Global chiling - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 19 June 2007

Global chiling

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 19th June 2007

At a meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Monday, the first serious steps since independence were taken towards building a comprehensive network of roads, tracks and hydro power stations in the areas of Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh that are claimed by both China and India. In contrast, the Middle Kingdom has wasted no time in developing its outlying territories, even those that are disputed. New Delhi, however, has been guided by a military and intelligence establishment, which has argued that any roads that it builds in these areas could be used during hostilities by Chinese invading forces. Also holding back development has been the argument that, with a border dialogue with China progressing nicely, why rock the boat with “provocative” construction activity? But now, 45 years after the 1962 debacle, a more confident PMO has committed Rs 1000 crores to linking the border areas with mainland India.

This is not a one-off initiative. On Saturday, India’s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, travelled to Shillong for a first ever “public diplomacy” initiative, talking of cross-border linkages between the Seven Sisters of the north-east (Arunachal, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) and the South East Asian countries like Myanmar and Thailand. Mr Mukherjee promised a network of linkages like the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport facility (connecting Indian eastern ports, through Myanmar’s Sittwe port, and then via riverine transport, to a road in Mizoram), an India-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project, an India-Vietnam rail link, and an India-Bangladesh passenger train.

The background to this is an 8-month-old hardening by China of its rhetoric over the border dispute. In November 2006, ahead of President Hu Jintao’s visit to India, Beijing turned down an Indian request for a meeting of the Special Representatives who are negotiating a border settlement. Immediately afterwards, the usually silent Chinese ambassador to India stridently and publicly declared that Arunachal was disputed territory. Over the last few months, China has refused visas to Indians from Arunachal, suggesting that they are Chinese citizens who need no visa. And in the G8 summit in Hamburg two weeks ago, China’s foreign minister Yang Jiechi declared that the presence of “settled populations” in Arunachal would not affect China’s claims to that state. In doing so, Beijing has signalled that it could turn its back on the agreement signed by Premier Wen Jiabao during the high water mark in the Sino-Indian relationship in 2005, in which Article 7 agreed that “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.” The Chinese establishment had never been happy about agreeing to this provision.

Larger global forces usually drive shifts in regional dynamics, of the kind being witnessed between India and China. The new global geo-political order, as seen from New Delhi, is being catalysed by rapidly deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow. After a decade of viewing China as America’s new long-term threat, Russia has re-emerged from the Cold War meltdown as Washington’s most likely present-day threat. In tackling Russia, China, like in 1972, could suddenly be Washington’s new countervailing ally. Key officials in New Delhi are already visualising a changing environment in which India is no longer the key partner, needed to balance China. And China’s aggressive new rhetoric on the border question is seen as coming from this realisation in Beijing. 

If evidence were needed of the shift in relationships, it was there to see in the G-8 summit in Germany two weeks ago. While global warming was the official summit theme, there was equal focus on the growing chill between former Cold War adversaries, Russia and America. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, focused the spotlight straight on the greatest fault line: a planned US missile interceptor shield in eastern Europe, right at Russia’s doorstep, ostensibly to guard against missiles launched from Iran. Russia offered an alternative: the use of an existing Russian radar station in Azerbaijan, right at Iran’s doorstep. Washington says the Russian radar was too close to Iran; it still needed the X-band radar that it plans to set up in the Czech Republic and the interceptors that it will base in Poland. On Friday, NATO approved the US interceptor shield.

China, in contrast, is now viewed from Washington as the lesser of the two evils. Washington has appreciated Beijing’s “positive role” in driving the dialogue with North Korea. China is also working behind the scenes in resolving Iran’s uranium enrichment face-off. And gone are Washington’s neo-conservatives, like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, who saw the US global challenge as containing China through a ring of allies. In their place now are self-described “Cold Warriors” like Robert Gates, who were brought up seeing China as the irreplaceable cornerstone in the Asia-Pacific security architecture. At the Shangri La Dialogue on the 1st of June, in a forum that had been used before him by Donald Rumsfeld for unrestrained China-bashing, Gates pronounced himself optimistic about America’s relationship with China.

