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China's Strategic Instrusions in India's Neighbourhood

“The Chinese long-term strategy with regard to India has many facets. The trans-border developments are only one—but the most important— component of their strategy. There are other components—namely, strengthening their relationship with Pakistan in order to confront India with the danger of a two-front war should it try to change militarily the status quo either in respect of China or in respect of Pakistan with regard to Jammu & Kashmir; giving Pakistan a nuclear and missile capability for threatening India; weakening the Indian influence in the rest of South Asia and strengthening their presence and influence in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal; creating a presence for their Navy in the Indian Ocean region and opposing India’s attempts to emerge as an Asian power on par with China. Till recently, we had no well thought-out long-term strategy with regard to China—-neither in the border region, nor in South Asia nor in the Indian Ocean region. Only recently the initial rudiments of such a strategy have been appearing. Our attempts to strengthen our strategic relationship with the US and Japan is one such building-block of this comprehensive strategy. Our proactive Indian Ocean policy is another building block. But we find ourselves handicapped in further developing such a comprehensive strategy because we have let our influence be weakened in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. ”

—From my article of September 8, 2009, titled India-China: Dangerous Hysteria”


Despite all the abusive mails and comments that I have been getting and to which I am used over my article deploring the hysteria that is being created by some of our strategic analysts and the media over the trans-border developments, I am not unduly concerned over the reports of continuing Chinese troop intrusions into Indian territory. These intrusions were initially confined to the Eastern sector and now are being reported from other sectors too.

2. When a border is not demarcated on the ground and when there is no common understanding between the two sides as to what constitutes the line of actual control due to the Chinese reluctance to exchange with us maps indicating their understanding of the LAC, such intrusions are bound to take place from both sides. Such intrusions used to be a recurring feature across the India-Myanmar border before the two countries demarcated the border except in the trijunction areas to the north and the south. Such intrusions were also a normal feature across the Sino-Myanmar border in the Northern Shan State and the Kachin State before the Sino-Myanmar border was demarcated in the 1970s except in the northern trijunction where the borders of India, China and Myanmar meet, which remains undetermined and undemarcated till today.

3. What I would be worried about is any illegal occupation by the Chinese of territory claimed by them either in the Arunachal Pradesh or in the Ladakh sector. The 1962 war occurred not because the Government of India ignored reports of intrusions, which are instances of trespass, but because it ignored and played down intelligence reports of illegal occupation of Indian territory by the Chinese in sectors such as Aksai Chin in Ladakh and their incorporating them into Chinese territory. It is our failure and reluctance to counter such outrageous instances of illegal occupation of Indian territory which inexorably led to 1962.

4. The Chinese used to have the habit of illegally occupying territory claimed by them if they had an opportunity of doing so, They did it in Indian territory before 1962. They did it in Myanmar in the late 1960s.They did it with regard to the Philippines when they quietly occupied in 1995 the South China sea island of Mischief Reef, which the Philippines claimed as its territory. After the furore caused by their illegal occupation of the Mischief Reef, I am not aware of any further instance of illegal occupation of foreign territory by the Chinese. If there is, I would be happy to stand corrected.

5. I have stated this many times before and I state this again that the Chinese would continue to stall the border talks with India by even not exchanging maps on the LAC till the Dalai Lama dies. They are not satisfied that that they have pacified Tibet once and for all. The Lhasa uprising of March 2008 has created fresh doubts in their mind about the prospects for continued political stability in Tibet. They are determined to impose on the Tibetans a successor to His Holiness, when he dies, chosen by the Communist Party of China. They do fear that there will be opposition to their nominee from the Tibetans and that this could lead to disturbances in Tibet, in which the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) will play an important part. They want to keep a pressure point which they can use against India in order to make it control the TYC. A continuing dispute with India over Arunachal Pradesh will, in their calculation, help them in dealing with any-post Dalai Lama instability. It has been my assessment that the border talks will show some movement for the better or for the worse only after the death of His Holiness and not before.

6. The question for our policy-makers is whether we facilitate the Chinese game of stalling till His Holiness dies or whether we insist on a settlement here and now and if so, what are the options that could be explored. It was in that context that I suggested that we explore the possibility of a status quo plus solution under which in return for the Chinese accepting the status quo in Arunachal Pradesh, we could consider accommodating some of their interests in Tawang, about which they seem to be doing a song and dance. I was amazed by a flood of mails accusing me of suggesting that we hand over Tawang to the Chinese. Where have I said so?

