It is heartening to see a militaryman, albeit retired — Lt General Prakash Katoch, ex-Special Forces, finally ask the question I have been asking for some 30 years now: Has the Indian government drawn red lines for Beijing not to cross? [ https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/newsdetail/index/4/21313/bridge-over-pangong-tso ].
The answer to the General’s question is no. And this is historically been the case from the days when Jawaharlal Nehru personally managed the country’s China policy. On the other hand, have the Chinese laid down red lines on the ground for India to respect and parameters for negotiation for Delhi to observe? Of course, and repeatedly. Worse, each new redline drawn by Beijing was meekly accepted by the MEA & Indian government, formalizing a new fait accompli every time only for it to trigger a new round of Chinese territorial creep and impositions.
So, why this discrepancy? Because once Beijing got India’s measure in military terms with the PLA not just handily beating, but humiliating, the fabled Indian army of Second World War repute, the way was cleared for Beijing to keep exploiting the moral and psychological edge they had gained on the Indian military. Mind you, this was the great Indian Army the PLA confronted on the India-Tibet border which had, after all, brought down Rommel’s Panzar armee Afrika, and ground the famed 33rd and 55th Divisions of the Japanese Imperial 15th Army into the dust in Burma and, therefore, aroused quite a bit of wariness in the PLA operations command planning the October 1962 hostilities. Except, the Indian army folded and Beijing realized that neither Indian governments, Nehru’s and the subsequent ones, nor the Indian army had the fight in them. Whence the process began of dictating red lines to Indian negotiators in the numerous forums, including the military-to-military talks involving theatre commanders, to push the de facto border India-wards.. This has become fairly routine practice because for Beijing it is risk free, cost free.
The pattern is this. Some PLA troops pitch a tent in an area Beijing desires, install markers, return a few summers later, and based on the self-same markers — a pile of stones, a painted slogan, a tattered flag left behind, claim the area as their own, with Chinese foreign ministry thereafter referring to it by some ridiculous Chinese name they have given the encampment. If the piece of land is particularly strategic and prized, a spurious history is invented for it about some ruler of the southern Han or the other sending an expedition in the distant past or similar nonsense, to legitimate and consolidate the territorial grab. Such piecemeal annexation and absorption of Indian border areas is relentless. And, voila! every other year a newly delineated LAC is on the negotiating table that the Indian side meekly accepts. For the Chinese, it really is that simple and they know that where India is concerned aggression pays.
The latest PLA offense — the building of the bridge over the Pangong Tso proximal to the old Khurnak Fort is on the line connecting it to Moldo — the two current PLA strong points from where the Chinese ousted the Indian army in 1962. This is only the latest example of Chinese brazen-ness and, as the Indian defence ministry now concedes, cuts the travel time between them from 12 hours to as little as 3 hours, enabling rapid switching of forces. It is the same Moldo post, incidentally, where the PLA garrison felt pressured by the Indian Special Frontier Force troops occupying the Kailash Range heights around Rezangla — heights overlooking Moldo that the Indian government — ever so sensitive to Chinese demands and helpful to China’s cause, ordered vacated nearly a year back, in February 2021, in exchange for the PLA not patroling the ‘Fingers’ 5 to 8 on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake which is Indian territory the Chinese annexed!
Unsurprisingly, the MEA’s reaction to the Pangong bridge was along expected lines, noting that
|“Regarding reports about a bridge being made by the Chinese side on Pangong lake, government has been monitoring this activity closely. This bridge is being constructed in areas that have been under the illegal occupation by China for around 60 years now. As you’re well aware, India has never accepted such illegal occupation.“|
Notice that far from hinting that such construction was unacceptable and that India will counter with military measures, whatever the cost, the MEA, accepted the bridge as a fact of life India can do little about. If by such means the Indian government is reconciling frequently to the changing Chinese delineation of the Sino-Indian border, why doesn’t the Narendra Modi regime stop the charade, go the whole hog, recognize the Chinese claimline in toto, and hand over all the Indian territory China contests because that’s what’s going to happen over time any way if Delhi does not mean to use force to defend and protect Indian territory,or take back the areas the PLA has stealithily occupied?
Meanwhile, after each new disruption caused by PLA action that violates the status quo, dumbfounded — or perhaps, simply dumb — Indian diplomats housed in that perfectly hideously designed building housing the Indian embassy in Beijing — an architectural horror reflecting Indian ‘PWD chic’ aesthetic also evidenced in the new MEA building on the Rajpath, issue mealymouthed protests, even as the Indian government on its part tries as hard as possible to ignore such provocation. And a horde of panda-hugging retired diplomats rationalize for an ignorant media each new Chinese provocation as not something to get worked up over, and even less to treat as casus belli (cause for war).
