The informed public and armed forces in our country have always wondered as to why the Governments down the line from Nehru right down to the present regime though to a lesser extent, have always been in awe of China? I searched for the answer and at last, I have found it! It is due to servile bureaucrats of the MEA. These appeasers always brief the politicians and pass on their own psychosis of fear to them. As it is, all the PMs including PM Modi hardly listen to their Chiefs. The NSA who singularly lacks all exposure to the operational art and strategy, who in conjunction with a career diplomat who has become the Foreign Minister do all the briefing with no strategic advice from Chiefs. I thought; once a CDS is appointed it would solve the problem but not so; he was taken only as an appendage to fill the blank in the organisation rather than to be heard as he was not even a member of the CCS. Even after the sad demise of Gen Rawat the government does not seem to be missing his inputs; and is in no hurry to appoint his successor.
Now let us look at our foreign policy towards China. Skipping Nehru’s monumental appeasement and abject unilateral surrender which have been sad chapters in our history; I will straight away come to our Diplomacy towards China during NDA One. The NSA set the ball rolling in 2014 to build a bonhomie and bond between Modi and Xi. The entire time was utilised in misleading the PM regarding the Chinese intentions. Jaishankar was then the Foreign Secretary and later became the Foreign Minister in the NDA Two; the Duo powered their way towards appeasement of China. The infection spread to the Home Ministry as the LAC is under the control of the ITBP. With no direct responsibility in the management of the LAC, the Army Corps at Leh was also caught napping when the Chinese up stuck from their routine annual exercises and instead of returning to their barracks, came and occupied the 1959 LAC and took possession of the ‘No Man’s Land’. The reality dawned on the Duo in May 2020. They realised that they had misled the PM and fell to the Chinese Chuker. The next strategy was for the NSA to go silent and put the MEA on the block to handle the schemozzle. Thereafter it was from one capitulation to another and ultimately, we have landed in a piquant situation when China is calling the shots and we are left to plead with them for the next Military Commanders’ talks. China in turn is taking its own sweet time as all cards are in its hands and we are not inclined to use the cards in our hands due to our inability to execute a firm policy.
Again, I will not repeat as I have written in my earlier articles as to how China manipulated us in vacating the Kailash Range (Chushul Heights). Its importance and its commanding observation have already been explained in detail in my earlier articles. Now, with no leverage in our hands, we are at the mercy of China to continue with the Military Commanders’ talks. At the same time, the ITBP has been blocked from accessing the Depsang Plains an area of approximately 900 sq. Kms. The ipso facto occupation of these plains by China threatens DBO Post and its Airfield, Siachen from the East, and also our access to Karakoram Pass. It will also safeguard his vulnerability as the plains provide direct access to threaten and interdict G219, the strategic Highway linking Tibet with Xinjiang.
We have also seen that China is constructing 629 border villages along the Indo-Tibetan Border which will station civilian population in conjunction with defence posts with inbuilt surveillance capability, and connected by road and OFC communications. These have been integrated into the overall defence network. It also provides legitimacy as a part of its legal warfare for future negotiations. It also underscores the Sino-Indian Agreement of 2005 on Political parameters of Settled Population that envisages this factor be kept in mind during border negotiations. It is a well-thought-out plan to add muscles to their version of the Sino-Indian Border.
China had occupied 37, 555 Sq. Km in Ladakh in 1962 and earlier, it had illegally taken over 5200 Sq. Kms of Shaksgam Valley from Pakistan; a strategic part of POK that borders the Siachen Glacier from the North. Sham Saran Report of 2012 has revealed that a further 640 Sq. Km of the area in Ladakh has been lost to creeping invasions by China. The recent intrusions and occupation of ‘No Man’s Land’ has further yielded about 900 Sq. Km of the area in Depsang Plains alone. In the discussions of the Military Commanders of both the countries; China has very cleverly exerted pressure by confabulating with our ever-yielding diplomats by interspersing military commanders’ talks with meetings of foreign ministers and Working Mechanism for Controlling and Coordination (WMCC) headed by Additional Secretary of MEA, leaving very little space for the Military Commanders to manoeuvre, and curtailing their scope only for coordination and tying up loose ends. Now; what next? After the failure of the 13th and 14th Military Commanders’ talks, we are left to plead with China for the 15th Meeting. What a sad plight the MEA has landed our country in?
As we do not want to exercise any of our leverages against China; we hear Jaishankar giving out conciliatory statements; case in point to Bloomberg TV on 19 Nov 2021; when he said that it is left to China; where they want to take our relationship? Yes, Jaishankar; India is a doormat and will wait with bated breath to see with awe and consternation the disposition of China towards India and then express relief that it has still not attacked us? What a let-down?