China, not India, could be the new swing state in the new global security architecture. What does that mean for Sino-India relations? What does it mean for the future of the US-India nuclear deal? The answer lies in the way Russia’s relationship with America plays out. But whatever the outcome, India must continue with consolidating its internal and regional relationships. In the shifting winds of global diplomacy, these relationships will form its anchor.


  1. Timely article, though international relations are not a zero-sum game as is suggested here, and it's too early to claim that US is reversing or changing its grand strategy vis-a-vis China. For its own long-term security, US has no option but to work towards containing China. What may very well happen is the US needing to balance and counter two powerful states at the same time, with the very real possibility of those two states teaming up against it. In such a scenario, US will need India even more, not less.
    The takeaway is that India shouldn't take its relationship with any state for granted, but needs to keep all its options open. If it has managed to do so is not certain.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. An excellent and timely piece Mr. Shukla. Chinese have realpolitik in their blood. Unfortunately, while they live by Sun Tze, we have completely forgotten Chanakya.

    I think its time that we leave behind the Nehruvian pussyfooting about China and put our foot down, unless we want another '62. Its shameful that we bend to pressure from them and their patsies here.

    P.S. Double post Ajaiji...

  4. Ajay,

    I wouldn't draw long term conclusions from the balance of events at this years G-8. Just a few years ago, it was France that posed the greatest opposition to the United States at the summit.

    Point being, these situations are very fluid and I wouldn't term it as the beginnings of a new Cold War.

    - Sri

  5. The reason for the "revival" of the Cold-war between post-Soviet Russia and the US is because of the struggle between them to control the Oil & Gas routes of Central Asia and Western Europe.

    The reason the US did not dismantle the Taliban until 9/11 was because the Taliban and the US were under negotiations to allow for Exxon's pipelines through Taliban controlled territory in Afghanistan (Farenheit 9/11).

    The primary reason for USA's attack on the Taliban was to ressurect the narcotic trade hich the religious Taliban militia had banned, because it was un-Islamic. The narcotic routes of Afghanistan have been revived since the Taliban's ouster, and provide funding to all from Wall-Street companies to CIA's covert operations.

    Now, the Soviet Union collapsed because the "masses" were unable to reap the benefits of the latent but with huge potential Oil reserves. The first to break-up were the Central Asian and West European republics using the political excuse of common language and culture. It would not be surprising if all this was done by the covert "prodding" of US. The Oil companies were immediately revived and are today thriving.

    The Russians were thus left with the control of their own gas and oil reserves. A few rich oligarchs managed to illegally gain control of those companies.

    Now, again there is a race to consolidate the control of West European Oil and Gas pipelines. Since US pipelines and facilities of Exxon-Mobil and Chevron Texaco are very close to Russian borders there, that is why the need This explains the USA's setting up of anti-ballistic missile warners, and ABMs in the region.

    So the controls are thus : Islamic OPEC members (like Iran and Syria) and "outlaws" like oil-rich Venezuela are vastly under Russian influence.
    But, Saudi Arabia and Eastern Europe are under US influence.

    China does not have much oil and gas reserves. So it also needs to consolidate its hold over its sources of oil. Thus, China supplies weapons to those Islamic countries like Iran and Syria, and gives billions of dollars of "aid" to Nigeria, and other resource-rich African nations.

    India is no "hedge" or "bulwark" or "counter-force" against China. Remember one thing, and we have the pulse of global foreign policy :-

    US Congressmen have only one interest in mind :-

    1) Their Oil fcilities must not be under threat.

    2) Ensure that payments to POEC countries for their exports must be made in the US dollar only, and no other curency.

    3) Their narcotic sources and routes must not be under threat.

    Thank you.

  6. To my previous comment I may add parts of a letter by Mr. Sarmad Elahi, which was written to the Pakistani newspaper Dailytimes.

    Lack of oil in the region explains the complacency of western nations regarding the Kashmir issue."

    This is very true.

