Indian Defence Minister A.K. Anthony’s China visit (July 04-07) was dressed up as successful by both sides. A joint statement issued in Beijing by Anthony and Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan described their talks as being held in a cordial and friendly atmosphere and had an extensive exchange of views on a wide range of defence and security issues.
Obviously, a whole range of issues were discussed with special emphasis on maintaining peace and tranquility on the border, enhancing mutual trust and understanding between the two militaries and an early conclusion of a new Chinese proposed agreement on border defence co-operation between the two governments. It was agreed to enhance military co-operation through joint exercises and visits including air forces of the two countries. The two navies will also increase exchanges starting with the Chinese PLA Navy’s hospital ship ‘Peace Ark’ visiting Mumbai in August 2013. Very encouraging indeed, if the Chinese government did not have other plans.
Behind the cordial statements of the Chinese leaders, was a warning from retired Chinese military officer Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan while welcoming Anthony. Luo Yuan issued (July 04) a statement cautioning India against stirring new trouble in the border dispute. He went on to say that India was the only country in the world that believes that it is developing its military power because of China’s military threat, and India should be “very cautious in what it does not what it says”.
Luo Yuan was referring to a statement by former Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes who, after the May 1998 Indian nuclear tests said China was India’s main enemy. What George Fernandes stated was the “truth” if one applies Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s philosophy “seek truth, from fact”. The “fact” was Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were targeted against India. But the “truth” was that China had fathered Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme including delivery systems, to target India. Pakistan’s nuclear bomb was tested in China’s Lop Nor nuclear test site. During his visit to India in 1996, Chinese President Jiang Zemin admitted that China had supplied Pakistan with 5000 ring magnets when presented with hard evidence: Ring magnets are essential for uranium enrichment. China’s assistance to Pakistan in this area continues.
While Luo Yuan is no longer a serving PLA Officer, he is the Deputy Director General of World Military Research Department at a PLA Academy. That makes him a senior official of the Chinese military establishment.Luo Yuan and a few other retired military officials with positions in the establishment are professed nationalist hard liners. They may not participate in policy making. But they are useful for the Chinese government as pressure creators. There is no free speech in China.
Strangely, the Indian government and Anthony decided to ignore Luo Yuan’s warnings, a direct provocation to India. Following old practice, the Indian government decided to keep mum about another serious Chinese violation of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Chumar, Southern Ladhak of the India-China border. Apparently, the aim was not to ruffle Chinese feathers before the visits of National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon and Defence Minister Anthony to China. After Anthony’s visit, Indian officials gave an unattributed briefing to the media that raises concern. The PLA which had intruded into Deepsung in the Western Sector in May had come face to face with Indian troops, though no shots were fired. The second intrusion was in Chumar where Chinese troops intruded into the Indian side of the LAC and took away a surveillance camera. The camera was returned after a flag meeting between the two sides after a face off again. But a strong message was sent to India. The Chinese troops said any structure like the ones cited contravened the agreed protocols between the two sides. The Chinese built their structures along the borders over the years without any Indian protest. The Indian side was inordinately slow in building their structures.
No wonder that the Chinese want another border protocol. Though no details have been made public by either side, it appears the Chinese want to pin India down with an agreement which will prevent India from fortifying its position. They may even demand India drop its plan to raise a new mountain corps and restrict deployment of its air force in Arunachal Pradesh and close Advance Landing Strips (ALS).
It will be defeatist if India succumbs to the Chinese pressure. It will also severely damage India’s standing as a rising Asian power. The attendant Indian problems will be significant, seen as a soft power by India’s South Asian neighbours. Already, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives are playing the China card against India. If the BNP and Islamic hardliners come to power in Bangladesh next year, New Delhi will have to pay a heavy price.
From all accounts, China is basking in its new found power. As second only to the US in economic terms, and with rapidly growing offensive military capability to try and deny the US military access in its immediate region of the Asia-Pacific, it is not surprising that China has become increasingly assertive.
It is true that China’s policy towards India has not become as threatening as it is towards Japan and the South East Asian countries on territorial claims, it still holds its claims on Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin. Would Indian foreign policy czars wait for China to threaten India, or take measures to tell China where to get off? At the moment, India is conceding space.
Indian policy makers should also consider seriously the expansion of the Chinese Navy. It is obvious that China is preparing to place its navy permanently in the Indian Ocean. There are talks that the Chinese Navy is discussing a possible base in the Seychelles. Pakistan would invite them to set up a base anywhere on its coast. There may be others who would provide the Chinese Navy logistic facilities. The 1995-96 Chinese plans to encircle India though the Indian Ocean littoral countries are just beginning to take place.
Beijing perceives India’s growing relations with Japan, Vietnam and other countries as detrimental to China’s Asia vision. India-US relations, especially in strategic and military fields are also inimical to China’s interests. It is, therefore, even more important for India to strengthen economic, political, diplomatic and strategic relations with these countries. New Delhi has lost considerable influence in Central Asia through sheer neglect.
To make the mathematics more clear, what has India gained from its strategic co-operation with China? Zero! Indian companies, especially its strong pharmaceutical and information technology arms, have got no access in China. Yet, China has made vast intrusion into India. China continues to try and block India from regional groupings. It has been happy to see Pakistani based terrorists attacking India. It also remains firm against India’s nuclear development and international access.
China will continue to push India on the border issue and in the neighbourhood, while mouthing pleasantries. Beijing’s denial and deception strategy is in full play. Certainly, India will have to work with China, but neither can China ignore India. This is what India will have to work on instead of threatening small countries like Bhutan and drive them into China’s lap.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is a New Delhi based strategic analyst. email: grouchohart@Yahoo.com)