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DOB FACE OFF: SOME CHINESE PERCEPTIONS

As far as the face off in the DOB sector is concerned, Chinese media has been tight lipped, barring a few expert comments. It exercised restrain and caution and selectively reported the squabble through what was already being reported in the Indian print and electronic media. The three week long standoff that started on April 15th was resolved peacefully on May 5th after several rounds of talks at different levels, thus paving way for Salman Khursid’s recent China visit and also that of the visit of Chinese premier Li Keqiang.

Even though the Chinese media has downplayed the incident, but starting from May 1, some articles by academics started to surface in the Chinese print media and hint to the Chinese apprehensions about ‘aggressive’ patrolling in the region as well as the up gradation of border infrastructure by India. An Article by Hu Zhiyong, a professor in the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences while calling for a better management of the border issue, also maintains that presently India has deployed 45 battalions of police force along the border areas, besides 4 battalions are in the midst of organization. India plans to add 9 more battalions by 2015. Hu says that both sides must put efforts to manage and handle the border and Tibet issue appropriately and strive for a just and reasonable solution so that these issues do not become a hindrance in the development of India-China relations.

On the same day Zhang Xiaodong, a professor with the same Academy wrote an article entitled “dragon and Elephant games: China should be confident while dealing with the border dispute” in the official web site of Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times) in Chinese. The tone was rather hawkish and matches the cacophony of some of the voices in Indian media. Prof. Zhang made four assumptions. One, he said China must appropriately ‘hammer’ /admonish (qiaoda) India, for it has been supporting the Tibetan independence for long, have been cooperating with Vietnam in petroleum development, and would like to enter South China Sea to contain China; also it has been making great fuss about the ‘string of Pearls’ strategy of China in the Indian Ocean. This has harmed the Chinese interests, therefore, China need to teach India lessons by creating tensions on the land, and if we move a step forward, we can force India’s retreat to inner line of defense strategically; preventive and possible containment of India would be advantageous to China’s diplomacy. Secondly he said, in all probability, India would eat a humble pie (chibie), for China has been in dominating position. India has already said that the issue will not impact on the overall development of the India-China relation. Thirdly, China should exhibit confidence in dealing with the dispute. Finally, in the long run, the geopolitical game between India and China would continue, and China has many cards up in its sleeve as far as the dispute in southern Tibet (read Arunachal) and competition in Indian Ocean is concerned, for example controlling the water resources of South Asia, strengthening China’s strategic presence in the Indian Ocean, and strengthening China’s relations with the South Asian countries, and contain India both on the land and sea. Prof. Zhang also says that the comprehensive national strength and a strong military are the ultimate amours and chips of the foreign policy.

According to a recent report in Cankao Xiaoxi (reference news) which initially used to be for internal circulation only, India in April this year erected seven bunkers in the Chumar sector, of these one makeshift post overlooking Karakorum highway erected on April 21st was thought to be extremely objectionable. The removal of this according to China resolved the crisis. China had expressed opposition to these posts and bunkers for it alleged that India violated the 2005 agreement that did not allow any party to the construction of these strongholds.

Another article that has appeared on May 10, 2013 in Huanqiu’s official website is by Hao Ding from the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences. Hao talks about imperial China’s expansion during Yuan and claims Ladakh as part of Tibet right up to the 1830s when he says it was under the Manchus. He says that since 1843 it has been a part of Kashmir, and with the annexation of Kashmir by the British in 1848, Ladakh also was occupied. Hao also points to Chinese concerns about increased Indian infrastructure building in the region. According to him India only restored seasonal patrolling of the DBO in the 1980s but since 2008 the region witnessed substantial increase in the deployment of troops, a comprehensive up gradation of the combat facilities and infrastructure, reactivation of large numbers of advanced landing airfields. At the same time India has also taken to a more aggressive border policy, by way of constructing border roads, deploying helicopters, radars and unmanned aerial vehicles, and has been “frequently nibbling Chinese territory including the Aksai Chin.”

According to Hao, India’s military buildup, not only have undermined the agreements reached between the two countries pertaining to maintaining peace and tranquility in the border regions, but also has posed a substantial challenge to China’s territorial sovereignty. Also, he says has increased the probability of both conflict and skirmishes on the border. Therefore, the recent face off is the outcome of such a friction or rather the “the inevitable result of India initiating a new ‘forward policy’.” He admits that the face off was provoked by China and could be considered ‘Chinese Counterattack’ to Indian policies and a ‘microcosm’ of the series of frictions between India and China in these areas. Only thing that has been different is that all previous skirmishes were provoked by India on the Chinese side, on this occasion it could be said as China’s counterattack.

Hao posits that the recent border face off is the creation of India’s right wing forces in tandem with military. It is obvious that the military has provided media the images and data captured by the UAV. According to Hao, even though the face off was settles peacefully by both the sides but the negative impact of such incidents cannot be underestimated. First, it has seriously undermined the basis of mutual trust between the two countries. It has greatly damaged the image of China in the eyes of Indian people, and has vitiated the atmosphere for developing good relations. Second, it has increased the risk of border conflict between the two countries. For example, if the counter measures such as deployment of additional special operation forces, cutting off the supply lines of the Chinese camp, are implemented, it would further escalate the confrontation. Finally, Hao maintains that since there are stark differences between India and China on border, therefore, to resolve it peacefully in the short term is highly unlikely, therefore, the priority should be accorded to maintain the stability in the border areas.

The Chinese perceptions apart, the peaceful resolution of the so called ‘tent confrontation’ points to the maturing India China relations, and that both sides have will and confidence to dissolve the crisis bilaterally and prevent the crisis from acquiring dangerous proportions. It is also a pointer to the fact that India-China relations remains “fragile” and the border issue is the root of most of the trust deficit and mutual suspicion, if not handled properly could rekindle the animosities in no time. It is also indicative of the fact that the existing mechanisms have been effective in maintaining the peace and tranquility along the border, however, have also demonstrated that these fall short of finding a solution to the border issue. Therefore, it becomes imperative for both India and China to show political will and resolve, and reach an agreeable resolution of the border as soon as possible so that a way is paved for a firmer hand shake and trust.

The face off also demonstrates that both nations does not want the border to be an irritant in developing bilateral relations in other areas, especially trade and investment, culture and people to people relations. Here again a lot has to be done by both the governments. For example China need to open its markets for Indian pharmaceutical and IT products; and India its market to greater Chinese investment in infrastructure sector, power and telecom. As far as people to people exchanges are concerned, India needs to open its educational institutes to the Chinese students and strengthen its Chinese learning and China studies in India. We must ask ourselves, why have thousands of Indian students found their way to China? And after all how many Chinese students have found their ways to Indian universities. Why it is so that only 100,000 Chinese could visit India comparing to 600, 000 Indians to China? We need to initiate a flexible visa regime and facilitate larger academic exchanges at various levels.

(Prof B R Deepak is Professor of Chinese and China Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. The views expressed are his own. He could be reached at bdeepak@mail.jnu.ac.in)

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