Time for an assertive force posture against China

Written By: Abhinav Pandya
Delhi Published: Jun 22, 2020, 02:20 PM(IST)

File photo: Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photograph:( Reuters )

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India must understand that deception, surprise, and concealment is a fundamental aspect of CCP’s strategic thought, diplomacy, and military policy.

China’s recent intrusions in Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso, once again prove that after years of bending over backwards to accommodate or somewhat appease China, India has not yet learned any meaningful lessons about the Chinese strategic mindset. After annexing Tibet, Mao said, Tibet is the palm, and now they must get the five fingers- Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Arunachal Pradesh. However, India's early leadership was perceptive enough to visualize this and act accordingly by warming up to the five fingers and in Sikkim’s case by integrating it with India in 1975.  

Looking Back 

In 1954, India and China signed the Panchsheel agreement. With it, also began, India’s implied support to the doctrine of the “One-China” policy. However, CCP’s expansionist designs continued to simmer and manifested in Chinese inroads in Tibet and later in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. The betrayal and debacle of 1962 shattered Nehru, ultimately leading to his demise and sending India into a phase of what this author would prefer to call “strategic depression.” India became inward-looking, insanely skeptical of foreign powers, and obsessed with putting its own house in order. After 1962, China and India went through a long phase of uneasy silence, apart from the clashes of 1967 when the Indian army routed the Chinese in Nathula, killing hundreds of PLA soldiers and the Chinese attack on the Assam Rifles patrol party in 1975 at Tulung La in Arunachal.  

The Long era of Appeasement 

In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi’s China visit after the Sumdorongchu standoff (1986) ‘broke the ice’ and resumed bilateral ties after three decades. In 1993, PM Narsimha Rao visited China and signed the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement.  

In 1996, China agreed upon a range of CBMs with India in the military field along LAC. Following it was the border trade agreement of 2003 to promote border trade through Nathu La and develop friendly ties. In 2005, India-China signed the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary Question, in 2012, the agreement on border tri-junction (India, China, and Bhutan), and in 2013, the agreement on border defence and cooperation.  

India continued with its policy of engaging China and accommodating Chinese concerns in the naïve hope of resolving border disputes, weakening China’s ties with Pakistan, and harness the strengths of civilizational-cultural ties. In 2015, India extended the privilege of electronic visas to Chinese citizens on arriving in India and removed China from the list of the “countries of concern” to attract more Chinese investment. It resulted in massive dumping by Chinese firms doubling the trade surplus to $60 billion per year. In 2018, Delhi refused an official contact with Dalai Lama and Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile. However, Chinese intrusions continued. In 2013, the Chinese made incursions in Depsang valley, indulging in provocative military action. In 2014, during Xi Jinping India-visit, PLA made incursions in Ladakh’s Chumar area and in 2017, in Doklam plateau, resulting in a 73-day long stand-off between the two armies.  

Lessons from the Past 

After 22 rounds of special-representative level meetings to settle the boundary dispute, the CCP shows no intent to resolve the border dispute. The flare-ups in Doklam, Depsang, Chumar, Ladakh, and intensifying pressure on Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh clearly suggest that CCP is still chasing Mao’s dream of occupying the five fingers.  

On the Indian side, it appears that there is a deep-rooted policy ambiguity about China. Whether China is an adversary or a friend continues to remain an unanswered question at the policy level? India’s powerful foreign ministry mandarins have advocated the policy of positive engagement with China, over the last 30 years. India’s dominant left-wing academic and journalistic community, many of whom are now baying for Chinese blood, have consistently held that India and China have an economic interdependence, and India cannot economically grow without China.  

The recent skirmishes have once again proved that both groups are living in a fool’s paradise. After decades of written agreements and CBMs, China still encroaches into Indian territory, making a complete mockery of goodwill and appeasement shown by India. In the economic realm also, Delhi’s foreign policy mandarins preferred engaging China either through BRICS or by joining the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank). However, it hardly brought any favorable change in China’s strategic behaviour.  The trade, investment, and economic relationship have mostly hovered around India importing cheap consumer goods from China. China has not transferred any technology to India. It has had a detrimental effect on the local innovation and entrepreneurship and increased India’s dependence manifold. Even though India has a trade deficit of $60 billion, it has failed to leverage it on the strategic front. 

