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Please refer to my earlier article on the issue titled “Philosophy Alone Cannot Win Wars: Where is our National Security Strategy?” in which I had stated that the only thing that unnerved China was our occupation of Kailash Range. It is not merely the territory that China is worried about, but the tremendous observation potential, both visual and electronic, that the range provides into its defences and up to the National Highway GH-219, linking Tibet and Xinjiang. I never had any doubt that the 10th Corps Commanders’ Meeting that was held on 20 February 2021 would be a failure as there was nothing else that the Chinese really wanted to discuss. They will keep on engaging us while simultaneously undertaking creeping invasion of our territory, as they have done, for the last three decades. 

 

The modus operandi would be to get through what they want through the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) as these naïve bureaucrats have little idea of the ground realities on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). I have been highlighting their inability to appreciate our national interest and eternal submissiveness to propitiate and charm the Chinese by signing meaningless agreements.  Just look at the first two Agreements on Peace and Tranquillity on LAC in 1993 and the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in 1996; these bureaucrats have gone and signed the agreements even without defining the LAC.  For all we know, the LAC as defined by China could be at Leh!  These have been followed by ‘Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation between India and China’ of 2003, ‘Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination’ of 2012 and ‘Border Defence Cooperation Agreement’ of 2013. 

 

Of all the agreements, the only agreement that reflects some smart diplomacy is the ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question’ of 2005 where Art. VII affirms the interest of Settled Population as one of the parameters for resolving the border dispute. This is vital as Tawang, with a population of 11000, is close to the border. The town along with 90,000 Sq Kms of Arunachal Pradesh has been claimed by China. This outlandish claim can be negated by the 2005 Agreement, and hence China has been circumspect in endorsing the agreement in their subsequent discussions, though India has been reiterating it.  

 

Thanks to misinterpretation of Gen VK Singh’s statement by our press, the Chinese have taken full advantage out of it and paraded a narrative to paint India as an aggressor. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is under flak from its own netizens for withdrawing from the North Bank of Pangong Tso. The Communist Party of China (CPC) does not have much time to waste as its supremacy and indispensability has to be hyped up in the country on the eve of its Centenary Celebrations. It has to showcase how the aggressor India was put in place by the firm and decisive leadership of Xi Jinping.

 

Coming back to the present impasse in the talks, should we have linked Depsang to the disengagement from Kailash Range? When the MEA had a meeting with their Chinese counterparts on 18 December 2020, I knew for sure we had slapdashedly fallen into China’s snare. Thereafter, we started echoing the Chinese argument that Depsang was an old problem and would be sorted out separately. The same was the case with Gogra and Hot Springs. Let us be sure that the Chinese would not relent any further. 

 

What should bother India is the Chinese control over the economies of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, and to a certain extent, Bangladesh. If our neighbours have been weighed down under the burden of debts, they have no option but to politically align with their creditor. The problem is accentuated as India does not have the economic pelf to replace China in these countries. However, if the region’s countries indulge in a wee bit of strategic thinking, they will know that they are diving headlong into the Chinese predatory trap. It is like a whale that opens its mouth wide as shoals of fish blissfully swim into it. Small nations across the world are being gobbled up by the Chinese Whale! It has devoured Africa, Latin America, South East Asia, South Asia, the Central Asian Republics, and is on its way towards Europe.

 

Xi’s cap is heavily ornamented with feathers, all decked to parade before the country during the Centenary Celebrations of the CPC. His purported eradication of extreme poverty in the country, a goal set by himself will shore up his domestic clout. He, having stymied the pandemic and his lusty dismissal of the accusation by the world, shows his bold stance internationally, further sprucing up his credentials. His new security law illegally foisted on Hong Kong and actions to change the electoral system, daily intimidation of Taiwan, expanding writ over the South China Sea and frequent incursions in the territorial waters of Japan in the East China Sea, surely makes him the self-acclaimed core leader: the new law by China asking its Coast Guard to open fire has emboldened it to trespass into the waters of Senkaku and littoral countries of the South China Sea. The Chinese Defence Budget has crossed the $200 billion mark and is now pegged at $209 billion. China is thus able to flex its muscles till the first island chain. Such a narrative is ripe for fielding to the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress thereby, signing his authority as the core leader for life.    

