Chief of the Army Staff General Bikram Singh is scheduled to visit China July 2-5, and to meet the top military officer there — General Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, the apex military-defence-national security-related agency in the Chinese system. COAS’ talking about the forthcoming “Hand-in-Hand” exercise — the fourth such exercise on counter-terrorism tactics, etc is fine. It is the fact that he’ll be hosted by the Zhongnanhai (Foreign Office) in Beijing and will be discussing among other things, what PTI described as, “bilateral ties, regional security and other issues of common concern” that raises the gravest apprehension. General Bikram with a long stint in the army’s PR Wing as its spokesman (during the Kargil ops) fancies himself a talker. From the few times I have heard him he seems to get easily carried away with his own words, which come out as a jumble.
The potential problem, especially where China is concerned, is this: His often ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of babbling could be genuinely confusing to the Chinese or create serious misunderstandings. The Chinese language is at once abstract and precise in what they say and the message they want to convey. Designated Indian interlocuters — all of whom invariably consider themselves, albeit unwarrantedly, as masters of the English language and tend to be garrulous, sometimes going beyond their brief. It is a problem compounded by imprecise language (usually of the stilted variety). COAS’ minders, hopefully, will keep this trait of his in mind and advice him to curb it, and coach him in what to say and how to say it on such issues as the South China Sea disputes China has with a number of littoral and offshore states in Southeast Asia. And, if the Modi Govt wants to convey its no-nonsense attitude then Bikram should be instructed to bring up the unceasing habit of PLA on the LAC to be needlessly provocative and to signal to the other side the Indian Army’s intention to respond strongly and in kind. He could mention the trampling of the democratic instincts of the people in China generally and in Tibet, and throw in HongKong as well — where over 780,000 people, a few days back, braved harsh official retaliation to endorse a petition for more individual rights and democracy.
The short point to make is and this is something Bikram S should bear in mind. He is the Indian Army Chief, not a smooth-talking diplomat. A gruff exposition mostly on the unacceptability of the habitual offensiveness of the Chinese military stance and political attitude, would push the Chinese back, which is what’s needed and required of him. Leave all the tripe about perpetual peace, Panchsheel, and the rest of that nonsense to MEA staffers paid to shovel it. And, he should be reminded, that for God’s sake to rein in his tongue, lest what he says inadvertently or otherwise be noted down by the Chinese note-keepers and regurgitated by Chinese negotiators at a later date as something representing GOI’s view. The rest of us meanwhile should cross our fingers and pray Bikram doesn’t shove his foot in his mouth.