Wearing a grey suit identical to Mao Zedong, President Xi Jinping addressed the massive public gathering for the centenary celebrations of China from the balcony of the Tiananmen Gate. He said China will not allow itself to be bullied and anyone who tries will face “broken heads and bloodshed in front of the iron Great Wall of the 1.4 billion Chinese people.” He also said China had restored order in Hong Kong following anti-government protests in the semi-autonomous city in 2019 and reiterated Beijing’s determination to bring self-governing Taiwan under its control.
During his maiden visit to Nepal in October 2019, Xi thundered that anyone attempting to “split” China will be “crushed”. This perhaps was directed at Hong Kong protesters and Taiwan but also at Tibetan refugees in Nepal and indirectly to Nepal’s Government as well. Xi announced support of 3.5 billion RMB (Nepalese ₹ 56 billion) to Nepal over next two years to assist development programs. Both countries decided to elevate their bilateral ties to strategic partnership of cooperation and feasibility study to launch the Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini Railway Project.
In 2009, Chinese troops had crossed into the Humla District of Nepal for first the time and constructed a veterinary centre for livestock. In November 2019, protesters in Nepal burnt effigies of Xi Jinping after Nepal’s Survey Department released a report that Beijing had encroached on 36 hectares of Nepalese land. Government data suggested Nepal stood to lose a further several hundred hectares of land to Beijing.
According to a report published in the UK-based Telegraph in November 2019, PLA began seizing Nepali land in five frontier districts in May 2019 and annexed 150 acres of Nepalese territory. In the Humla region PLA troops crossed the border into the Limi Valley and Hilsa, as also in Gorkha District, removing previously demarcated boundary stone pillars and move deeper into Nepalese territory before constructing military bases. Notably, this annexation was already underway when Xi visited Nepal in October 2019 on his way back from India. JivanBahadurShahi, lawmaker of Nepali Congress Party told media, “Why should China come over into Nepal, when China is already sixty times the size of our small country?” But the administration of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli denied Nepal had lost any territory.
Within a month of the India-China standoff at Doklam Plateau in Bhutan having been called off in 2017, PLA occupied major part of the Doklam Plateau and erected high observation towers to look into Indian Territoryof Sikkim. Indian and Bhutanese media made no mention of this development. In November 2018 foreign media reported China having built village ‘Pangda’ inside the southwestern border of Bhutan. One year later, satellite imagery showed Chinese village ‘Gyalaphug’ two kilometers inside Bhutan with a new road leading to it; about nine kilometers from the India-China standoff in the Doklam Plateau during 2017. Another report revealed other areas of Western Bhutan have also been gradually encroached by China to secure access to the border with India. Bhutan denied these villages are in its territory – it can hardly be expected to take on China.
In January 2021, a newly constructed Chinese village in Arunachal Pradesh was reported by media in Longju in Upper Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh, some 4.5 kilometers inside Indian Territory, construction of which was concurrent to the 2020 Chinese aggression in Ladakh. This led to anti-China protests in Arunachal Pradesh. Queries raised by a media outlet along with satellite images of the Chinese village to Ministry of External Affairs received an ambiguous response.India is yet to officially term China the aggressor for last year’s aggression in Eastern Ladakh. On the contrary, China branded India aggressor from day one cashing on naïve statements of our lawmakers that we too keep going across the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The stalemate in Ladakh has denied us patrolling hundreds of sq km of our territory while PLA is lodged on our side of LAC at Gogra, Hot Springs and Depsang. India is hopeful of progressing the disengagement talks with China and there is speculation that External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar may discuss the issue with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on sidelines of Foreign Ministers SCO Meet at Dushanbe. However, media reports indicate that PLA is constructing permanent observation towers with CCTV cameras in its new locations in Eastern Ladakh, which does not bode well.
The general belief is that China’s land grab is overlooked by neighbouring countries because of ‘political compulsions at home’, which is apparent. Bhutan can hardly take on China and Nepal is trapped in China’s strategic sphere. In India the narrative either is ‘we cannot fight China’ or ‘we should wait to confront China till we develop similar capabilities’ which is unlikely for several years or perhaps decades notwithstanding future economic predictions.
China employs a ‘Strategy of Intimidation’ through: diplomacy; economic, information and psychological warfare; perception management; buying out politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats, corporate, influential individuals and groups, scholars, media houses and NGOs, and: educational and other organizations. China employs hard and soft power through inducements, psychological conditioning, scholarships, training, Confucius Institutes, people-to-people engagement and the like.
It has recently come to light that between November 2016 and April 2020, China bribed US media houses like the New York Times and the Washington Post to the tune of US$19 million. This disclosure has come through the report submitted by the China Daily to China’s justice Department for the stated period. The major media outlets mentioned in the report include the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times.
It goes without saying that above cannot be the first instance and the first country where China is ‘buying’ foreign media. What must be of utmost concern to us is both China and Pakistan pouring huge amounts into media houses (located abroad and in India), scholars, journalists and reporters to shape perceptions in their interest and we have never bothered to find out the scale of bribery and the recipients. We don’t even follow why some journalists are giving out specific details of movement of our formations and troops related to our borders with China and Pakistan in TV interviews. This even includes one journalist who obviously is getting periodic official briefings – does it mean the official is also on someone’s payroll.
China’s Strategy of Intimidation is working. Witness one China stooge scripting that China is too big a power and war with China will be over in 7-10 days; implying we will be annihilated unless we surrender territory China wants. But the fact remains that the worst is yet to come and the Chinese mean business as NN Vohra former Governor of J&K has recently stated. We need to fight out the next offensive move China makes. If Vietnam could defeat the US and China, no reason we cannot. Unless we stand up we will continue to be on the receiving end.
No doubt our response to China cannot be only military muscle. For example, see the reference to China’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) in the recent article ‘India’s superficial understanding of China will no longer do’ by former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale. Then is China’s ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ and within that its concept of ‘Deep Coalitions’. We need counters to these rather than only seeking foreign help when criticalities arise aside from banking on media spin doctors for consumption of public at home.