Consider the simplified timeline: on May 4, when the armed intrusion by Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Depsang Bulge is on-going, the Indian government in an inspired fit announces the extension of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan scheduled in May-end by a day. Literally a day later Beijing, after treating India’s military capability with near contempt – otherwise it wouldn’t have dared risk the intrusion in the first place — agrees to a pullback. It was China’s calculations of a prospective Indo-Japanese strategic pincer, not India’s “nuanced diplomacy”, that persuaded Beijing to retract its claws.
China, always fearful of a remilitarised Japan, is unsettled by what it means to have its nemesis take a nationalistic turn and for India to make common cause with it. Potentially, that can distend the Chinese security system at the two ends of its imperium — bounded in the west by Tibet and Xinjiang — and verily be a nightmare for the PLA which still feels queasy about the last time it ventured into an adjoining country – not India, silly! – Vietnam, in 1979. The PLA invasion force (of some 28 infantry divisions) escaped with huge casualties and its dignity in shreds. The Indian minister for external affairs Salman Khurshid perversely blamed the delay in the Chinese vacating their aggression to the Indian media getting wind of the intrusion!
And a week after benefiting from the merest hint of India and Japan (and the US) engaging in a military exercise, the pusillanimous gang in-charge of our China policy orders the Indian Navy out of a full-fledged joint war game with the US and Japanese navies off Okinawa that was in the works for seven-eight months, lest it upset Beijing. No country is more solicitous of its natural adversary than India.
Instead of enhancing Chinese apprehensions, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s regime has foresworn playing the many strategic cards India has been dealt over the years. In return for Chinese assistance to the India’s rebel movements in the Northeast, India should have played the Tibet card; as payback for Beijing arming Pakistan with nuclear missiles, India could have armed Vietnam with strategic missiles, and India should have shoved China on the defensive by putting security cooperation with Japan and America into over-drive.
While Dr Singh, mercifully, predicated good relations with China on peace on the border and did not gratuitously reaffirm that old saw about “One China” – a formulation encompassing countries and territories whose status as part of China is questionable — New Delhi’s traditional feeble-mindedness led to Premier Li Keqiang placing more Trojan Horses at the Indian gate — larger contracts for the Chinese telecommunications and power production and transmission companies at a time when the PLA-owned Huwaei Company, for instance, has been barred for security reasons from most Western markets. India apparently has no fear of remotely-controlled disruptions of high-speed communications networks or insertion of logic bombs into Indian information systems.
Even as New Delhi was accommodating Beijing – the armed intrusion in Ladakh was accepted as only an “incident” — Japan under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dispensation of Shinzo Abe warned China to keep its submarines from the exclusive zone around the disputed Senkaku Islands and issued notice of its intent to amend the country’s “Peace Constitution”, enabling Tokyo to arm itself to the extent necessary and to sell arms and military technologies to friendly states. It is an opportunity the Indian Navy should capitalize on, exploring with the Kawasaki shipyard the transfer of the Soryu-class diesel submarine technologies for its Project 75i and firm up the deal with the Shin-Meiwa corporation for the private sector manufacture here of its PS-1 flying boat for maritime operations. It is precisely the cross-stakes in each other’s security that Prime Minister Abe has been pleading for.
Japan, moreover, is a “para-nuclear state” — quite literally a screw-driver’s turn away from nuclear weapons status. Its vast holdings of spent fuel can be converted, the LDP President Ichiro Ozawa had said in 2002, into “thousands of nuclear warheads”. “If we get serious,” he warned, “we will never be beaten in terms of military power”. Beijing is one major incident in the East Sea away from a nuclearised Japan, its most disturbing nightmare. No better Asian power, in the event, for India to get close to than a reviving Japan.
India, Japan and America, actively cooperating with each other, will keep Chinese adventurism leashed. New Delhi better begin to appreciate just how much of a leverage security ties with Tokyo affords India and why Dr Singh should consider elevating it as a key issue in bilateral relations.
Actually, India should emulate the hard-driving, multi-layered, diplomacy Beijing conducts so effortlessly, which New Delhi can only goggle at. Often great adversaries are good exemplars in the policy field. And policy urges spawned by ingrained outlooks and habit that lead MEA to disregard military instruments of foreign policy have to be resisted. Hence, last-minute withdrawals from scheduled air-sea war-games with Japan and the US that can grow in complexity, and cancellation of strategic “trialogues” with these countries send the wrong message to friend and foe alike, and should be avoided at all cost.
Then again, one cannot under-estimate the myopia and complacency of the present lot of India’s security minders. Asked if the government shouldn’t be worried about critical sectors (telecommunications, power) of the economy becoming dependent on Chinese spares supplies and service support, Mr Khurshid airily dismissed the concern. “We have not heard of such an issue”, he declared, with a trace of asperity. “If someone brings it to our notice, we will certainly look into it.” It is evident that the Congress Party government is keener to pull in the Chinese Trojan Horses than to strategically stretch China with a powerful India-Japan pincer.
[Published May 23, 2013 in the Asian Age at http://www.asianage.com/columnists/strategic-pincer-trojan-horses-484 and in the Deccan Chronicle at http://www.deccanchronicle.com/130523/commentary-columnists/article/strategic-pincer-trojan-horses ]