There is apparently a lull now in the propaganda drive of the Chinese state-controlled media on the Sino-Indian border issue. Epithets like ‘no compromise on territory’, ‘lessons of 1962’ and ‘dangerous consequences for India’, used by them earlier, are carefully being avoided. Adding to the atmosphere is the muted media reaction noticed so far to the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s firm reference (Washington, 25 November 2009) to China’s ‘certain amount of assertiveness of late’ and implied disapproval of that country’s reform path ‘introduced by the writ of the ruling group in a non-democratic set up’. The only critical comment has been in a very brief manner- ‘Unfriendly remarks’, said People’s Daily of 9 December 2009. Similar has been the case with concerns expressed recently by the Indian Defence Minister, Mr. Antony, on China’s military help to Pakistan, with the Chinese media by and large not paying much attention to the same.
The fall in the level of the media rhetoric coincides with some significant military exchanges between the two sides. The Indian Air force Chief has taken part in the Zhuhai (China) air show in November 2009 and two top Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officials – Deputy Chief of Staff General Ge Zhenfeng and the Commander of the Tibet Military District Lt Gen Shu Yutai, have paid visits to India. The symbolic importance of the Tibet military commander’s sojourn in India, at the present juncture comes out clearly.
The Chinese language unofficial websites and blogs in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) however continue to take on India on the border issue, rather vehemently, which should be noted in India if not with alarm. Chinese scholars visiting India have argued in the past that the government is in no position to control bloggers in the country, said to be about 180 million; more over views expressed in the blogs have come from ‘Fen Qing’ or angry youth and do not represent official opinion. On the other hand, the contents of the blogs have always appeared important for analysts abroad as the concerned writers looked knowledgeable, enjoying more often access to the government data and information.
In the context mentioned, what the Chinese websites and blogs have said of late on contentious issues including that of Sino-Indian border deserve close scrutiny. Their views topic-wise are given below:
First, the blogs in the websites address the question whether there will be a second war with India and if so at what time. Revealing that China’s top central leadership has reached a consensus to teach India a lesson and recover ‘Southern Tibet’ (India’s Arunachal Pradesh), two blog assessments in Chinese language (www.warchina.com/n88582c21.aspx dated 1 December 2009 and www.warchina.com/n8183c21.aspx dated 9 December 2009) predict that Beijing may consider the 2010-2011 period as suitable for action against India; they argue that by that time conditions would have been established for next power transfer in China, economic crisis in China would have been over, the international role of the US would have become extremely weak, China would have become a powerful player in international politics, China would have been able to bring in regional military balance , the PRC’s comprehensive national strength would have developed further in comparison to that of India and lastly, China’s military preparedness would have been completed.
Chinese reinforcement in the border
The second theme in the blogs pertains to reinforcement of China’s troops in the border already carried out and the improvement of logistics on China’s side, in response to India’s recent dispatch of additional forces to Eastern sector. A Blog evaluation (in www.junshi315.cn, dated 11 December 2009) says that India’s sending more 60000 troops is a unilateral step and the same is also a part of Western strategies to contain China. Another Blog (in www.warchina.com/n8183c21.aspx dated 1 December 2009) highlights the holding of military exercises in the Chengdu Military Region recently, to counter the threat coming from India. Elaborating this point, a report (in www.ymglover.com/viewthread.php?action dated 6 December 2009) reveals that China’s border defence troops have now entered the strategically important plains in the southwest of Rikaze and East of Yadong covering the trijunction of China, Bhutan and Sikkim, adding that Bhutan, conscious of China’s influence, has been quiet to the presence of Chinese troops in its disputed area. Bhutan has also supported China’s position in the Sino-Indian border talks, it further claims. As per another Blog disclosure (www.junshi315.cn dated 11 December 2009), with additional troops in position, China’s border with India now stands sealed. The Chinese army is fully prepared as India, taking the reported military training to ULFA in China as a pretext, may plan to attack China, according to another blog (in huanqiu.com/? uid-158463-action-viewspace-itemid-390632)
On upgrading of logistics position, a blog (www.junshi315.cn dated 11 December 2009) quotes foreign reports to say that that the new airport at A Li with 4500-meter long runway is capable of lifting fighter aircraft and bombers. In the same connection a report (http://topics.huanqiu.com/thread-283700-1-1.html dated 19 October 2009) focuses on the proposed extension of Qinghai-Tibet railway to Nepal border and a railway project under planning to link China and Pakistan in parallel to the existing China-Pakistan Friendship Highway.
“ Ladakh- Another Southern Tibet”
As third theme of the websites, India’s Ladakh region is being described as part of China’s Tibet, along with the assertion that the Chinese government has never recognized New Delhi’s official position that Ladakh is part of India. Taking this stand, a blog under the title “Ladakh- another Southern Tibet”(bbs.huanqiu.com/thread-283700 dated 13 December 2009) says that the Volume 8 of the “Historical Atlas of China”, published in Beijing showing China’s territories as existed in 1820, included Ladakh as part of China’s Tibet. “Whether it is McMahon line in the East or Johnson line in the West, both have no legal basis and received no recognition from the Chinese government and people”, it asserts.
“Drive India out of Sikkim”
While one blog (bbs.huanqiu.com/thread-283700-1-1.html, 13 December 2009) says that acceptance of Sikkim as part of India with Nathula as trading point, has been the greatest Chinese concession to India made during border talks, another comment (www.ymglover.com/viewthread.php?action dated 6 December 2009) under the caption “ China should drive India out of Sikkim”, finds motives behind India’s deployment of its 27th Mountain Division to Sikkim belt, after shifting it from its original base in Kashmir. It attributes the shift to the strategic pressure from China felt by India. It concludes by saying that a clash of Indian and Chinese strengths to capture Sikkim has already started.
India-Nepal relation is also a notable topic figuring in the Chinese language websites. Noting India’s high-level treatment to the visiting Nepalese Army Chief in December 2009 and its proposal to supply T-72 tanks to Nepal, a report in the authoritative website (mil.huanqiu.com/Observation/2009-12/664409.html) compares the military assistance to Nepal by China and India and finds China’s help to Nepal’s military training programme as superior. It quotes a Chinese military expert to say that the balanced position being maintained by Kathmandu at the current time of Sino-Indian tensions marks a victory for Beijing’s military strategy in the neighborhood. Also, according to an opinion (mil.huanqiu.com/Observation/2009-12/656241.html), the airport in Nepal’s Surketh, to be built by New Delhi under an agreement with Kathmandu, will be a ‘springboard’ to India for attacking China.
Despite tensions, both Beijing and New Delhi have managed to keep relations at government levels at an even keel and there is constant official exchange of views between the two sides. Even setting up of a hotline between the two prime ministers is under discussion. This being so, there may be some justification if a question is asked as to why pay attention to unofficial blogs now. The aim of this paper, which has done so, is not to create panic and cause misgivings in respect of Sino-Indian ties. But at the same time, it may not be wrong to say that analysts in India have a responsibility to take notice and analyze implications if any, of tall claims being made in the Chinese blogs like the ‘consensus’ at top leadership levels in the PRC to teach a lesson to India and recover Arunachal in the 2010-2011 period. Also, the assertion that Ladakh is part of ‘Southern Tibet’ and that the PRC has never recognized that territory as part of India, definitely raises more suspicions in India on China’s intentions.
(The writer, Mr. D.S.Rajan, is the Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai`, India.Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)