Recent muscle-wielding incursions by China have revived the sad memories of the humiliating defeat we suffered at the hands of the Chinese 55 years ago. Though we have been underplaying such incursions, the fact is that this year alone there have been 240 such cases and India can hardly afford to wish away the scenario on its borders. China’s threatening postures like rubbing the 1962 defeat on our wounds which can never heal and issuing advisory to its citizens in India has made the matters worse. It is well known that we suffered a much higher number of causalities and, a large number of our troops were captured as PsOW and we ceded huge tracts of land to the Chinese.
Defence Minister Jaitley’s statement that it is India of 2017 that China has to deal with and China’s reminder that they too are in 2017 have created unwarranted friction between the two neighbours The trigger for the latest trouble in Doklam was the construction of road by China in the Bhutanese area. One wishes India and China had discussed the issue of road construction and sorted it out at that stage itself. But Indian army preferred to beef up 150 Indian troops who had crossed to the disputed area with another 2500 . In fact, both sides have been moving troops from their peace-time locations to reinforce their proactive stance in the ongoing troop faceoff. India maintains a high alert along the entire 4000 km Line of Actual Control (LAC) from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
History tells us that many treaties were inked beginning 1815 when buffer zones like Bhutan, Afghanistan and Xinjiang were created. It is unfortunate that all such buffer zones are trouble spots of today. The stand-off at Doklam (Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction) is one such buffer zone which is in the news. This has once again exposed China’s expansionist belief and other hidden motives even though it is well-known that this particular buffer zone is the legacy of treaties involving Britain- Tibet- China –Bhutan between1890-1914. It is a fact that China’s love for Pakistan and its increasing assertiveness is changing the balance of power , not only in Asia but in the world, at a very fast pace. China’s exaggerated territorial claims and aggressive manner in dealing with nations of lesser power is a problem the world is facing. It has made the world to sit up and note why China is bent on intimidating other nations and expanding its borders. The world in general and China’s neighbours in particular(less Pakistan), are worried about the looming threat of this increasingly assertive giant.
The answer to the question why China is doing what it is doing is very simple; a country whose world-view is to become the most powerful nation can hardly afford to be seen weak while pushing its interests in its neighbourhood.
China does not want Bhutan to be more dependent on India whom it sees as some sort of rival. India is funding many hydel projects in Bhutan and will purchase the generated power leading a stronger India.
And a stronger India is definitely not in China’s interest. China claims territory totaling 495 square kilometers in eastern Bhutan , and 286 kilometers in the west which includes the bone of contention ie Doklam plateau. Obviously, China is keener on Doklam to have commanding position over India rather than the eastern sector and may even give up their claim there if Thimpu accepts China’s position as far as the disputed area of Doklam is concerned. Both Bhutan and India have their genuine concern in case Bhutan accepts China’s claim of Doklam; major cities of Bhutan will be under China’s artillery range and India will lose a loyal buffer.
It is to China’s credit that it has made most of the colours of the canvass it painted for its future come true. It has succeeded in reducing poverty to a large extent and shot to the second spot in world economy. It has emerged as global super power and a regional hegemony. When during 2014-15 China was seen as stumbling, it sent waves of happiness all across the globe, however, this happiness was short-lived and the giant bounced back, this time with vengeance. The temporary defect in ‘made- in- China’ story should not make us complacent. This new confidence of China is a reason of worry for India.
Ultimately, when the history of the century is written, it will be the triumph of freedom, liberal values, pluralism and democracy; however, there is a need to do everything possible to check the return of the tyrants. We must appreciate that China is the giant of the region whose aggressive military build-up supplements its natural geographical advantages and take appropriate counter measures. Indian security analysts and retired officials have been expressing concerns over China’s encroachments all around us but the government did not take any actions to counter the dragon’s moves. Unfortunately, it is very late in the day that India has got the ideas to get a foothold near the bully China.
It is only now that India has thought of creating the kind of military its soldiers, airmen and sailors deserve, the one that will project its power and protect its interests. However, General Bipin Rawat’s rhetoric in which he claimed India’s ability to fight on two fronts cannot help improve the situation. Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa’s stance of asking government to make up the shortage of combat aircrafts is more practical. Talks are the only way out of the impasse. Both China and India don’t want war.
While we should not succumb to China’s pressure, we cannot afford to be fool- hardy and walk into war. We know it well as the whole world that China is economically, technologically and militarily stronger than India. Either both the sides should withdraw the troops to their original positions or India should withdraw troops on the condition that China freezes the construction till the matter is sorted out amicably.
