21 October 2014

Border obduracy – China's loss?

By Lt General P.C. Katoch (Retd)

India calling off the press meet between India and China in the face of continuing Chinese intrusions in Demchok and Chumar was expected though China may not have expected it considering the weak-kneed policy of the erstwhile Indian Government. On July 14, 2014, in his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Brazil, President Xi Jinping had said that as the two biggest developing countries and emerging markets, both China and India are in a great historical process of realising national rejuvenation; thus, what the two countries value most is peace and development, and the ideals and goals of the two countries are linked closely. Later Xi went on record to say, “When India and China speak in one voice, the world will pay attention.... The combination of the world’s factory and the world’s back office will produce the most competitive production base.”

But then came a sudden damper to Xi Jinping’s visit; some 300 so-called Chinese nomads transported by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) trucks intruding and pitching tents across the line of actual control (LAC) in the Depsang Plains a day prior to Xi’s arrival in India, and reportedly some 1,000 soldiers of a Chinese Border Regiment (Border Divisions of China are directly under command the PLA) intruding about six km inside the Indian territory in area of Chumar. Not that it is something new. That this is part of the archaic the Communist Party of China (CPC) standing operating procedure during/close to high-level visits is well known: Chinese troops intruded six km into India in February 1997 following President Jiang Zemin’s visit to India preceding December; Chinese intrusion in Arunachal in June 2003 during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to PRC; Chinese intrusion in Arunachal in May 2005 in the aftermath of Prime Minister Wen Jibao’s visit to India; just prior to President Hu Jintao’s visit in November 2006, Sun Yuxi announced entire Arunachal is part of Chinese fiefdom and prolonged Chinese intrusion in Depsang Plains prior to and during Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to India in May 2013.

These intrusions have in the past too have been orchestrated by the CPC to show their claims in congruence with Mao’s dream, as reiterated by Deng Xiaoping that Tibet is the palm of China while Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and NEFA (read Arunachal) are its fingers. Chinese companies have already invested $396 million in India, while Chinese companies had executed infrastructure contracts in India worth $24.7 billion till 2011, cumulative contractual value of these projects being $53.46 billion as per the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimates. Chinese companies have also been investing in the power sector. Indian markets are flooded with Chinese goods, imports of Chinese toys, gaming and sports alone amounting to $36.7 million during 2013-14. It is no secret that China has been eyeing Indian markets in major way. Just before President Xi Jinping’s visit, media talked of a $100 billion investment package being brought by him, overshadowing Japan’s $35 billion investment.

However, in this particular instance, the Depsang-Chumar intrusions with Xi’s visit can best be described in milder terms as idiotic because of the following: BDCA signed between India and China and promise not to disturb border peace; China’s reiteration that border population should not be disturbed – why then 300 so-called Chinese nomads being transported in PLA trucks deep into Depsang Plains; relationship that Prime Minister Modi enjoyed with China; bonhomie shown by President Xi when he met Modi in Brazil, and no-nonsense Modi heading a majority government in India and his belief for partnership and peace with all for development and prosperity of all, boosting the Asian century.

Prime Minister Modi was explicit in saying that a “climate of mutual trust and confidence; respect for each other’s sensitivities and concerns; and, peace and stability in our (India and China) relations and along our borders are essential for us to realise the enormous potential in our relations”. Xi’s planned $100 billion investment in India over five years already appeared doomed from the beginning with Beijing’s refusal to accept the ‘one-India’ policy while wanting continued Indian commitment to ‘one-China’, besides other obduracy like stapled visas for residents of Arunachal Pradesh.

So, in the bargain, what Xi achieved was just a $20 billion investment in India over five years, far below contemporary Japan. Sure Xi’s visit upgraded India-China relations that resulted in the following specifics: Chinese commitment to invest $20 billion in infrastructure over next five years; invitation to China to invest in manufacturing sector; two Chinese industrial parks will be built in India; new road to Kailash Mansarovar via Nathu La; Mumbai and Shanghai to be twin cities, as also Ahmedabad and Guangzhou; commitment by China to address bilateral trade deficit; facilitation of visit of 10,000 pupils from both countries; Chinese agreement to hold friendly discussions to resolve border issues, and invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit China next year. Modi had raised the issue of the Chinese incursions in Ladakh and said, “There should be peace in Indo-China relations at the borders. If this happens the two nations can realise true potential”. Xi did say that “China and India are two key nations in the multi-polar world.”

The two nations share similar developing goals. But to say that the atmosphere was marred by the Chinese intrusions, which continue even after Xi departed New Delhi for Beijing would be an understatement. It appears that China has missed a historical opportunity, perhaps arrogant on her economic and military might. She will take some cool reflection to understand that attempting to wrest Ladakh or Arunachal militarily from India will make her pay very dearly, the policy of inching forward and gobbling Indian territory also needs to be put aside. China has already usurped some 642 sq km of Indian territory in Ladakh over and above Aksai Chin and has established new posts in areas like Sirijap. It will be prudent to shelve the policy of muscle-flexing and go for politically resolving the border issue in peaceful manner “without disturbing status quo of the LAC” until a mutual solution is found.

What China fails to realise is that instead of muscle flexing, resolution of border will not only facilitate Chinese investment in India much beyond the $100 billion that Xi had planned but more importantly it would give China immense strategic advantage through transportation, economic and energy corridors linking Indian ports along the Indian Ocean. The combination of Princelings and PLA clout in China’s Politburo perhaps is the heady mixture that is defining the trajectory that China is taking. President Xi needs to reflect what is best for China that has been singing hymns of peace but not practising it. 

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