Author name: 
R. N. Ravi, strategic affairs analyst, was in charge of India's land borders in the Home Ministry (IB) for over twenty years.
Images: 

An Unprepared India versus a Belligerent China

 

China began their hostile military manoeuvres along India’s border and grabbed Indian territories, mountain features, valleys and passes with a view to denying India the strategic territorial depths imperative for its defence against future Chinese assaults. It built massive strategic infrastructure along the India-Tibet border. It sought to destabilize India’s northern frontiers to undermine its potential to assist the Tibetan nationalists in the event of a likely uprising in Tibet.

 

The PLA had invaded Tibet from the east. Subduing the vast and arid Tibetan plateau in the west Tibet was a daunting military challenge to them. They needed an assured military reinforcement to quell rebellions in West Tibet. Reinforcement from the remote East could be slow and vulnerable to Tibetan resistance. A reliable route for military reinforcement and logistic supply from Xinjiang was a tempting option for China. Between Tibet and Xinjiang lies the strategic Indian territory of Aksai Chin. Taking advantage of the very thin Indian presence in the area China surreptitiously grabbed Aksai Chin in the early 1950s and converted the trade route between Tibet and Xinjiang passing through it into a military logistic supply line.

 

When India raised the issue of land grab, China responded by saying that the border was ‘not defined’. India produced ample evidence to convince China that the border was traditionally well-settled. However, China ignored all the historical evidence. Under the cover of ‘undefined’ border the PLA continued to grab Indian territory. They obstructed the Indian border patrols in their routine movements. On October 21, 1959, the Chinese Army ambushed and killed an Indian police patrol party near Konka Pass opening into Aksai Chin.

 

The Chinese premier Chou En Lai, during his Delhi visit in April 1960, in utter disregard to historical facts, claimed that China’s border with India in the north-western sector was not along the Kuen-Lun mountain range to the east of Karakoram Pass but it followed the crest of the Karakoram mountain range that shortly after the Karakoram Pass swerved South-east into the Soda Plains. The Konka Pass is near the tail end of the Karakoram pass. This claim would take away almost over 40,000 sq km that is entire Aksai Chin, of India.

 

On October 20, 1962, China launched an all-out attack along the border on an unsuspecting India. Taking advantage of its superior military assets and elements of surprise it grabbed large tracts of India’s land in all the sectors of the border. Although the war was supposed to have ended with a formal ceasefire on November 21, 1962, China not only kept occupation of large tracts of Indian territory grabbed in the war but also continued with menacing belligerent postures all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Besides direct military action along the border, China launched a proxy war on India by strategically arming Pakistan including through illicit transfer of military nuclear technology to it and by instigating tribal secessionist insurgencies in India’s Northeast.

 

It sheltered the Indian rebels, armed them and trained them in guerrilla warfare. The military headquarters of the rebels of Northeast India – the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the United Liberation Front of Asom, the Peoples’ Liberation Army of Manipur and National Democratic Front of Bodoland, are located in Yunnan province of China and their liaison offices are in Kunming city. China works for their strategic and tactical synergy from time to time, replenishes and upgrades their military ordnance, and runs safe houses for this purpose at the towns along its border with Myanmar.  

 

The Futility of Dialogue

 

China is yet to respond with sincerity to India’s peaceful initiatives to settle the border dispute. Ironically, ever since early 1990s when India engaged China for settling the border dispute through dialogue, China has escalated its belligerence at the border. It has refused to agree on a LAC that could be the basis for freezing its further military adventures. It keeps a dynamic notion of its LAC as it helps it in grabbing more and more Indian territory. The 17 rounds of talks at the level of special representatives in the last one decade have failed to reduce Chinese military adventurism and lessen tensions at India’s northern border.

 

China has sharply escalated transgressions of the LAC in recent years especially after 2008. Ironically, the two countries signed the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question on April 11, 2005 with a view to fast-track the resolution of border disputes. Nine years down the line, it has still not been effective even in reducing the tensions.

 

Although China potentially disputes the entire border with India, the transgressions in two sectors – the sub-sector north, in northern Ladakh, and the northeastern sector in the region in proximity to the India-China-Myanmar tri-junction have witnessed a quantum increase. In the northern sector as against some 150 transgressions in 2005, there were over 250 such transgressions in 2011. Similarly in the eastern sector such transgressions escalated from less than 10 in 2005 to around 125 in 2011.

 

Both the countries have downplayed such transgressions calling them results of differing LAC perceptions. The two countries have not yet shared with each other their respective perceptions of the LAC. This is hugely disadvantageous to India as it helps China to keep its perception dynamic. China keeps moving forward in areas of its strategic interests and keeps India confused and guessing about its perception of the LAC. On the other hand, India restrains its border patrol from going up to its own perception of the LAC. Indian border patrols, in sensitive sectors, are kept restrained well behind its perception of the LAC fearing face-offs and clashes.

 

Conclusion

 

The status quo is to China’s advantage as it is not static. China has severely squeezed Indian control in the northern sector well beyond the Chinese claim line of 1956 and even 1960 – both enunciated by Chou en-Lai, then China’s Prime minister. Similarly, their sudden escalation along the Lohit River in the eastern sector has undermined Indian border patrol’s ability to reach up to Jechep La, the nearest point to the tri-junction east and is pushing the tri-junction some 8 km down.

 

China is maintaining strategic apathy on the border issue and likes to see it at the backburner while stressing on upgrading trade and commerce. Such a scenario immensely suits China. It is detrimental to India’s interests. The present scenario of the Special Representatives of the two countries routinely meeting periodically and both sides issuing anodyne statements creates an illusion of progress. India must work to break China’s strategic apathy on the border issue.

 

While the final settlement of the India-China border might take a while as it has been further complicated after China entered into agreements with Pakistan, Nepal and Burma (now Myanmar) on segments of India-China border, it is in India’s strategic interest to freeze the dispute at an even keel. Freezing the LAC is a sine qua non. With ingenuity, it is doable.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.