 

Furthermore, what does China’s plan to build a ‘Passageway’ connecting Tibet with South Asia in its 14th Five Year Plan imply? It has been clarified that the Passageway is from Tibet, and hence does it imply only Nepal?  It is in fact, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Xinjiang to Pakistan. Annexing the whole of Doklam Plateau and building a road from Lhasa-Yatung to Sinchela and then to Doklam, leaving Batangla safely out, thus negating India’s possible objections – what does this imply? This road willy-nilly connects Bhutan as the plateau belongs to it. Does China imply two roads to India via Nepal and Bhutan? These are the things which we need to study. It will reveal the intent of China. Does it probably has plans to coerce India to accept the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)? We need to be watchful of China’s future incursions. I do not rule out a similar ingress like the one at Ladakh taking place in Arunachal Pradesh or Sikkim in a year or two?  China has already made several attempts to ingress into NW Sikkim (Muguthang) at Nakula. Probably, its future creeping invasion would be in this sector.

 

What should be our future strategy?  Coming back to my old grouse that we do not have a ‘National Strategy’ to this day. We should make efforts to economically isolate China by shaking off our dependence on it. It is regretful that the Government has started clearing minor investments from China, and at the same time content with continuing to keep the Chinese companies out of 4G expansion since the disengagement from Pangong Tso. We should diplomatically alert the nations across the world about China’s predilection to predatory practices. We should join the chorus with the US, Australia, Japan, South East Asia and Africa to call out China and expose its expansionism. We need to tackle and decry the Chinese strategic game plan across the world. Our present lot of diplomatic corps is unable to call out the Chinese ballgame. We are still ensnared in the diplomatic myth of talking obliquely, nebulously and never ever conveying our intent. I will not repeat as to how many times the MEA has lost opportunities to blame China, in spite of its blatant aggression!

 

India has been the main spoiler in China’s path to supremacy in Asia. India, a country that is so used to fearing China is showing its eyes now! To make matters difficult, the Quad Countries – the US, Japan, Australia and India have joined the fray. They combined, have the capacity to bottle up China from its West by India and to the East by the Quad.  Britain has also joined the effort with Gen Nick Carter, the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff reiterating the continued British Naval presence in the South China Sea.  HMS Queen Elizabeth, an Aircraft Carrier with over 60 aircraft is also due to arrive in the South China Sea to enforce ‘Freedom of Navigation’, implying contestation of the Chinese footprint in the illegally claimed international waters. 

 

Not to forget the ‘Five Power Defence Arrangement’ that is active and is 50 years old, comprising Malaysia, Singapore, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It gives Britain a legitimate presence in the South China Sea without having to overtly declare its apprehension towards China’s expansionism. In the Indian Ocean Region, in addition to Quad, there is also France that has joined up with India to release the ‘Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region'.  France is included in the Indian Ocean Rim Countries due to the presence of overseas France territories like the Reunion Islands. Other countries such as Germany are also following suit. China’s forays and domination of the Indian Ocean will not be easy in times of conflict with India. Its jugular energy veins are highly vulnerable and India should capitalise on China’s vulnerability.

 

Lastly, there is no second thought but to remain economically strong and militarily powerful. It will require a strong leader to display our political will to match China in the military build-up and expose China’s unbridled expansionism along its land and maritime borders. Actually, Xi’s intimidating tactics did not work with Prime Minister Modi. China actually does not have the political will to bite the bullet for kinetic warfare. The ever-haunting question that nags Xi is – what would happen if I don’t fare well in war? The Political Authority of the CPC is tenuous though it appears very formidable when things are going right. If there is a setback, it will crumble like a house of cards. This fear in Xi should be exploited. He is more afraid of his own people than from any external threat. Please note that China’s budget for Domestic Security has always been higher than its Defence Budget since 2010 with an ever-increasing disparity! Do you read between the lines? It does cost money to incarcerate more than a million people for re-education in Xinjiang; does not it? One can know what the enemy fears the most by just analysing his overall security allocations. Has China bitten more than it can chew? 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal.