India Has The Power To Tackle China’s Belligerent ‘Diplomacy’; It Just Needs To Muster The Will

by Lt Gen J.S Bajwa - Aug 31, 2016 04:42 PM +05:30 IST
India Has The Power To Tackle China’s Belligerent ‘Diplomacy’; It Just Needs To Muster The WillPhoto: BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images
  • The tone, tenor and template of Chinese diplomacy does not seem to have changed in the last 57 years.

    The Indian government needs to stand firm in not being jostled by China’s machinations.

“Should the Indian Government fail to change this decision at once, to have the Indian armed forces promptly withdraw from Chinese territory which they have seized unlawfully, responsibility for all the serious consequences arising therefrom will necessarily rest with the Indian Government.” (Note given to the Ambassador of India by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, 1 September 1959. Indian White Paper No. 2)

Recent years have seen the Western world giving too many thumbs up to India, but thumbs down to China. India is spoiled. Although the South Asian country’s GDP accounts for only 20 per cent of that of China, it is still a golden boy in the eyes of the West, having a competitive edge and more potential compared to China. The international ‘adulation’ of India makes the country a bit smug in international affairs.”

“Some Indians are too self-centered and self-righteous. On the contrary, the Indian government behaves decently and is willing to communicate. Throwing a tantrum won’t be an option for New Delhi,” it said.

“India’s nationalists should learn how to behave themselves. Now that they wish their country could be a major power, they should know how major powers play their games,” the daily said. (Write up in the Editorial of the state-run Global Times on 27 June 2016 in response to Indian public outrage on India being denied membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group).

Strange but true— the tone, tenor and template of the Chinese diplomacy does not seem to have changed in these last 57 years. As in the past, it is still heavy with condescension and is blatantly patronising— bordering on being boorish.

The dictionary defines diplomacy as entailing the “skill of managing international relations.” At a person-to-person level, it relates to “skill and tact in dealing with people”— as a corollary, it would, therefore, also apply to a country dealing with other countries. Another explanation of diplomacy is this— “Diplomacy, at its essence, is the conduct of relationships, using peaceful means, by and among international actors, at least one of whom is usually governmental. The typical international actors are states and the bulk of diplomacy involves relations between states directly, or between states, international organizations, and other international actors.”Apparently, China does not take cognisance of definitions from foreign language dictionaries and authors. Its diplomacy has the erudite “Chinese characteristics.”

Case Study One

China’s reaction to the verdict of the United Nations tribunal— The Hague based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that its sovereignty claims over South China Sea (SCS) and attempts to enforce them violate international law— was predictable. Since it comes with no enforcement measures, China has outright rejected it. China warned that it would declare the SCS as an Air Defence Identification Zone. Simultaneously, it alerted its military to prepare for any eventuality of conflict. It despatched naval ships to carry out exercises in those waters.

Here, in Delhi, it is reportedly alleged that the acting Chinese Ambassador hinted that if India supported China’s stance on the SCS issue, it (China) would consider India’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh more favourably. As an afterthought, he presumptuously suggested that maybe sometime in the future the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could also become disputed. If, according to these reports, he did actually say these things, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should haul him up.

Since the internal political noise in our country is so deafening, such issues do not find place for debate or discussion in its din. It will be recalled that in November 2006, just days before Chinese Premier Hu Jintao’s state visit to India, Chinese Ambassador to India— Sun Yuxi— stated that the whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. China’s histrionics continued and in May 2007, it denied a visa to Ganesh Koyu— an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from Arunachal Pradesh— who was to be a part of a 107 IAS officer study visit to Beijing and Shanghai. China pointed out that Koyu is a Chinese citizen since he belongs to Arunachal Pradesh and, hence, could visit China without a visa. Once again, in June 2009, China tried to block India’s request for a $2.9 billion loan from the Asian Development Bank as the request included $60 million for flood management, water supply and sanitation project in Arunachal Pradesh. This was the first time that China sought to broadcast its claim on Arunachal Pradesh in a multi-lateral forum.

In the course of the 16 rounds of the meetings of the Special Representatives, to resolve the boundary issue, there is a grapevine going around that China may give up its claim of Arunachal Pradesh if India lets go of Tawang. Here, it would be pertinent to recount a bit of history.

On 25 August 1959, the Chinese troops came south of the Himalayan watershed and occupied Longju. They have continued to occupy Indian territory there till date. China’s claim to Longju was based on their interpretation of the alignment of the McMahon Line. However, it was also a rejection of the principle that the alignment of the McMahon Line would be along the “highest watershed.” It is a moot point that after the Chinese unilaterally declared cease-fire at the stroke of midnight on 21 November 1962, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) withdrew north of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh— except in Longju. By the most liberal interpretation of the McMahon Line, Tawang lies well south of it and so, probably, the Chinese considered it prudent to withdraw from Tawang lest they are seen as reneging on what Zhou Enlai had accepted in 1959— when he called it “the so-called McMahon Line” (Zhou Enlai’s letter, dated 7 November 1959, to Mr Nehru refers to this).

