So, who has a Cold War Mindset?
It is ironical that while it is the Middle Kingdom which is getting ready for another stand-off, it loudly objects to New Delhi protecting its side of the border
China has difficulties to digest the Doklam episode for which Beijing (or at least the People’s Liberation Army) was fully responsible. Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson of the Ministry of Nation Defense (MND), in his regular monthly Press conference spoke in a derogatory manner: “I have noticed many China-related remarks made by this Indian general lately.” ‘This general’ is the Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, who had just said India needed to shift its focus to the northern border. A logical and normal statement after last year’s confrontation at the tri-junction between Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan?
Col Wu continued: “I would like to stress that Donglang [Doklam] is China’s territory and the remarks from the Indian side also shows that illegal border crossing of the Indian troops is a clear fact. We hope that the Indian side will draw lessons from the incident.”He also spoke of India’s ‘Cold War mentality’.
A look at the facts: In 2012, the Governments of India and China had reached an agreement that the location of the tri-junction would be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries. On June 30, 2017, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement: “Any attempt, therefore, to unilaterally determine tri-junction points is in violation of this understanding.” The finalisation of the boundary was to take place during the Special Representatives’ talks.
In June-July 1956, a tour of the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet frontier from the tri-junction area was conducted by the Ministry of External Affairs, the Survey of India, along with Bhutanese officials. The location of the boundary was reconfirmed on the watershed principle, but also on the basis of the reports of the local inhabitants: “The Bhutan-Tibet frontier starts in the vicinity of Batang La and runs along the La Hen Chum ridge via Sinchu La and then along the Amo Chu upto Chilim Chon.” The description continues till the Chomo Lhari, in North-West Bhutan.
Interestingly, the factors which weighed in favour of the confirmation of this boundary were, firstly, “[in] the west of Amo Chu, the published Chinese maps themselves appeared to include the Doklam pastures (south of Batang La and Sinchu La line) in Bhutan; and secondly, the east of Amo Chu, the Bhutanese had strong claims over the pastures of the Langmarpo valley (south of Tendji ridge).”
Why did China need to suddenly change the status quo and start building a road on the Bhutanese territory?
It was apparently the initiative of a Chinese General, with the knowledge of President Xi Jinping (who was probably not briefed on the details of the operation and its implications).
In an informed piece, The Indian Express recently questioned: “Who in the Chinese hierarchy ordered the extension of the track in Dolam from the point it had been constructed up to in 2003, to the Jampheri ridge?”
According to the newspaper, the road construction was ordered by General Zhao Zongqi, commander of the Western Theatre Command facing India; Zhao had, for two decades, served in Tibet.
The Indian Express said: “Even before the face-off in Doklam, Chinese border troops had been telling Indian soldiers in daily interactions at multiple points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that General Zhao had walked each of these tracks with military patrols over 20 years, and had been rarely confronted by the Indians. As the Indian deployment has increased over the past decade, General Zhao is unwilling to accept the challenge to Chinese claims. Not only in Doklam, but also at other places on the LAC.”
It might partly be speculation, but there is no doubt today about the involvement of General Zhao, who probably had forgotten to read the agreement arrived at by the Indian and Chinese diplomats in 2012 about the status quo at the tri-junction. Amongst other things, it shows that China does not always speak with one voice.
While the PLA talks of a Cold War mindset, pointing a finger at India, China is not ready to restart the usual Border Personnel Meetings (BPM) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Only two BPMs took place on the occasion of the Republic Day, both in Ladakh region (in DBO and Chushul area). Why was no BPM held in Bumla, Kibithu in Arunachal and Nathu-la in Sikkim?
Why has the Indian drone, which accidentally fell in the Chumbi Valley, not yet been returned? Why has information on the flow of the Sutlej and Pareechu rivers in Himachal and the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra still not been shared with India?
The Central Water Commission recently raised serious concerns over the Pareechu and even sought the Ministry of External Affair’s help: “We wrote to the Ministry. China stopped sharing information about the tributary’s flow last year. They said that the water monitoring site across the border is damaged,” AK Gupta, the Commission’s regional director told The Hindustan Times.
On New Year’s Eve, President Xi Jinping delivered an 11-minute televised speech to extend his greetings to all Chinese and… friends all over the world. Xi said that Beijing is dedicated to safeguarding peace. “China will act as a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and an upholder of the international order.”
Will this translate in peace on the border in 2018? Probably not! Soon after, the PLA intruded in Tuting sector of the Siang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. The irony is that while China itself is getting ready for another standoff, Beijing loudly objects to Delhi protecting its side of the border.
The China Daily recently reported: “Investment in infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is helping to lift 628 villages along the border out of poverty.” The Chinese newspaper further asserted: “After getting access to electricity and the construction of new roads, tea farmers and herdsmen in a village some 200 kilometres southwest of Lhasa in Tsona county founded a cooperative that provides skill training and job opportunities for villagers.”
Lepo, the first Tibetan village north on the McMahon Line in the Tawang sector, is said to have received several thousands of visitors last year and to have adequate lodging facilities.
China also admitted: “Starting last year, more than 100 million yuan (Rs 99.4 crore) has been invested in infrastructure in villages of less than 100 families as a part of a broader construction project to build model villages in the border area.”
There are many such examples on the Tibetan side of the McMahon Line.
In the meantime, it is refreshing that the new Indian Ambassador in China, Gautam Bambawale told The Global Times: Our interaction must be based on equality and mutual benefit. Also, in the India-China border areas, especially at some sensitive points, it is important not to change the status quo. We need to be clear about this.”
It is indeed China which did not respect its engagements. Year 2018 may not be serene despite the peaceful vows of President Xi.