan, for the first time in the country’s constitution, bringing it one step closer to being fully absorbed as an additional province of Pakistan. As a consequence the entire dispute of J&K will be altered completely and made complicated for any long-term resolution. Willy-nilly Pakistan will insist on including China in the deliberations thereby bringing in a third party – something Pakistan has always tried to manipulate.

China is strategically leveraging Pakistan in order to keep India on tenterhooks. India is today militarily most adequately poised to avenge any 1962 type misadventure by China.

Case Study 3

China’s reaction to India’s exploration for oil and natural gas off the coast of Vietnam well within Vietnam’s EEZ, by ONGC-Videsh, was vicious and threatening. India defended the projects stating that they were purely commercial and need not be politicised. Consequent to the verdict of the Arbitration Court China will be on the back foot if India and Vietnam recommence exploration in Vietnams EEZ. China Daily in an editorial termed India’s plans to conduct oil exploration as “illegal” stating it as “unwise move” which would “do a disservice to maintain the positive momentum” to improve ties. The Global Times editorial stated that India was making forays into the SCS while treating the Indian Ocean as its own sphere of influence. In contrast, the Deputy Director General of Asia Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs justified Chinese presence in POK stating that “We know the concern of the Indian side and these projects are not political projects. They are ‘all for livelihood’ of the people. There is no commercial action by China in that part of the region”.

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China has always pursued its interests aggressively even when it was at a much lower level with regard to its overall comprehensive national power. An assertive foreign policy backed by a fairly modern military force that does not thinks twice in resorting to brinkmanship, has given China the confidence to get its way. While China was at pains to explain that its rise is merely ‘peaceful development’, it is in fact manifesting into a real ‘China threat’ and giving wing to the ‘China Threat Theory’ of the late 90’s.

China is strategically leveraging Pakistan in order to keep India on tenterhooks. There is a school of thought which suggests to quote former National Security Advisor – “Why create self-fulfilling prophesies of conflict with powerful neighbours like China?” And he added thereafter: “For me that is one of the lessons of the fifties that some of us are in danger of forgetting.” China too has observed that India has not moved beyond the 1962. It is not hawkish to draw another lesson from that period – keep your powder dry. A strong military force is not meant to fight as it is to ensure peace and non-interference. India is today militarily most adequately poised to avenge any 1962 type misadventure by China. In addition, Indian government is standing firm in not being jostled by China’s machinations, which has rattled the Chinese. India, too, needs to pursue and secure its own interests above anything else; it has the soft and hard power to do just that. It needs to muster the WILL.

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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 (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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3 thoughts on “When Cornered China’s Diplomacy Borders on being Boorish

  1. Chinese are known to pursue their point of view with no time limits set for themselves. They have tried and succeeded to some extent in increasing their presence in the Indian Ocean under our very nose. Apathetic approach to her such ventures is not understood. Case studies mentioned by the author need diligent highlighting in the international fora for all to understand it well.

    Our own economic development is marred by lack of confidence , quality control and will to achieve excellence in output. This issue alone will make the Nation strong and ensure subdued response from our adversaries. High time we rose above petty gains to look at things with a long term perspective.
    My compliments to the author for so succintly bringing out the Chinese approach and I hope like hell that our diplomats emphasise the issue with vigour due to it.

  2. China has been adopting an expansionist policy by suppressing all kinds of dissent. Subjugation of Tibet and Xinjian are a case in point. Taiwan has so far stood up to its boorish conduct through stable alliances. China feels Its increasing economic clout will translate automatically into an increased military supremacy totally forgetting that even a country such as Vietnam with miniscule military strength in comparison to its military might stood up to challenge its hegemony through resolute will and determination. India has the capacity to display such deftness when confronted with threat. 1962 is long behind us.

  3. Well analyzed. China is behaving like a bigoted nation, hallucinating with dreams like Hitler. Global Times uses idiotic language against India – certifying itself in the category of third rate rag. This People’s War joke has gone on too long and false sense of superiority has been played too long – hiding the misery of its poor. The real People’s War is waiting inside China.

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