It leaves the lead units of the Indian army, who invariably fail to either preempt PLA actions, or forcefully react to PLA intrusions — assuming in the first place that field intelligence had been generated in time, to await instructions from Delhi, ending up, likewise, twiddling their thumbs, doing their best imitation of the MEA and Indian government, and hoping that ignoring the latest incremental loss of territory due to China’s map-changing tactics will, somehow, make the problem go away! Or, more optimistically, expecting that gifts of Indian sweetmeats (on New Year, Diwali, whatever!!) will lead to grateful PLA commanders responding to Indian niceness returning recently annexed Indian territory!
There’s a limit to the Indian government and military’s gullibility, naivete, pusillanimity, and just plain strategic stupidity — not that we have scraped the bottom of that barrel yet. Is there even a single instance of a “China specialist” in the Foreign Service and even among the retired lot of diplomats who while in service or after retirement has advocated military measures to deal sternly with China?
Indeed, the garden variety Mandarin blubberers spending time in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere if anything do a lot of harm, They retrun home to fill the China Study Circle/Group or as, in the case of the most recent ambassador, Vikram Misri, to join the PMO as the third deputy National Security Adviser (the other two DyNSAs being langotia yaars of the NSA, Ajit Doval, from the IPS). What are the chances he will counsel the PM of the diminishing returns of continuing to appease China in the manner India has been doing since… for ever? Nil, because the advice he offers the PM is likely to be along the lines evidenced in his statements in the virtual farewell meet he had with the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, December 6, 2021.
Misri had nothing to lose by being brutally honest and publicly telling the Xi Jinping dispensation via Wang what Indian ambassadors have long needed to say but shied away from saying, that India has had it with Beijing playing India for a fool, and that Delhi will not take it any longer, will certainly not put up with the PLA gobbling Indian territory in bits, and that the Chinese strategy of wearing out Indian negotiators in endless talks, has run its course. That’s not what he said though, chosing rather to speak tangentially as his predecessors have done: “Our relations comprised both opportunities and challenges,” he intoned, “and even though certain challenges since last year had overpowered the vast opportunities in the relationship.” If one wasn’t aware of China’s capture of a vast slice of Indian territory northeast of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh in summer last year, and consolidating its military hold on it, one would be forgiven for believing that Misri was referencing a minor blip in otherwise warm and smooth bilateral ties.
Contrast Misri’s and the Indian government’s defeatist approach laced with awe of China to the “wolf warrior” attitude of Chinese diplomats. A junior official in the Chinese embassy in Delhi publicly upbraided Indian Members of Parliament as if they were a bunch of errant school boys for attending a function hosted by the Tibetan Government-in-exile. Or see how the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reacted to the brouhaha in India over the Pangong bridge and the MEA’s reminder that this construction was “in areas that have been under the illegal occupation by China for around 60 years [which] India has never accepted”. China’s response: An airy dismissal. Asserting that he was “not aware of” any untoward situation in that area, the Chinese spokesperson informed the international media that such infrastructure build-up “falls within [China’s] sovereignty.”
Professionaly habituated to banal language, Indian foreign service types are wont to repeat that old saw about disagreeing without being disaggreeable. This is fine if one knows the animal they are dealing with. But mostly they seem to have a wrong fix on Xi Jinping’s China. Consider how the newly appointed Chinese ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, began his innings in Washington in September last year. “If we cannot resolve our differences”, he told the Joe Biden Administration, “please SHUT UP”!! And he proceeded to wag a finger in the US government’s face, warning of “disastrous consequences” should it follow the “Cold War playbook”. Diplomatic quarters in Washington are still reeling from that assault, awed by this newby Chinese envoy’s gambit. It took balls, but Qin was no doubt told by President Xi to take a hammer to the Washington establishment, which he did with gusto.
That’s the sort of national self-respect and self-confidence Indians can only dream about Indian leaders, ministers, army generals and MEA officials sporting. Would Modi ever, in any circumstances, instruct the Indian ambassador to do a similar plainspeak in Beijing? Or, order the newly installed Commander, XIV Corps (Leh), Lt. Gen. Anindya Sengupta, in the manifestly useless and futile talks scheduled for January 12, to be abrasive, initiate the meeting by not shaking hands with his Chinese opposite number and, by way of signaling seriousness, walking out of the meeting after telling the PLA general that there’s only one-point on the agenda to discuss — the mechanics of the PLA’s vacating its aggression, pronto, and then staying the hell out. And demand that Army HQrs issue standing orders to the forward deployed Indian units to make the LAC live with artillery duels and ceaseless tactical action to wrest back lost territory any which way they can, and at any cost? This won’t happen, of course.
It leaves me to wonder at another level about the aptness of the contempt and disdain China has always shown, and continues to show Indian leadership and the Indian government — a treatment they so richly deserve, but India and the Indian people don’t. How deliciously ironical it is then to contemplate this almost brahminical attitude of Beijing’s towards India!!