Over the Chinese side, the strategic thought has been consistent, i.e., to keep the borders vague and make continuous inroads laying sovereign claims to more and more territory. Chinese have deliberately continued with the policy of keeping LAC vague and widening the military and economic gap with India so that it can negotiate on its terms in the future.  

It is not hard to discern the pattern of “two-steps forward and one-step backward” in Chinese policy. Moreover, China agreed to a range of things in the bilateral agreements with India; however, they continued to misinterpret them and change the goalposts when it suits them. As recently as 2018, China agreed to Delhi’s offer of an annual informal bilateral summit. However, such goodwill gestures had no impact on China’s intrusions. After the Doklam standoff, China built permanent structures and enhanced its deployments gaining control of most of the barren plateau claimed by India’s ally, Bhutan. Interestingly, China agrees to the bilateral summits and diplomatic engagements because it aligns well with its “engagement with containment” strategy with India.  

India has to learn from Tibet’s and its own experience that deception, surprise, and concealment is a fundamental aspect of CCP’s strategic thought, diplomacy, and military policy. The reason lies in the devious expansionist intent, the essence of the CCP’s strategic thought process. It originates from the genesis of CCP, its inherent ideological totalitarianism, deterministic approach, and the revanchist attitude, rooted in historical grudges and frustrations. Also, China’s expansionist intent is not merely India-specific and confined to the political domain. China’s bullying and arm-twisting in the South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Eastern Turkestan also emanates from the same imperial DNA of CCP. 

In the economic sphere, China’s torturous loans sending nations into debt-trap, demographic engineering in Gilgit-Baltistan to secure CPEC, violation of environmental norms in African countries, and supporting dictators, oppressors, and human rights violators in Central Asia strengthens its expansionist credentials. On the home front, extreme levels of information control, suppression of religious and cultural minorities, in particular, the treatment meted out to Uighurs in the reeducation camps of Xinjiang and the lunatic mission to homogenize China with Han Chinese population remind one of the fascist regimes of Hitler and Mussolini and the horrors of the holocaust. Perhaps a little digression, but the author believes that if the world powers do not unite against the racist and fascist regime of CCP led by Xi, humanity may witness another holocaust.  

Reportedly, the recent Ladakh incursions were planned months ago after India abrogated article 370. Also, it is pertinent to mention that there is a strong likelihood of China-Pakistan working in tandem preceding the recent incursions. During his field visit to Kashmir for a research project on terror financing, the author’s interlocutors informed that PLA cadres and officers were moving with Pakistan’s patrol parties near the LoC. They were assisting the Pak army in installing advanced air defence systems and missiles near the LoC. Also, departing from the past, the PLA officers were meeting the militant commanders of Lashkar and Jaish in the training camps in PoK. China and Pakistan’s intelligence and security establishment has evolved into an intricate and robust network cooperating and collaborating at multiple levels and on multiple fronts. Further, India’s appeasement and meek response to its intrusions ended up whetting China’s voracious appetite for grabbing more territory, instead of placating it. Also, since it feels secure that India is unlikely to retaliate strongly, frequent incursions in India help in whipping up the nationalist sentiment on the home front where CCP faces increasing unpopularity and resentment. 

The Road Ahead

As long as CCP continues to exist, China will be India’s adversary, and it would be irrational for India to trust China in the future. Under the Mao’s reincarnate Xi Jinping, CCP has long-term imperial ambitions of world domination, and hence China’s errant behaviour is likely to abate in the future unless India abandons Dalai Lama, accepts a completely subordinate status and act accordingly, willingly surrenders Arunachal and whatever new claims of sovereignty that will float from Beijing, as per their strategic interests.  The policy of engagement or a long era of appeasement since 1988, in Brahma Chellaney’s words, has proved to be a Himalayan blunder and a monumental disaster.  Now the question arises- what should be India’s future course of action? Certainly, no engagement  !! Beyond that, Delhi needs a multi-pronged and a long-term strategy to contain China. 

 (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Abhinav Pandya

Abhinav Pandya is the Founder and CEO of Usanas Foundation, an India-based geopolitics and security affairs think tank. He has authored 'Radicalisation in India: An Exploration' (Pentagon Press, 2019)

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