Flashing steel at China - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 24 March 2008

Flashing steel at China

Photographs: (courtesy Ajai Shukla)

1.   Top Left:  At the Bum La border, in Arunachal Pradesh, with the Commanding Officer of the Rajputana Rifles (Indian Army) battalion which holds the pass.

2.  Centre Left:   The Indian and Chinese flags fly astride the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Bum La.

3.   Bottom Left:   The local dog, adopted by the Indian post at Nathu La Pass, in Sikkim, surveys the Chumbi Valley in Tibet.

4.    Bottom:  The Indian and Chinese commanders at Nathu La pose together.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 25th Mar 2008

As a young captain in the Indian Army, I experienced first hand the dynamics of a Chinese power play. One autumn day in 1987, near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, almost exactly where the 1962 war sparked off, a group of Chinese soldiers crossed the rugged Line of Actual Control (LAC) and sat themselves down in a grazing ground called Wangdung. For days, while India launched diplomatic protests, more Chinese soldiers trickled across; before long, a 100-man company from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had established itself in Wangdung.

The Chinese expected little more; but the Indian Army had long buried the ghost of 1962. With diplomacy scorned, New Delhi ordered Operation Chequerboard, a massive mobilisation that quickly concentrated 100,000 soldiers around Tawang. As the Indian stance grew harder, the Chinese positioned softened. In a similar face-off in 1967 that Beijing would have remembered, Indian jawans had killed over 200 PLA soldiers in Nathu La, in six days of pitched fighting. While China still holds Wangdung, India’s robust reaction forestalled further Chinese encroachments.

Should New Delhi also flash steel in its reactions over the ethnic uprising in Tibet? Chinese statements make it clear that Tibet is seen as no more than a potential embarrassment during China’s “coming out party” at the Olympic Games. Beijing believes that New Delhi’s foreign policy conservatism will ensure that it continues to toe the line on Tibet. But would Indian interests be better served by reminding China that it has painful pressure points at Dharamshala that can be activated.

Contrary to public perception, India has not been entirely pliant when it comes to dealing with the Middle Kingdom. Next year it will be half a century since the Dalai Lama was given refuge in India. Tibetan volunteers, committed to freeing their homeland from the Chinese yoke, form several battalions of India’s Special Frontier Force (SFF), which frequently operates on the northern border. China believes they often cross the LAC for special missions deep inside Tibet. The Indian Army, as its chief, General Deepak Kapoor said, crosses the LAC into “China” as often as the PLA crosses into “India”. The reason, as he clarified, was that neither India, nor China, agree where the LAC lies.

Neither have India’s responses to events in Tibet been free of ambiguity. Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, has met the Dalai Lama recently; New Delhi has a formal consultative arrangement with His Holiness. The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, met the Dalai Lama and issued a strong statement. It was just the kind of adverse pre-Olympics publicity that Beijing does not want. The police halted the “March to Lhasa”, mounted by the Dalai Lama’s followers, but it garnered headlines nevertheless. And could Tibetan demonstrators have stormed the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi without the tacit complicity of the Government of India?

The big question, of course, is: has New Delhi embarked on a rash course of confrontation? Or is a habitually timid India underplaying its hand?

The backdrop to India’s dilemma is the paradox in its relationship with China. On the one hand, as members of the international state system, both countries share an interest in maintaining the status quo. China’s vulnerabilities in Tibet and Xinjiang are mirrored by India’s concerns in J&K and the northeastern states. But China has never let that shared interest with India hold it back from developing and using the levers of influence. Beijing has skilfully played the insurgency card in Nagaland and Manipur; Naga leader Thuingaleng Muivah admits to training and equipping his forces in China. In helping Pakistan obtain a nuclear arsenal, China has violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Missile Technology Control Regime. And, in the last couple of years --- as the US began viewing Beijing as a possible ally against a resurgent Russia --- China has hardened its rhetoric on the border dispute with India.