Next, let us look at the Quad Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Melbourne this month. India’s foreign minister was afflicted with amnesia, hence do not blame him for forgetting that the Chinese have ever intruded into Ladakh? Read his remarks at the Joint Press Meet; it would be well-nigh impossible for the most incisive minds to extract any substance out of those 673 words. For all we know, he could have come for the meeting from some exoplanet and was forced to make a statement extempore. So detached; the usual bromides, expression of thanks replete with glib diplomatic shibboleths; one could change the names and places in the remarks and it would be as good and pertinent at an International Film Festival. Only when a reporter asked a question on the Ladakh standoff, he responded that the situation at the LAC had arisen due to disregard by China of written agreements with India; perhaps it was the boldest response he has ever made in regard to China? I want to thank the reporter for asking the question otherwise the whole meeting would have ended without indicting China in spite of its blatant aggression. The joint statement of Quad has referred to Pakistan and Afghanistan but not a word on Chinese incursions and hostile activities on the Indo-Tibetan Borders. I don’t blame the Quad as we ourselves want to remain silent on it and put China at ease to carry out her hostile actions against us without international recriminations; let alone ‘recrimination’; we don’t want the world to take ‘cognisance’ of it, as well! We are always generous to our enemies as a couple of hundred Km can be bartered away for appeasing; did not Nehru say on 5 Dec 1961 during a debate in Rajya Sabha while discussing the Chinese occupation of parts of Aksai Chen; “It is a territory where not even a blade of grass grows, about 17,000 feet high. Ladakh is a useless uninhabitable land. Not a blade of grass grows there. We did not even know where it was”. Yes; the MEA, probably, lives by that statement, even today?
Our Future Strategy to Deal with China
I am utterly saddened by the spineless strategy adopted by the Duo. We are unwittingly falling for China’s skulduggery. I don’t understand why do we keep pleading with China for de-escalation? There is no need to deescalate till the time we resolve our International Border. The time to plead with them for April 2020 statuesque is over. We should tell them that we are there to stay till we finally restore our International Borders as per the Sino-Indian Agreements on 1993, 1996, 2003,2005, 2012, and 2013; albeit with few gives and takes.
You will see that we have a foreign policy without sound fundamentals. It is the management of crises as they emerge, with no coherent policy that guides our country. What is consistent is that we play righteous cards and try to bring in non-violence and non-alignment when we need to exhibit iron fist and show our political will. We go bilateral when we need to go multilateral. Our continuous obeisance to China when we need to kick them in their groins is perplexing. When they have arrayed 60,000 troops in Ladakh and building bridges and villages on our side of the international border we say that the area has been under their occupation since the 1950s and there is little that we can do about it. Pre April 2020 intrusions, our bilateral trade was $ 80 billion has now risen to $ 125 billion to enable him to sustain a higher expenditure on defence. In fact, indirectly we are funding his forces to fight us and intrude into our territory. We love the Chinese as they are a ready source of cheap and toxic goods through which we can despoil our environment. We also want to make China a partner in our satellite navigation system. ISRO has signed a deal partnering with Oppo India; a Chinese company. We are all aware of the bugs which China embeds in the hardware that can snoop, distort, falsify and feed misleading information. Don’t we need to do something about it? We have further barred 54 Chinese applications; the total since Jun 2020 has risen to 278. To take it further, we should impose heavy import duties on those border countries which do not maintain peaceful borders? Such a measure should be approved as an Act of Parliament. As we do not have a comprehensive National Security Strategy; we see such anomalies existing in government policies. One ministry bar Chinese applications while another Ministry encourages a flourishing trade with China. Please do not forget the overall Chinese designs to pay bribes to bureaucrats and officials to fine-tune policies to their advantage.
We are reluctant to play several cards in our hands while dealing with China. We don’t accuse her of Human Rights Violation by the incarceration of a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and we do not question the origin of Covid-19 that has been planted by China across the world to emerge victoriously. We do not directly support the Philippines when there is the blatant use of force in Whitsun Reef or for its creeping invasion. We make no comment on Chinese incursions in the waters of Senkaku of Japan and Taiwan by air and sea. If China can rake up the J&K issue at the UNSC in Aug 2019 and has a special session on it; why India is silent on its incursions in Taiwan Straits or its belligerence in the South China Sea? Just reiterating ‘rule-based international order in the South China Sea’ means nothing. We have to pinpoint her trashing the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration formed under the UNCLOS that has ruled that China has no historical claim on the South China Sea. India initiated the UNSC Meeting in Aug 2021, where we forced China to admit the primacy of UNCLOS to govern activities in Oceans is certainly a bold foreign policy move. However, these bold infrequent sallies against China are rare exceptions.
We don’t even talk of her arbitrary throttling of democracy in Hong Kong. We do not even call Taiwan and we call it Chinese Taipei to assuage the Chinese. We do not talk of the annexation of Tibet, its dismemberment into Inner and TAR regions, and the religious persecution of Buddhists. We also do not talk about the deprivation of political and personal rights to the people of China and their continued oppression under a one-party rule. We also do not talk of the Chinese proliferation of nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan and North Korea. Our MEA always are concerned with the comfort level of China and operates within it. Though we justifiably slam Pakistan at every instance; we unjustifiably remain silent at the Chinese perfidies and aggressions.