    However, western nations could help by imposing trade embargos and restrictions on nuclear deals to pressurise India to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

    They cannot do that because 18% of their IT services are sourced from India. Any action like embargoes on India would have devastating effects on their local economies.

    If America and the UK want to repair their image worldwide, which they have undermined greatly by their foreign policies, they could start by showing helping the Kashmiris to resolve this issue.

    The Kashmir issue may never be resolved as long as India is at a much stronger economic position than Pakistan.

    Thank you.

    Dailytimes letters section :\06\20\story_20-6-2007_pg3_7

  7. Hi all,

    Your points taken, especially Manu's when he says that international relations is not a zero-sum game.

    The point that I'm really making, and one that is really worrying policymakers in the PMO, is that with China no longer an unambiguous "power to be contained", America's attitude towards it is being revised in US policy. Gates' recent statements are really really illustrative of change.

    And that is what lies behind China's more hard line attitude towards us.

    Sorry for the double post. Sniperz, how would you put your foot down. Can you spell out concrete steps that you would take against China? Not easy!

  8. What it seems to me is that China is not too keen on solving the border dispute quickly, which is why they pull back whenever we make any significant progress. This is important when you see the Energy diplomacy and Energy security needs of China, they obviously need some leverage against India, which we too must have against them.

    China/CCP leadership respects strength. The problem is that India believes too much in the "Indo-Chini Bhai Bhai"dom. This does not really work, especially when faced with a country that considers strength to be the only moral force and whose sense of 'national destiny' and racial pride makes them deem it their right to subjugate weaker nations.

    We are more attuned to Munich-like appeasement, which is not even Gandhian. For eg- "7 years in Tibet"(the movie) had to cancel shooting in India just because our government fell to Chinese pressure. What will that tell the Chinese- that we can be pushed around. That we are weak. That they can win if they pressure us.

    This really must stop. Good relations are fine, but sometimes, its necessary to be like George Fernandes when he called them enemy #1. We mustn't forget that this is the nation that feeds Pakistan and supplies it weapons, and is actively trying to encircle us & dominate the IOR.

    The best way to counter this, IMO, would be to actively react to any chinese provocation and to play the same game as China. Bringing up Tibet or Taiwan may be too aggressive, but these options must not be closed. Better ties with Lanka and Burma are quite important. We are taking some steps with Burma, but more needs to be done. Bangladesh must also be dealt with strongly. Sri Lanka is somewhat difficult. the Karakoram Tract issue can also be brought to slow simmer. Central Asia is another good place to cultivate.

    Another place where China has beaten us is in Africa, where they have the governments in their pockets with their no-strings attached loans and aid. India has a longer history of aiding African nations, and we must not limit ourselves with moral issues. We have large Forex reserves, and should use it to buy influence.

    Like you said, its not easy, but if we dont do something, then we'll end up losing out.

  9. Mr. Shukla, "analysts" and "commentators" in India have such low self-esteem that they blame India and its leaders for what actually was Chinese treachery towards India.

    As sniperz11 has rightly pointed out, these people while extolling China and justifying Chinese threats to India, conveniently forget that it is China which has armed Pakistan with ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, tanks, and fighters. Such is Beijing's grip over Islamabad that the Pakistani cricket team on a visit to India refused to attend the inauguration of a stadium (somewhere in Uttaranchal or UP) because the Dalai Lama was the Chief Guest.

    What made "everyone's blood boil" was the Dalai Lama voluntarily opting not to inaugurate the stadium and the following silence of Indian authorities on the matter. The Indian authorities should have persuaded the Dalai Lama to inaugurate the stadium and should have publicly asked the PCB not to attend the same if they had any unfounded "reservations".

    The Dalai Lama's greatness and humility was in display, as well as the timidity, weakness and low self-image of the Indian government.

    Indian foreign policy towards China must be as follows :

    1) No opportunity to trade must be lost.

    2) Recognize Taiwan. After all, China has armed Pakistan with nukes and fighters; the least India can peacefully reciprocate is to grant recognition to a democratic nation. The Nehru-bashing "economists" cannot disagree either as Taiwan is also a major economy.