Beijing’s muscle flexing teaches a few lessons
Border-related issues shall not come in the way of the two countries cooperating to defeat terrorism and trying to promote bilateral trade as it is in the interest of the two and also the rest of the region, writes Syed
There is a big lesson to be learnt by India from the China’s flexing of muscles over what happened between the two neighbours after New Delhi raised serious objections to China’s road project in a disputed territory, towards the 89-km Doklam plateau, close to the Chambi valley, near the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction. This shows that India has to remain more vigilant vis-à-vis China than Pakistan, which has been used by Beijing for tormenting New Delhi. India’s objection is based on the truth that the Chinese road, once completed, will change the status quo in the disputed area, not far from the Sikkim sector or what India calls as the “Chicken’s Neck”.
The initial protests came from Bhutan with India joining it later on due to the defence arrangements between New Delhi and Thimphu.
Showing extreme aggression, Chinese troops destroyed on the night of June 6 two Indian bunkers constructed on the plateau in 2012. Beijing claims sovereignty over the plateau but Bhutan disputes it, quoting an accord signed during British rule.
There is no let-up in India-China tensions since then with jawans of the two countries’ armies deployed in a position of an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. China went to the extent of reminding India of what happened in 1962 when the two countries fought a full-scale war, ending in India having got humiliated. India has responded to the Chinese threats in an equal measure by telling it that India’s armed forces are capable of meeting any challenge from China. Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said the other day that China should remember that India today is “different” from that of 1962, referring to the war fought over the territory now called Arunachal Pradesh.
According to Mr Jaitley, “Statements issued by Bhutan make it clear that this (Doklam plateau) is the land of Bhutan. It is located near India’s land. There is an arrangement between India and Bhutan for giving it protection in the border region.”
Bhutan, located between China and India at the eastern end of the Himalayas, has come into the focus because of the questionable Chinese activity. China, which destroyed two of India’s bunkers with a bulldozer, finds it difficult to digest the reality of special relations between India and Bhutan, which depends on New Delhi for ensuring its territorial integrity.
All this resulted in Beijing closing the Nathu La pass, a route for Indian pilgrims opened in 2015, to visit Tibet’s Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar, sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. Explaining that it respects the sentiments of Indian pilgrims, China has, however, claimed that it took the step for safety reasons and offered an alternative route. Obviously, the Chinese intentions are not pious.
Located at over 4,300 metres above sea level, Nathu La in Sikkim was first opened for trade in 2006 as a border post between China and India.
The status of India’s Sikkim state also came to be mentioned during all that happened between the two most populated countries of the world. This is so despite the fact that Beijing in 2003 implicitly accepted the reality of Sikkim having been part of India. Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, during a visit to India in 2005, declared that Sikkim was no longer an issue in bilateral relations.
India’s Sikkim sector, which has about 200 kilometres of border with Tibet, is only a small part of the more than 4,000 km India-China border, a largely settled area.
Interestingly, China came out with its controversial road building activity during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit with President Donald Trump showing special interest in India. Experts believe that China wanted to remind India of the need for building bridges of understanding with its immediate neighbours like China instead of allowing itself to be used by the US to settle scores with Beijing. Of course, New Delhi understands all this very well, but China too has been indulging in similar tactics, playing its Pakistan card to torment India.
For the past few years China has been very aggressive in its dealings with most of its neighbours, perhaps, with a view to conveying the message that the world is no longer US-driven. But this is not how a country having super power ambitions should behave. Beijing has been reacting strongly against Vietnamese moves on the South China Sea and other issues, unnerving other countries in the region. Its attitude towards India seems to have hardened following India’s boycott of the Belt and Road Summit held in May in Beijing in protest against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing the Kashmir territory under Pakistani occupation in which Beijing has invested heavily. China is the least bothered about India’s concerns in this regard despite the two neighbours remaining together in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), emerging as the Asian equivalent of NATO. India, which has now become a full member of the China-dominated SCO along with Pakistan, attended its recently held plenary session in Dalian, Northeast China’s Liaoning province, amidst the standoff with Chinese forces near the Sikkim sector.
Surprisingly, India-China border disputes have had little impact on their trade relations with Beijing remaining a major gainer. In 2016, India’s trade deficit with China rose to a whopping $46.56 billion as Indian exports continued to decline. The bilateral trade has only marginally slowed down by 2.1 per cent to nearly $71 billion. What happens on the bilateral trade front now remains to be seen with social media circulating messages for the boycott of Chinese goods in India due to Beijing’s arrogant behaviour with New Delhi.
India has been taking in its stride the Chinese opposition to New Delhi’s efforts to join the prestigious Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and enter the UN Security Council as a permanent member. But since the eruption of the border dispute in the Sikkim sector the official Chinese media has been using a very harsh language against India as if the two countries have no common areas of interest to cooperate with each other. The truth is that they have been together on the issue of fighting the terrorist menace which got reflected again when India took part in the SCO meeting in China last month despite all that was happening between the two on the border dispute. Border-related issues should not come in the way of the two countries cooperating to defeat terrorism and trying to promote bilateral trade. This is not only in the interest of these two neighbours but also the rest of the region.