India must decide whether its long-term leverage with China lies in multilateral relationships like the US-India relationship. In the recent past, that has been the case; in 2005, when New Delhi and Washington seemed ready to sign both a defence agreement and the nuclear deal, China agreed to a set of “Political Principles” that would form the framework of an eventual border agreement. This agreement noticeably favoured India; China has recently distanced itself from it.

But if multilateral levers are fickle and subject to change, then are there levers that India could create? India’s policy on Tibetan independence cannot radically change. India cannot support the redrawing of borders, and the Dalai Lama himself asks for no more than real autonomy for Tibet. New Delhi, however, does have options even without going back on its recognition of Tibet as an “autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China.” Without repudiating that long-held stand, India can fuel the debate on Tibet’s autonomy. The Tibetan government-in-exile, located in Dharamshala, will respond enthusiastically to the slightest signal from New Delhi. 

For that, India would need to break a Pavlovian behaviour pattern that China has induced. Senior Indian diplomats increasingly realise that Beijing’s rhetoric on the warmth of its relations with New Delhi have imposed on Indian diplomats a certain decorum of behaviour that obscures the underlying adversarial relationship between the two countries. That artificial decorum also makes New Delhi reluctant to play the role of a countervailing power to China. This could be the moment when New Delhi recognises Sino-Indian relations for what they really are as opposed to what Beijing says they are.


  1. our present govt are real cowards. next elections out they go. we need a pm like narendra modi. he'll teach these chinese a bitter lesson.

  2. Good timely article. Well done! China is at its most vulnerable until the Olympics, India should not forgo this opportunity.

  3. I think you've missed a point here. China is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

    So isn't it likely that our silence on Tibet (for now atleast) is a quid pro quo for China not to block the deal in the NSG?

  4. photonman ,
    there is no quid pro qou on the Tibet issue with China coz the Indian Commies already have been told by their masters in Beijing to block the nuke deal at all costs. And as faithful slaves they are obeying it to the T. The nuke deal will never make it to the NSG with Commie approval.

  5. One thing I have noticed over the years is that NDTV is in the good books of the Commies in Beijing. THe # of trips NDTV has made to Tibet with Beijing's blessings itself hold testimony to this fact.
    This must be courtesy of the Karats.

  6. Anonymous, you've clearly not seen the reports that NDTV has filed from Tibet. A half hour special report by Nidhi Razdan was mainly about the demographic changes that China is trying to bring about in Tibet. It was a report that directly attacked what China is trying to portray about Tibet.

    But I suppose you're not really interested in the reality of the situation. You're probably more interested in showing that you know that the Karats are related to the Roys.

    We are duly impressed.

  7. And Photonman, the one country that is most unlikely to block India in the NSG (if the N-deal ever gets to that stage) is China.

    If China does so, it will have made an open declaration of opposition to India. And Beijing knows well that it cannot afford India openly opposing it in every global forum.

    Instead, as the article brings out, Beijing is creating a whole rhetorical myth about good relations with India. It hopes to bind India with that illusion that will itself keep India from taking an open position against china on any issue.

  8. "If China does so, it will have made an open declaration of opposition to India. And Beijing knows well that it cannot afford India openly opposing it in every global forum"

    Exactly what I wrote earlier. And thats why the Commies under the able leadership of deshdrohi Karats are doing everything to nuke the nuke deal right here.

    Btw, Shukla why dont u interview the Karats on NDTV and ask them this question? Now this will take a lot of guts and the Roys cud kick u out. lol!

  9. Ajai,

    I don't quite get the first point you make: China's policy has always been containing India. If the long term benefits of the nuclear deal are as enormous as its advocates point out, China should seriously consider blocking it. Seen in this context, the Left's vociferous opposition to the deal also makes sense. A good leverage we have with China is Tibet. What with the West and the US only too keen to help (in their interest).