Proposed New Foreign Policy towards China
We have to have a new foreign policy towards China and declare unambiguously that India believes in ‘One China Policy’ only if China declares ‘One India Policy’. It was first reiterated by Sushma Swaraj. As expected, the straight-jacketed MEA did not follow up on the statement as it was ‘out of the box and did not fit into the overall framework of their enfeebled policy.
If China wants to call Arunachal Pradesh, Xizang we should call Tibet, Shambala by its old Sanskrit name or simply call it COT (China Occupied Tibet). Do not get upset as we have had signed the Agreement on Trade and Intercourse on 29 Apr 1954, in which we have called; Tibet a Region of China. The Agreement was only valid for eight years and does not have any currency now. Please go through the original text of the Agreement; it appears like a surrender document and makes us wonder; how anyone with a vestige of national pride could sign it? Our MEA owes an explanation to the people of our country.
I have not heard in the press; whether we have lodged our protest for China constructing a bridge on Pangong Tso? If our claim is till Johnson’s Line; we should keep on lodging formal protests and wage our own legal warfare against China. We should send protest notes for all earlier construction since 1954 on our side of our International Borders like the construction of G 219 Highway. By the way; have we lodged a formal protest against the construction of a 100- home village located on the banks of Tsari Chu in the Upper Subansiri District of Arunachal Pradesh in Nov 2021? Similarly, a formal protest ought to have been lodged when in Jul 2020, Xi visited Nyingchi which is less than 20 Kms from the LAC as Tibet is an annexed territory. I think we have taken enough and no more.
Declare in unequivocal terms the Northern boundaries of our country is Johnson’s Line in Western Sector, the crest of Zanskar Range in the Middle Sector and McMohan Line in the Eastern Sector. We should call no area as disputed. Wherever the Chinese have occupied on our side of our declared borders we should call it deliberate incursions by China that endangers world peace.
Declare any border violation on the Indo-Tibetan Borders by China will be responded with disruption of China’s Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOC) in the Indian Ocean. Its trade should be disrupted in Malacca, Sunda, Lombak, and Ombai Straits. SLOCs emanating from Malacca have to pass through 10 degree, 6 degree, and Duncan Channel of Andaman and Nicobar Archipelago. The disruption of trade or even the threat of disruption of trade through the Indian Ocean can crash its economy, rendering millions without jobs and civic unrest. It is for good reason that China in spite of its belligerence on the land frontier was demure and subdued in the Indian Ocean. However, this state will not prevail for long as it will soon have an ‘Indian Ocean Fleet’ and India should be able to take it on to sustain its sea domination in the Northern part of the Indian Ocean.
China has given Nuclear and Missile technology to Pakistan. It is propping up Pakistan to ensure its parity with India. 70 percent of Chinese arms exports go to Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, which have common borders with India. Recently China has supplied 50 Wing Loong II armed drones to give Pakistan a counter to India buying the S 400 Air Defence system. China has also supplied Pakistan with vehicle-mounted Howitzers in response to India inducting K9 Vajra Howitzers. It is also supplying Pakistan NORINCO AR-1 300 mm Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers in response to India having a similar weapon system. China is losing no opportunity in arming Pakistan so India’s orientation is towards its Western Border. In response; what is India doing? At last, we are able to sell BrahMos to the Philippines. We should make progress and sell it to Vietnam. We should give nuclear and missile technology to Taiwan. Russia could put spokes in selling BrahMos to Taiwan but nothing has stopped us from selling our Prithvi and Agni to Taiwan. Don’t get worried about the MTCR; it was there before, as it is now. Just make a start and then see; how China will respect us.
In my earlier articles, I have also written as to how we should incorporate the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) into a stronger group and enmesh them in the ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR) initiative. The entire Indian Ocean should be controlled by IORA with India as a net security provider in the region.
India should not go bilateral with China. Though we should do our fighting on our own on our borders by our armed forces but economically, politically, and diplomatically we should be able to call out China, for her aggression. We should have security alliances with the QUAD countries, and join AUKUS. We should encourage them to open with new fronts against China in the Western Pacific in the event of China launching a full-scale war against India. We should also have a clear-cut policy to respond to the contingency of China attacking Taiwan: What Military action should India and QUAD take in retaliation? In a contingency, if the US, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Australia join the war; should India open up the Chinese Western Front and utilize the strategic opportunity to resolve our border issue? Or, should we sit on the fence, waffle innuendoes, and call upon the world to restore peace and extol on Non-violence and throw in a quote of Mohandas Gandhi? It is also the time to stroke insurgencies in Tibet and Xinjiang and encourage them to declare their independence. Necessary advance preparations should be done right from now to plan, incite and sustain their freedom movement at an opportune time. China attacking Taiwan and getting embroiled in conflict with the US, UK, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, should be exploited by India to resolve the international borders and change the geography of China on its Western Front.
It is high time that we have a foreign policy that has to be guided by the CDS and the three service Chiefs along with MEA and NSA. Leaving the entire policy in the hands of the MEA that is suffering from predilection and predisposed towards an enfeebled policy towards China has to stop immediately. Rarely, India has had a PM who has the political will. When we have him; sadly, I find the advisers are not rising to occasion and fetter him with their own inhibitions and incompetence.