It is not difficult to read China. But the so-called Mandarin-speaking China experts in the government who comprise the China Study Circle/Group (CSG), or whatever it is they call this unit these days made up with diplomats, and military attache and Intelligence-types — careerists all, seem intent — as is their bureaucratic habit — on configuring what they say to what they think the jefe maximo (maximum leader) wants to hear. In this context, it is less important for these officials to have their fingers on the adversary Chinese establishment’s pulse than not to rock the proverbial boat in Delhi.
Distinguished mainly for being so wrong so often about China — wrong here refers to recommending over-cautious turns in policy that actually assist, enable and advance the enemy’s cause and interests, the CSG’s greatest achievement appears to be that it is nevertheless taken seriously, relied upon for advice in crafting the larger China policy as also the tactical ploys and stratagems attending on unfolding events and crises. It says more about the country’s leaders and the quality of advice they are satisfied with than about the said advisers.
Then there are the China specialists in the academe and thinktanks who cheer the CSG-GOI’s every fear-stricken move from the op-ed webinar galleries, taking care to dissemble, calling for moderation, de-escalation and standing down in the face of Chinese provocations, lest Beijing slam the door shut on their academic advancement by denying them visas, and access to official documents, official interlocuters, and the Chinese seminar circuit. The only sinologists in the world who get away with being critical of Beijing are American and then only because the power balance still tilts towards the US.
Recall that in the military confrontation in eastern Ladakh now in its sixth month, the Xi government initially denied anything was amiss. But then the Indian military and government provided Beijing with the perfect excuse and justification for its territorial aggression: the Line of Actual Control is not delineated on the map nor marked on the ground, hence the presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army units on the Indian side is, well, understandable! It has since become the standard rationale for the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson to argue that not only have Chinese troops not crossed the LAC it is Indians who violated it, precipitating the June 15 clash in the Galwan Valley and, by preemptively taking the heights on the Rezangla range around Spanggur Lake, are inviting — and this is the favourite phrase PLA uses to cloak a military initiative — “a defensive counter-attack”! As I have said in my posts, this amounts to India withdrawing from its own territory.
Learning nothing and forgetting nothing, MEA’s reaction to Beijing’s reviving the old 1959 line as the disputed border, which upends 50 years of Sino-Indian diplomacy and some 4-5 agreements predicated on China’s acceptance of the present Line of Actual Control pending a final settlement of the border dispute, was again to soft-peddle the enormity of change in China’s position. Instead of a strong counter, it apologetically retailed the history of claims and counter-claims, and of various agreements since the 1950s. This has only reinforced Beijing’s view of India as a weak entity that can be railroaded into an agreement unfavourable to itself.
The tougher, more consequential, response ought to have been — and still can be — is for Delhi to declare that India too reverts forthwith to the border the colonial regime negotiated with the Tibetan government in 1913 in Simla disavowing, in the process, Nehru’s acceptance of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and, even more emphatically, the Indian government’s later acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over that God-forsaken country over which Han China has no credible claim whatsoever other than in the abstract of the Chinese Emperor notionally denoting all adjoining states seeking a normal relationship as vassals, which tactic has been the Chinese norm in dealing with nations beyond its pale.
In practical terms, what China’s reaffirming the 1959 line means is that the PLA’s forcibly rearranging the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh is being justified ex-post facto. It leaves over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory annexed either by direct occupation in the Galwan Valley, the Hot Springs area, etc and, indirectly in the Depsang Plains, by simply blocking Indian access to the area northwestwards of the Y-junction. Unless this blockade is militarily removed at whatever cost, it will result in the Modi government, for all intents and purposes, surrendering vital Indian territory. Once passed into Chinese hands, this sector will then become the staging ground for holding the DSDBO highway and Indian presence on the Saltoro Ridge and the Siachen Glacier hostage to Beijing’s whim. What is just as definite is that all the WMCC meetings and discussions at the Special Representatives level won’t get Beijing to restore the status quo ante that external affairs minister S Jaishankar publicly said was the Modi government’s goal.
