Is China nibbling at the border? - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 22 February 2008

Is China nibbling at the border?

This blog has previously discussed China's intentions on the Line of Actual Control (LoAC), which forms the actual boundary between the Indian Army and the People's Liberation Army of China. The LoAC is not to be confused with the International Boundary... it is an unsettled border, like the Line of Control (LoC) between Pakistan and India in J&K.

There's also a Line of Opinion (LoO) in this blog, which separates those who believe that China is taking an increasingly provocative stance over territories that it claims... and on the other side of the LoO are those (like myself) who believe that China is only repeating what it has always claimed: that Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai China are parts of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which India has admitted since 1953 is a part of China. I have also argued that the so-called "intrusions" by Chinese troops are nothing more than a difference of perception on where the LoAC runs and who controls what. I've argued that Indian troops frequently patrol areas that China claims are on its side of the LoAC.

Now, the Chief of Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, seems to have come down on my side of the LoO. I am attaching an account of his interview with Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate yesterday.

New Delhi, Feb 23 (PTI) Incursions by Chinese troops in Arunachal are a result of difference of "perception" of Line of Actual Control (LOAC), Army Chief Gen Deepak Kapoor has said and that Indian troops also indulge in moves that could be seen as intrusion by the other side.

He, however, said border infrastructure on Chinese side was better than that of India, giving them an "additional capability to bring additional troops", and the government here is "seriously looking into" this aspect.

"I think a degree of misperception has been built on this issue of incursions.. first and foremost, it is a matter of perception. The Chinese have a different perception of the Line of Actual Control (LOAC) as do we. When they come up to their perception, we call it an incursion and likewise they do," Kapoor said in Karan Thapar's 'Devil's Advocate' programme for CNN-IBN.

He said the level of total number of incursions in 2007 is "somewhat similar to what it has been in the past. So, the feeling that too many incursions have taken place into Indian territory is not right."

Asked whether Indian troops also incur into Chinese territory as often because of differences of perception about LOAC, the army chief replied: "that's right.. which they would call an incursion into their side. So, therefore, to that extent, we would be as much blameworthy for that kind of
incursion up to our perceived LOAC."

So what the Chief is saying is "don't be too worried about panicky press reports about China taking over Indian territory." 1962 was a long time ago and the Indian Army is more than capable of beating back any Chinese attack, if one takes place, which does not seem likely at all. The 1993 and 1996 agreements on CBMs and Peace and Tranquillity on the Border are working perfectly and life on the LoAC is a generally peaceful affair.

That having been said, India's foreign ministry has also noted a clear shift in global geo-politics, one that has worked to China's advantage and to India's disadvantage. Until 2005, the future contours of Great Power rivalry seemed to be woven around the rise of China and its seemingly inevitable challenge to the current US dominance. In that scenario, India was poised to be the countervailing power, the swing state which could tip the balance in favour of either China or the US.

All that changed in 2005, with Putin's open challenge to American dominance. Over the last two years, Russia has replaced China as the second pole of future Great Power rivalry. And guess who's replaced India as the countervailing power? That's right... it's 1972 all over again; America has rediscovered China! That's why, over the last year, you have seen an entirely benevolent American view of China's military build up. Robert Gates is singing a very different tune from Donald Rumsfeld, and that's not because of the personalities involved. It's because China could be a future ally.

India hasn't helped its case by rejecting the US-India nuclear deal and by the plethora of anti-US statements that comes out from the Left Front. This is not, by a long margin, to say that US-India relations are no longer important in Washington's perspective. But, for sure, things have changed since Condy Rice wrote her Foreign Affairs article identifying India as the next big thing for America.

So don't be surprised to see China adopt a harder attitude towards India. In 2005, with India-US relations at their peak, Wen Jiabao signed a set of "political principles" that would guide an eventual border settlement. In that, Beijing effectively signed away Tawang, by agreeing that "settled populations" would not be disturbed in a final settlement. Today, China is back-peddling from that. The US-India relationship has changed since 2005; Beijing no longer feels pressured to keep India happy. That's realpolitik.

