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Comments: Role of the People’s Liberation Army and Anti-Terrorism Drill with India

(To be read with C3S Paper No.89 “China:Role of the People’s Liberation Army and Anti-Terrorism Drill with India“, dated 22 December 2007)

The paper is noteworthy, well argued and well referenced. I do hope the authorities note it with serious attention. There are two or three things which deserve separate papers.

One is the three-part review by the Chinese researchers on the 1962 war. ‘Why resuscitate that sorry history now?’ should be our question. Obviously, the context for China is the on-going Indian wish or hope for a speedy settlement of the border. Every government in New Delhi wants to claim credit for finally settling this troubling problem, a running sore for the army and the country. In this context, the Chinese will strain every nerve to retain their claim to areas in Tibet and Arunachal, which they deem theirs by right of historical conquest. What is denied is the right of free India to retain the areas gained by Britain’s historical conquest or annexation or encroachment during the Raj period. The Chinese argument seems to be based on a feeling like this: ‘Our imperialism is our ancestral property, while your imperialism is a leftover from Western usurpers; therefore our claim trumps yours’. Both sides deny that the local people can decide to be independent or at least, truly autonomous. The Chinese thesis, from what has been commented upon in the paper, does not seem to add anything new to their known of oft re-iterated position on the border dispute. But if they say that it was a traditional and customary border, not a modern demarcated one, then the precise delineation should be open to discussion and settlement. This they seem to accept. But incursions cannot be ruled out, since the terrain is so rugged and the local geological and topographical features must weigh in the sighting of camps or lookout points or outposts. In other words, both sides have to devote a disproportionate effort and personnel and money on border invigilation.

Another aspect, which could be elaborated further, is the Sino-American angle. Is the PLA at odds with the Foreign Ministry and the CCP in its more brusque and abrupt dealings, such as the episode of the US warships being denied port-access? In every country, there are bound to be some differences on foreign policy within the state organs, and even within one of them, because foreign affairs have become so complex and inter-woven among diverse fields of activity; such that instant co-ordination and consultation is impossible. The US is notorious for its poor co-ordination in these matters, with the Pentagon and the State Department publicly pushing different lines and the CIA looking rudderless. Sometimes it helps the top leader to allow a softer line simultaneously with a harder line. We do not know enough about the PLA taking up markedly different lines towards important countries like the US, Russia, Vietnam, India and Japan. The CCCS has been analysing the main Chinese official journals and noting key articles. The PLA journals may give CCCS more clues. I do not know. In the old days, the practice was to try and interpret the allegorical articles and discover clues to policy changes of differences. In India, we have our quarrels all out in the open, so that the foreign experts get no less confused than we Indians ourselves!

I completely second your caution on the Chinese objectives in securing their territorial claims. Even more than territorial control and acknowledgement, the Chinese are intent on establishing their primacy in the whole region of East Asia, radiating to Korea if not Japan, the surrounding seas, ASEAN (and Myanmar in particular) and Central Asia. Even in Siberia and the Russian Far East, they have gained a foothold through trading. They want to be more indispensable to Iran, as they already are to Pakistan and Nepal. They will wean away Bhutan from India and make a separate peace with it contrary to our wish-line and wish-agenda for that country. We have poured so much money into Bhutan’s existing system, but the King may voluntarily give way to an assembly or a despot. The Chinese are tightening their grip on Sri Lanka. This will negate and counter Indian influence, past or present.

Finally, they want to subdue the Indian intelligentsia by lulling it into a mix of envy and admiration, so that any threat they envisage from us will be defeated by our own divided factions. (The Left, for instance, is very vehement against India getting closer to the US, which I broadly agree with, but it will not say anything against China and its dubious actions).

(The writer, Ambassador A.Madhavan, is a former Indian Ambassador to Japan and Germany).

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