The point about dealing with China is never to bring up diplomatic understandings, refer to past documents and agreements, etc. but to make matching territorial claims that exceed Chinese ones in their outlandishness. And to have all Indian officials preface their statements about India’s claims as being “clear and unchanging” — the crossed t’s and dotted i’s in its negotiating record to the contrary notwithstanding. China’s going outre should signal India’s going ballistic with its own wordy excess.
What has India to lose? If the Indian government still believes that the Wuhan and Mamallapuram spirit that President Xi Jinping pumped up Prime Minister Narendra Modi with retains its headiness and relevance then we may be in deeper trouble than we think. Because Xi has made it plain that his larger objective has always been to expansively secure China’s territorial ambit in Central Asia and especially its strategic investment in Pakistan by firming up its hold over Aksai Chin that was centrally part of Maharaja Hari Singh’s domain in Jammu & Kashmir.
May be, it is time for the Gujarati businessman in Modi to recognize that he has been conned by Xi, that he has a bum deal on his hands. And that his China policy needs an overhaul, a radical course correction.
Because there’s a tendency in the government (and, dare I say, in the higher military echelons) to hyperventilate at the very thought of actual war in the Himalayas, let’s be absolutely certain about one thing: the PLA is in no position to wage a sustained war in Ladakh or anywhere else; that Xi has bitten off more than he can chew in terms of getting the gander up of all its neighbours, including distant maritime ones — the US, and Australia, and that it is time for the Indian government to shake off its strategic lassitude and make life as difficult for China as is possible.
The following steps, in order of priority, have been advocated by me for over 25 years (in my books and other writings) and now is the time to implement them on a war footing:
- Condition India’s acceptance of the ‘One China’ concept on Beijing’s acceptance of ‘One India’ policy — with ‘One India’ to include all of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Gilgit and Baltistan — the territory legally acceded by Hari Singh to the Union of India in 1947.
- Should the Xi regime fail formally to accept ‘One India’ inside of a year, and in any case to renounce all previous Indian positions, and begin preparations to diplomatically recognize the sovereign Republic of Taiwan, and accept the Senkaku Islands as Japanese, denounce the Chinese nine-dash line in the South China Sea as fanciful and the sea-territories claimed by Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Borneo, and Malaysia as entirely valid per UNCLOS guidelines and the verdict of the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
- Begin expeditiously arming Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia, for starters, with supersonic Brahmos cruise missile batteries to be installed on the coasts fronting on the South China Sea on extreme priority basis, meaning even at the expense of equipping Indian army formations with this weapon. This should constitute the policy of belated but necessary payback for China’s nuclear missile arming Pakistan. It will instantly render inactive China’s powerful South Sea Fleet ex-Sanya base on Hainan Island and “narrow the seas” as I have contended for the Chinese Navy. The threat of loading nuclear warheads on these Southeast Asian Brahmos missiles can be an option Delhi can use to keep Beijing unbalanced.
- Lead international campaigns in the the United Nations General Assembly and in the First Committee, and elsewhere for a ‘Free Tibet’ and for Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang to throw off the Chinese yoke, and materially and financially help sustain these Freedom Movements. And diplomatically begin referring to Tibet as ‘Chinese occupied Tibet’ and Xinjiang as East Turkestan. India can also channel and facilitate its friends with whatever assistance is appropriate among the Afghan Taliban to wage a full-fledged jihad in East Turkestan, again as payback for the longstanding Chinese help to rebel movements and insurgencies in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, in particular.
- Invest in factories to refine and produce rare earths to zero out dependence on China for these metals critical to sensitive electronics and other technology sectors.
- Begin choking off all trade and commerce except that which is carried on in strictly reciprocal basis.
As I have argued, China has already done its worst, shot its bolt, as it were, where India is concerned. I mean, what worse can Beijing do to India after deliberately proliferating nuclear missiles to Pakistan? India so far has retaliated so meagrely as to merely confirm Beijing’s contempt for the Indian government and Xi’s perception of Modi as pliable.
What other provocation does Beijing have to offer India for you, Modiji, to wake up from your apparent China-induced stupor?