But folks, please! That doesn't mean that China is about to grab Arunachal. The Army Chief's statement should make that clear.


  1. Ajai:

    Its fine that China is not grabbing any territory in the NE. But the aggressive posturing by China needs to be countered by India.

    The question is how does India do it effectively -- both militarily and diplomatically. The changed dynamics of geopolitics are indeed to India's disadvantage. Militarily we are not strong enough vis-a-vis China in those areas.

    What is the best course of action, in the short term and in the long term? Any ideas.

  2. Actually, it's not difficult at all. India needs to take the following steps:

    a. A massive infrastructure push in the disputed areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. We need to have a road linking Daulat Beg Oldi to Demchok, along the LAC. And, of course, trans-Arunachal highways, spanning the state from Tawang to Tirap. The former foreign secretary, Mr Shyam Saran, is heading a task force on border infrastructure, which is recommending a series of highways and link roads in these areas.

    b. Frequent visits by national leaders to the disputed areas, such as the one by the PM to Arunachal Pradesh this year. If no national leaders go to these areas, the signal that is sent out is that India itself lacks conviction in claiming these areas. The PM's visit skipped Tawang; that was a major programming blunder. The message that must have been received in Beijing is that India wants the rest of Arunachal, but is willing to give up Tawang.

    c. Integration of the locals in these areas into the national mainstream. Not the crude demographic shift that China has engineered in Tibet by bringing in large numbers of Han chinese, but by active exchange programmes between the border people and people in the interior states.

    d. Major infrastructure programmes in these areas, such as the hydel power projects that are moving along slowly.

    e. Actively bringing in foreign diplomats and tourists into these areas to send out the message that the disputed areas are Indian. The current "Inner Line" regulations that keep out foreigners from border areas are totally retrograde and outdated measures.


  3. To add to ajai's interesting list:

    f. State-rushed economic development of the area (beyond the necessary tourism). Transform it into India's gateway to China via Tibet (TAR, of course).

    India's neglect of the NE is nothing short of criminal. No wonder they are rather pissed off there. I know that I am - and that is only Bihar.

  4. Mr. Shukla, it may be hoped that the Army chief categorically meant that Indian troops regularly intrude into Chinese controlled disputed areas also.

    For, his statement that, "When they come up to their perception, we call it an incursion and likewise they do," should not mean that Indian troops patrolling on the Indian side itself is seen as intrusion by the Chinese, because the Chinese see that area as disputed.

    Indian leaders should also not regularly visiting AP. The PM's visit was routine in contrast. Regular visits would be a conscious admission of "claiming" the area and "power-projection".

    One doesn't proclaim one's ownership of one's property daily in public, else suspicions would arise. The very act of doing so is a tacit admission of insecurity and uncertainty.
    Similarly, AP being Indian territory, there would be no need of periodic visits by national leaders to "assert" our claim there.

    Indian diplomats must also be as aggressive as Sun Yuxi, without the latter's undiplomatic nature and bluntness.

    As far as possible, the environment and tribal culture of the last surviving "pristine" hill forests must be preserved. This will neither endanger national security, nor result in social isolation of the AP peoples. The requirements of the army can be adequately met by constructing the 2 link-roads as you mentioned. In this regard, the opposition by Sikkimese Lepcha tribals against a series of mega hydel-projects can be noted, and taken as an example.
    Such a sudden "deluge" of construction activity, and "herding off" to rehabilitation and so-called "mainstream", may shock the tribal people of AP.

    Tourism (domestic & foreign) of the area can significantly help in a passive assertion of claim to AP, besides generation of income for the locals.

    Thank you.

    References :-

    1) Protest against hydel projects in Sikkim, (The Hindu, Jul 2007)

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