    So it seems plausible to me that our plan is to play the Tibet card carefully to get the deal through in return.

    I do agree with your second point about the 'rhetorical myth' of good relations with India. I for one wouldn't fall for the Chinese PR game too much. As Reagan said, "Trust, but verify".

  10. NDTV is often accused of being anti-national. This can be its golden chance to prove otherwise by exposing the Commies' game plan vis-a-vis the nuke deal. Any takers at NDTV?

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Shukla,
    We r waiting for ur reply. Be quick.

  13. Ajai,

    pls tell us whether u r going to interview the Karats on the nuke issue raised here. If u cant pls give the reasons. I know I have put u in a difficult situation but then thats how reality is.....it catches up with us.

  14. Anonymous, you're clearly very pleased with what you think is a flash of revelation: the idea that Prakash Karat is trying to torpedo the nuclear deal.

    The reason why it isn't a flash of revelation is that Karat has, in innumerable forums, himself clearly stated that he thinks the deal sucks and that it is in India's national interest to throw it out.

    So, in the circumstances, what am I going to ask Karat in this wonderfully courageous interview that you suggest? Have you ever thought that it might go as follows:

    Shukla: Mr Karat, I've learned from a genius who posts on my blog, that you're scuttling the Indo-US nuclear deal.

    Karat: Ajai, you clearly don't read the papers. The CPM, the entire Left Front, and not to mention the BJP... they all think the deal sucks.

    Shukla: er... Mr Karat, but aren't you doing this at the behest of China? Your ideological mentors in Beijing have asked you to do this, haven't they?

    Karat: No, Ajai, I believe that the deal is a sellout of Indian interests. By the way, Ajai, has Wen Jiabao also asked Mr Advani to torpedo the deal? Did Hu Jintao speak to Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha?

    Shukla: er... er... er... let's go into a short break.

    Anonymous, just for one moment, just for one tiny moment, make this enormous leap of logic: Try and consider that everyone who disagrees with what you believe is not anti-national. Maybe they just believe that the national interest will be better served by a different course of action.

  15. Shukla,
    Trying to be funny? It wont work with me man.

    Every Tom Dick and Harry know that the BJP is opposing the nuke deal only coz of jealousy and that they were ready to settle for much less.

    It is only the Commies who are opposing it b'coz the Chinese have asked them to.

    Some time back Indian Express, Hindustan Times, etc asked the same question to the Commies whether they are batting for the Chinese. And NDTV as the Commie defender, came out with a report with editorial comments that it was not so. It was by Maya Mirchandani.

  16. Top 3 Fvck3r$ in the world:
    1. Pork!$+@n
    2. Ch1n@
    3. B@ng1@de$h

  17. hey frm ur posts do u support cpi(m)? you seem to.. to me they r a bunch of traitors.

  18. Shukla,

    It is well know fact that the managing editor of NDTV opposes Afzal Guru's hanging, supports Kashmiri speratists (infact she and her chela are on first name basis with those ghaddars), is openly pro-Pakistan. Now in ur view what is she - nationalist or anti-national?



  20. I really enjoyed reading this and I agree that India should shed some of its timidity on the Tibet issue, especially at a time when China is really under a lot of pressure to improve its rights record ahead of the Olympics. But the question is also this - how well does India understand China and its strategic culture? Will open hostilities make India vulnerable to aggression in the longer term?

  21. And gosh.. you get some rabid jingoists on this blog!

  22. I like Indian jingoists (and their Chinese counterparts, whose English is generally far worse and thus funnier). They are so much more open and honest than most American jingoists.

  23. LOL indians present government stays

  24. LOL India deal with your own "nation"'s problems first. O yeah and Hindus, stop pouring kerosene down Muslims' throats. That's not good for "national" unity.

  25. May be Muslims in Pakistan should stop pouring Kerosene down their fellow Muslims' throats! Then may be they and their advice could be taken seriously.


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