What kind of an economic and military superpower would threaten a tiny, peaceful state, with a population of just around 7,50,000 people, and no army worth the name to defend itself?
The answer would be “a greedy state”. Greedy, in this context, gets its meaning from a definition developed by Charles L Glaser, a founding director of the Institute of Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University. In his book, Rational Theory of International Politics: The Logic of Competition and Cooperation, Glaser plots a state’s security strategy along two axes by asking two questions: whether a state’s expansionist strategy is derived from non-security concerns, and whether it comes from fear and insecurity. If the answer is yes to both, or even the first, it is a “greedy state”.
Christine Fair, in her book Fighting To The End: The Pakistani Army’s Way Of War, posits that Pakistan is a fundamentally “greedy” state, which wants to change the status quo (in our case on not just Kashmir, but even in other parts of India). It is now important to ask whether China, now the world’s second superpower, is also a greedy state.
From all accounts, it is one. China has territorial disputes with almost all its neighbours, from Japan, to India, to Vietnam, to Philippines, Myanmar, et al. Not one of these countries is economically or militarily capable of challenging China’s claims in any way beyond lodging formal protests.
You can now add tiny Bhutan to the list, after the Chinese army built a road through territory claimed by Bhutan, which is the cause of the present standoff between India and China in the Dhoklam Plateau.
China’s “greedy” impulses stem from the Middle Kingdom’s belief that the Chinese Emperor rules “All under heaven”, and thus any state has two options: face Chinese hostility or accept that it is subject to Chinese hegemony.
This is the only logic that explains why a mighty Dragon should threaten a mouse, and then make the fight all about India, which is treaty bound to aid Bhutan. While India has security concerns about China building a road so close to the Chicken Neck area that connects the rest of India to the north-east, China itself has no major stake in trying to expand its territorial claims inch-by-inch in this area. It does nothing to enhance security in Tibet, for its conquest and takeover of that hapless state in the fifties has now been acknowledged by the whole world.
There is no military threat to China from any of its neighbours, and the steady expansion of its claims on the territories of its neighbours, whether it is the South China Sea or Aksai Chin, or Doklam Plateau, or some islands off Japan, is nothing but the dada-giri of a “greedy state”.
As Brahma Chellaney, a strategic affairs analyst and avid China watcher notes, “by waging stealth wars to accomplish political and military objectives, China is turning into a principal source of strategic instability in Asia. The stealth wars include constructing a dispute and then setting in motion a jurisdictional creep through a steady increase in the frequency and duration of Chinese incursions - all with the intent of either establishing military control over a coveted area or pressuring the opponent to cut a deal on its terms.”
It is time for India, as the only major nation capable of standing up to China apart from the US, to call out this dada-giri. However, we must do it carefully, without raising the level of belligerence to the level of war or active hostilities.
It is worth noting that it is China that has been consistently upping the ante on the standoff at the trijunction of Bhutan, Sikkim and China. The war rhetoric is coming entirely from Beijing and its media mouthpieces; the insistence that India is in the wrong and that there is no room for compromise is entirely Beijing’s; propaganda videos aimed at the Indian public are being produced to weaken the will of the Indian government.
In response to Beijing’s belligerence, including a news leak claiming that Xi Jinping won’t be meeting Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg in view of the current “atmosphere”, the Indian response has been muted – and sensible.
However, a response is needed that puts China on the backfoot without raising hackles all around. It should start with a formal statement that puts a perspective on what China is trying to do.
“The Indian government has been watching with growing concern the belligerence and stridency of the Chinese government and its media regarding the standoff on the Doklam Plateau, where China has been illegally constructing a road on territory claimed by Bhutan. The Bhutanese government has confirmed that this encroachment is in contravention of two agreements entered into in 1988 and 1998, under which China has to maintain status quo as before March 1959. As far as India is concerned, the construction of a road near the trijunction point between Bhutan, the Indian state of Sikkim and China is a gross violation of the agreement reached with China in 2012, and a serious attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in China’s favour. This is unacceptable.
“India acknowledges that large areas of the India-China border are not demarcated, and this needs to be settled through negotiation and mutual give and take. But while India has adopted a flexible position on the border issue, China has repeatedly tried to escalate tensions by pushing its soldiers into undemarcated areas due to which India had to intervene to sort out the local standoffs. Any serious settlement of the border issue involves a willingness on the part of both countries to take each other’s security and other interests into account and work out a reasonable compromise. But China’s position seems to be to extract concessions from India without any effort to address India’s own security interests and concerns. It is also worth pointing out that after the 1962 war between the two countries, large parts of Indian territory are already under Chinese control. These cannot be unilaterally claimed to be Chinese territory except through a formal negotiation. These occupied areas need to be formally part of the border dialogue.
“India is not a war-monger, nor is it itching to go to war with China. If anything, all the war rhetoric has come from the Chinese side in the Doklam standoff. The statement of our army chief, that we must be prepared for a two-and-a-half front war, is being misused to claim that India is spoiling for a fight. This is absolutely not the case. The army chief’s statement was merely an expression of reality, since India faces hot borders on its west, and frequent pressures from China on the northern and eastern borders which are unsettled.
“India would like to state it openly and clearly that we have no quarrel with China’s rise as a great power, and, if anything, our history shows that we have always advocated China’s peaceful rise. We supported China’s claims to permanent membership of the UN security council when the idea was far from fashionable and acceptable to the other powers of that time. And today, thanks to the efforts of the Chinese people, China is the world’s second largest superpower.”
“India is not challenging China’s Great Power status, or its rise to prosperity. We welcome both. But Great Power brings with it great responsibility, and this responsibility includes a commitment to peace and tranquillity in the neighbourhood. Threatening a small country with 7,50,000 people is hardly worthy of a Great Power. India is treaty-bound to help our tiny neighbour when confronted with an encroachment by China.
“Great Powers should also keep their allies in check, especially when these allies are irresponsibly promoting global terrorism, including terrorism inside China itself in Xinjiang. While India respects China’s security concerns, it is far from clear that China respects India’s. Our whole neighbourhood is threatened by jihadi terrorism, and this cannot be confronted and defeated if China adopts one set of rules for dealing with terrorism within its own territory, and turns a blind eye to terrorism launched from the soil of its closest ally on India. India will fight this terror with all its might.”
“China and India share a long 5,000-year unbroken history of civilisation. We applaud China’s rise as a great nation in the 21st century. We respect Chinese achievements and look for inspiration from the same. China is making a large contribution to India’s own progress, both by investing here, and by exporting affordable electronic goods and household gadgets to India. This is why despite running a huge trade deficit with China, we have not placed any restrictions on trade. By adopting regular pressure tactics on undemarcated borders, China is essentially putting all this trade at risk.
“To conclude, we have a simple message for China. The world needs both China and India to rise and rescue it from low growth. A conflict between India and China, the world two most populist countries, is the last thing the world needs. But while India applauds China’s rise, it will not accept hegemony and intimidation. India is not for war. It is for a negotiated settlement of all outstanding issues with China, based on genuine give and take. It is upto China to prove that it is capable of playing the role of an equal partner in progress, and not a country which uses its growing power irresponsibly against tiny nations.”
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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