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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Insatiable dragon

October 30, 2009

DNA India
October 29, 2009

Although China invaded India in 1962, provoked a
bloody clash at Nathu La in 1967 and triggered
border skirmishes in 1986-87 by crossing the line
of control in Samdurong Chu, this is the first
time it has opened pressure points against India
all along the Himalayan frontier in peacetime.

This pressure long predates the Dalai Lama's
plans to visit Arunachal Pradesh. Indeed, it
gradually has been building up since 2006,
largely in reaction to the Indo-US strategic
partnership, which was set in motion by the
separate unveiling in 2005 of the nuclear deal
and defence-framework accord. By muscling up to
India, is China aiming to browbeat India or
actually fashion an option to wage war?

Prime minister Manmohan Singh and other Indian
officials have publicly sought to tamp down
military tensions. But in contrast, the Chinese
leadership has been mum on the Himalayan border
situation even as the bellicose rhetoric in
China's state-run media has affected public
opinion with 90 per cent of respondents in a
Global Times online poll citing India as the No 1
threat to China's security. The Communist Party's
official newspaper, the People's Daily, after
asking India to consider the costs of "a
potential confrontation with China," ran another
denunciatory editorial recently on New Delhi's "recklessness and arrogance."

The current situation, in some aspects, parallels
the one that prevailed in the run-up to the 1962
attack, which then Chinese premier Zhou En Lai
declared was designed "to teach India a lesson."

Whether Beijing actually sets out to teach India
"the final lesson" will, of course, depend on
several calculations, including India's defence
preparedness, domestic factors within China and
the availability of a propitious international
timing of the type that the Cuban missile crisis
provided in 1962. But why should New Delhi
repeatedly and gratuitously offer explanations or
justifications for the continuing Chinese
incursions? If such intrusions are due to
differing perceptions about the line of control,
let the Chinese say that. But note: Beijing hasn't proffered that excuse.

The issue up to 1962 was Aksai Chin. But having
gobbled up Aksai China, an area almost as big as
Switzerland, China now claims Arunachal, nearly
three times as large as Taiwan, to help widen its
annexation of resource-rich Tibet. Since ancient
times, the Himalayas have been regarded as
India's northern frontiers. But China is laying
claim to territories south of the Himalayan
watershed. Having lost its outer buffer -- Tibet
-- India cannot lose its inner buffer -- the
Himalayas -- or else the enemy will arrive in its plains.

Yet, instead of putting the focus on the source
of China's claim -- Tibet -- and on Beijing's
attempt to territorially enlarge its Tibet
annexation to what it calls "southern Tibet"
since 2006, India fights shy of gently shining a
spotlight on Tibet as the lingering core issue.

Both on strategy and capability, India is found
wanting. Unable to define its own game-plan, it
plays into China's
strategy by staying put in an unending, barren
process of border talks going on since 1981, even
though it realises Beijing has no intent to reach
a political settlement. Worse still, it agreed in
August to let the border talks go off on a
tangent and turn into an all-encompassing
strategic dialogue, thereby arming Beijing with
new leverage to condition a border settlement to
the achievement of greater strategic congruence.

Now consider capability: More than 11 years after
it gate-crashed the nuclear-weapons club, India
conspicuously lacks even a barely minimal
deterrent capability against China. Instead of
giving topmost priority to building a credible
deterrent against China -- possible only through
a major augmentation of indigenous nuclear and
missile capabilities -- India is focused on the
spendthrift import of conventional weapons.

Let's be clear: No amount of conventional arms
can effectively deter a nuclear foe, that too an
adversary that enjoys an inherent military
advantage against India by being positioned on
the commanding upper reaches of the Himalayas.

Although China is playing provoker, New Delhi
helped create the context to embolden Beijing to
up the ante. Can it be forgotten that New Delhi
for long has indulged in ritualised happy talk
about its relations with Beijing, brushing
problems under the rug and hyping the outcome of every bilateral summit?

Even today, as New Delhi stares at the harvest of
a mismanagement of relations with China by
successive governments that chose propitiation to
leverage building, attempts are being made to
pull the wool over public eyes by calling the
Himalayan border "peaceful". Speaking honestly
about a relationship fraught with major problems
and lurking dangers is an essential first step to protect India's interests.
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