Jawaharlal Nehru with Chou En-Lai and Madam Sun Yat-sen, in Peking, 1954 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 
Jawaharlal Nehru with Chou En-Lai and Madam Sun Yat-sen, in Peking, 1954 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons) 

Case Study Two

China is undertaking the construction of a multi-billion dollar infrastructure project—the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. It enters Pakistan through the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, currently under Pakistan occupation (PoK) and which stands disputed between India and Pakistan. India expressed its concern to China on its venture through a disputed area. China brusquely dismissed India’s sensitivity. On the other hand, the political leadership in China is quick to interpret any movement in and around its areas of “core interest” as an attempt to contain its “peaceful rise.” However, the approach is diametrically opposite while explaining the crafty strategies put in place by Beijing in so far as dealing with regional challengers.

 China Pakistan Economic Corridor (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

To cite an earlier example, in 1998-99, the Joint Working Group set up to address the India-China boundary question had proposed conducting joint adventure activities by the India Army and PLA of the then Lanzhou Military Area Command. The first such adventure activity planned was a mountaineering expedition to the twin peaks of Nun-Kun in the Jammu and Kashmir Himalayas. The Chinese backed out of the expedition stating that since Jammu and Kashmir was a disputed area between India and Pakistan it would not be politically correct to venture into such a disputed area, keeping the sensitivities of Pakistan in mind. 17 years down the line, China has forgotten its own “principled” stand and, today, has a large military and civilian presence in PoK (that includes Gilgit-Baltistan).

Since the past few years, Chinese strategy vis-à-vis PoK appears to be heading toward gaining tacit control of the region— both militarily and politico-diplomatically. China is forcing Pakistan to alter the current political status of Gilgit-Baltistan within Pakistan. From Beijing’s point of view, a political status for Gilgit-Baltistan would address the domestic concerns of the local people from being exploited by Islamabad, and externally the Indian objections.

To enable this, a high-level committee has been formed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan which is contemplating to elevate the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan in a bid to provide legal cover to the multi-billion-dollar Chinese investment plan. The proposal would see the region of Gilgit-Baltistan, for the first time in the country’s constitution, bringing it one step closer to being fully absorbed as an additional province of Pakistan. As a consequence, the entire dispute of Jammu and Kashmir will be altered completely and made complicated for any long-term resolution. Willy-nilly Pakistan will insist on including China in the deliberations, thereby, bringing in a third party— something Pakistan has always tried to manipulate.

Case Study Three

China’s reaction to India’s exploration for oil and natural gas off the coast of Vietnam, well within Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), by ONGC Videsh Limited was vicious and threatening.

India defended the projects stating that they were purely commercial and need not be politicised. Consequent to the verdict of the Arbitration Court, China will be on the back foot if India and Vietnam recommence exploration in Vietnams EEZ. China Daily, in an editorial, termed India’s plans to conduct oil exploration as “illegal” stating it as an “unwise move” which would “do a disservice to maintain the positive momentum” to improve ties. The Global Times editorial stated that India was making forays into the SCS while treating the Indian Ocean as its own sphere of influence. In contrast, the Deputy Director-General of Asia Affairs of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs justified Chinese presence in PoK stating that “we know the concern of the Indian side and these projects are not political projects. They are ‘all for livelihood’ of the people. There is no commercial action by China in that part of the region.”

China has always pursued its interests aggressively even when it was at a much lower- level with regard to its overall comprehensive national power. An assertive foreign policy, backed by a fairly modern military force that does not thinks twice in resorting to brinkmanship, has given China the confidence to get its way. While China was at pains to explain that its rise is merely a “peaceful development” it is, in fact, manifesting into a real “China threat” , fuelling the “China Threat Theory” of the late 90s.

China is strategically leveraging Pakistan in order to keep India on tenterhooks. There is a school of thought which suggests to quote former National Security Advisor— “Why create self-fulfilling prophesies of conflict with powerful neighbours like China?” And he later added: “For me, that is one of the lessons of the fifties that some of us are in danger of forgetting.”

China, too, has observed that India has not moved beyond the 1962. It is not hawkish to draw another lesson from that period— keep your powder dry. A strong, military force is not meant to fight as it is to ensure peace and non-interference. India is, today, militarily most adequately poised to avenge any 1962 type misadventure by China. In addition, the Indian government is standing firm in not being jostled by China’s machinations, which has rattled the Chinese. India, too, needs to pursue and secure its own interests above anything else; it has the soft and hard power to do just that. It needs to just muster the will.

This piece was originally published on Indian Defence Review and has been republished here with permission.

Lt-Gen. J.S Bajwa has been Chief of Staff, Eastern Command; Commandant, OTA, as also the Infantry School and Director General, Infantry. Currently, he is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi and Editor of the quarterly journal, Indian Defence Review.
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