    3) Any incident of HR violations in Tibet must be publicly questioned to China. This is in accordance with the Indo-Chinese treaty on Tibet.

    Thank you.


  10. Indigenous defence research,looking through drdo prism

    Dr. Atre himself speaks against the attitude of Army and Air Force.

    read it Ajai.

  11. still waiting for your arjun article.

  12. Coming up folks, give me a break!

    I promised you that Arjun article, and I'll deliver it. I just haven't had the time over the last couple of weeks, partly due to work, partly due to a family medical crisis.

    But there's no hurry, the Arjun story will be playing on for a couple of years more. A fortnight here or there will not make a huge difference.

  13. And for all you guys who believe that India is this "soft state" that allows China to trample all over it, plz have more faith in your government.

    Just to point out.... India continues to provide a home to Tibet's "government in exile".... it continues to support any number of cross border operations inside Tibet... India actually has a regiment (consisting of several battalions, they are called Vikas Battalions) of Tibetan guerrillas.

    For Christ's sake, this is the only country in the world that actually recruits, enrols, dresses, feeds, and deploys what China calls "cross-border terrorists". I'm not calling them that... but let's not dish out rubbish about how we kow-tow to China.

    The simple fact is that we don't. Take a look at our reactions in Sumdorong Chu in 1987. The Chinese were utterly astounded by the aggressiveness of our response.

  14. You make an excellent point there Ajai, about 1987 Op Falcon. Still, it would be nice to have a government that has a consistent stand, and does bare its fangs once in a while. The present govt doesn't really do that.

    So yes, we may sure have a bite, and the government may be willing to do that if necessary, but, like the buddhist cobra story, we would need to hiss and show our teeth once in a while, so that others dont think we are weak or benign.

    P.S. Take care of family first, dont worry about Arjun. Hope the person who was not well is OK now.

  15. Mr. Shukla, I fully agree with your views. I had overlooked the points made by you. I agree with sniperz11 that the present government appears "timid", unlike the tougher stand that was taken by Pandit Nehru.

    One may "shudder" at the thought that if a war situation arises with China now, what will be the action of the Communist parties, which now support the ruling government. Unlike in 1962 when they were not in the government, this time they might force the government to take a "soft" stand, so much so that India may lose much more than it did in 1962. They would be an impediment to a pragmatic approach to China.

    Thank you.

  16. Its scary that we've ended up calling Nehru's government 'strong'.

    Indira Gandhi, yes. But if the present govt is weaker than even Nehru's its a wake-up call... scary!

  17. Hi Ajai,

    A regiment is not huge considering what the Chines have in store in Tibet. What else we have? hardly any roads, no infrastructure, what mobility etc?

  18. We don't have much, I accept, if we are viewing it in terms of the military balance. But with China, where the question of actual hostilities is today lower than at any time since the early 1950s, it's more about symbolism than substance.

    The fact is that an Indian offensive into China will peter out quickly, while a Chinese offensive into India will run into very very serious trouble very very fast. I've served in Tawang, I'm well aware of the operational plans in that sector, and if the Chinese are all sugar and honey and volleyball games, it's because they know the reality too.

    And the communists! Listen, the communists have a place in our polity and that place relates to trade unions and big retail and ranting against imperialism. The communists have ZERO influence over issues like Pakistan and China. On that they will be swimming against consolildated national opinion and will be slapped down very quickly if they speak too loud.

  19. Sniperz, thanks for the concern. My mother's being discharged from hospital today. Hope to have some more time now.

    Incidentally, don't know whether you all noticed the MoD press release that said that the army has accepted 14 Arjun tanks, and that trials would be carried out in September 07.


  20. Ajai,

    Pls Ask mother to get well soon.

    Are we deployed just to defend the border? We do not have any kind of offense and mobility preparedness over tibetan terrain? I have been in touch with maj Gen E D'souza Retd) who was deployed in China border in 1965. He is dismayed by the Indian non preparedness. He says India has forgotten Tibet and we cannot fight a war against Chinese in Tibet.

    This is what happened on Arjun


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