7. What are the Chinese interests in Tawang? Nobody knows for certain. I have asked many retired military officers whether Tawang would have any military significance for the Chinese. They said no. The Chinese themselves have cited what they consider as the historic and religious links of Tawang with Tibet. They even claim that there are records to show that the residents of Tawang paid their taxes to the set-up of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa and not to the British Government in New Delhi. They have not made a similar claim regarding the rest of Arunachal Pradesh. They have also pointed out that one of the previous Dalai Lamas was born in Tawang. The Singapore Foreign Minister, who had recently visited Lhasa, has been quoted as saying that the Chinese are worried that after the death of His Holiness, his followers might proclaim a child of Tawang as the incarnation of His Holiness. If that is so, they should try to get hold of Tawang before His Holiness dies instead of waiting till his death.

8. I have been suggesting to many think tanks in India that instead of getting hysterical over Tawang, we must do a detailed research, analysis and assessment of the Chinese obsession with Tawang. Nobody has done so till now.

9. In a commentary on the observations of the Singapore Foreign Minister contributed to the South Asia Analysis Group (, Brig.Subash Kapila, a fine military intelligence officer with whom I had the pleasure and privilege of being associated, has raised a very important question: the Chinese did not show the same obsession with Tawang in the past as they seem to be doing now. He has pointed out that the Chinese even withdrew from Tawang in 1962 after having occupied it. If Tawang was that important to them, they should not have withdrawn from there. Why did they do so?

10. The answer is simple. Long after they withdrew from Tawang, sections of the US media carried reports, based on interviews with the Tibetan Khampas, that the Khampa revolt in the 1950s against the Chinese occupation of Tibet was orchestrated by the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and India’s Intelligence Bureau then headed by the legendary B.N.Mullick. One does not know whether these claims or allegations were correct, but the Chinese presumed that they were. The fact that after the failure of the Khampa revolt, His Holiness and his entourage made a dash for Tawang has added to the strength of the Chinese presumption. The Chinese fear that if there is a joint attempt by the Indian and US intelligence to destabilise Tibet after His Holiness, that attempt could be directed from Tawang. .

11. I am not a military expert. But I have spent nearly three decades in the intelligence profession. From whatever little I know of the craft of intelligence, I could say that if there is one place on the Indo-Tibetan border from where a covert action to destabilise Tibet can be mounted with some success that is Tawang. I am, therefore, not surprised that the Indian presence in Tawang gives them the creeps. When I suggested a status quo plus formula what I had in mind was an Indian guarantee that New Delhi would not allow Tawang to be used to destabilise Tibet after the death of His Holiness in return for a Chinese acceptance of the status quo in Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang. I do not know whether this will work with the Chinese, but it is worth trying.

12. I am not unduly worried over the continuing reports of Chinese troop intrusions. We are fortunate in having a competent, professional army, which is capable of taking care of them. There is no need for a hysteria over the intrusions. I am more worried about the diplomatic,economic and strategic intrusions which the Chinese are quietly making in our neighbourhood and the inability of our diplomacy to counter them. What are those strategic Chinese intrusions around us in our neighbourhood?

  1. The winning of the contract for the second stage of the Hambantota port development project in Sri Lanka.

  2. The winning of the contract for the Colombo-Kalutara road in Sri Lanka.

  3. The winning of the contract for the improvement of the Kyaukpu port on the Arakan coast of Myanmar.

  4. The winning of the permission from the military junta of Myanmar for the construction of two pipelines—one for gas and the other for oil— from Kyaukpu to Yunnan.These pipelines will carry not only gas and oil produced locally but also brought by Chinese tankers from West Asia and Africa. We claim to have great influence over the junta in Myanmar. It has reportedly agreed to sell to China gas found by a consortium of which an Indian public sector company was a member. After millions of rupees of Indian investment, gas is struck and the Myanmar junta sells that gas to the Chinese. We watch it sucking our thumbs.

  5. The reported furtive negotiations with the Government of Bangladesh for a pipeline to carry gas from Bangladesh to Yunnan via the Arakan area of Myanmar.

  6. The proposal for a railway line from Gwadar on the Mekran coast of Pakistan to Xinjiang for which a feasibility study was ordered by the Pakistan Government two weeks ago.

  7. Talks with the Pakistani and the Iranian authorities for a gas pipeline to take Iranian gas to Xinjiang.

13. What contracts of strategic significance India has won in our neighbourhood? Zilch/

14. What progress India has made in strengthening its strategic presence in its neighbourhood? Zilch.

15. How effective Indian strategic and economic diplomacy has been in our neighbourhood? Zilch.

16. It is time to be worried and howling over the way China has made strategic inroads in our neighbourhood and over the failure of our diplomacy to counter it.

17. Our Army can take care of China. Can our diplomats take care of China? ( 14-9-09)

( The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, He is also associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail: )

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