C3S Article no: 0060/2017
In the background of the brouhaha boiling over in both China and India following their face-off on the Bhutan-China border, the bonhomie exhibited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS meeting at Hamburg is something unbelievable.
Not only did they shake hands with beaming smiles, but they were effusive in praising each other for their stewardship of the organisation.
Narendra Modi appreciated the momentum BRICS had achieved under China’s chairmanship and extended India’s full cooperation for the upcoming summit to be hosted by Beijing.
Xi, on his part, recalled the successful BRICS summit hosted by India in Goa in 2016. He appreciated India for its total commitment to combating terrorism and lauded the country’s achievements in the economic and social fields.
In the case of countries other than China, I would have taken this camaraderie as a salutary example to leaders of countries all over the world and as a convincing demonstration that it is possible to maintain good relations between countries whatever the nature of the events that temporarily create tensions.
Both Modi and XI could have built on this display of warmth, and the many informal opportunities they will have of talking to each other in the course of the G-20 meeting, by agreeing between themselves to a mutually accommodating formula whereby India would agree to recall its troops on condition of China also agreeing to pull out of the territory and stop using it for any of its purposes until the dispute is resolved by negotiation, while recognising India’s locus standi with reference to Bhutan.
Unfortunately, though, I remember standing by Jawaharlal Nehru’s side when, with tear-bedimmed eyes, he confessed to a media conference at Vigyan Bhavan in November 1962 that he had begun to live in a world of make-believe in regard to China.
Arun Shourie, in his book, Self-Deception: India’s China Policies: Origins, Premises, Lessonshas extensively documented how China deliberately and knowingly led Nehru down the primrose path, making sweet and soothing promises on settling the border and ultimately ditching him.
In the matter of managing the present ugly contretemps at the Bhutan-China border, it must be said to India’s credit that its official agencies and its media never indulged in the use of unbecoming language against China and generally kept their cool.
The utmost that India, at a high official level, permitted itself to say was in the form of statements by the chief of the army staff, General Bipin Rawat, ministry of external affairs and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley.
General Rawat’s statement that India is ready for a ‘two-and-a-half front war’ was more by way of creating public confidence in its preparedness to meet any threats from Pakistan, China and insurgent and terrorist elements, and it was not specifically directed at China.
The ministry of external affairs contented itself with saying that India was ‘deeply concerned at the recent Chinese actions and has conveyed to the Chinese government that such construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India.’
Arun Jaitley’s reaction to China’s provocation to the effect that the India of 2017 was not the India of 1962, when China over-ran large chunks of territory in north-eastern India and then withdrew on its own, did not also exceed the bounds of dignity and decency.
The Indian media too observed restraint, some sections of it even giving the benefit of doubt to China with reference to its claims of legitimacy of its actions on the Doklam plateau.
As against all this, both high Chinese officials and its media, especially the Global Times, which were nothing but the echo of the official voice, went to town in some sort of a volcanic eruption spewing out an unceasing lava of frenzy and fury.
They talked of ‘kicking out’ Indian troops, warning of far greater losses than in 1962.
Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui was undiplomatically blunt in asserting that there was no scope for a ‘compromise’ in the military standoff with India unless the Indian troops ‘immediately’ pulled back.
Luo put the onus on New Delhi to resolve the ‘grave situation’.
Asked about the possibility of the conflict leading to a ‘war’, Luo said: ‘There has been talk about this option, that option. It is up to your government policy (whether to exercise military option…’
‘As for the so=called ‘security concerns’ of the Indian side, India has crossed a delimited boundary into other country’s territory in the name of security concerns… which will not be acceptable to any sovereign State.’
Luo went so far as to rubbish India’s special relationship with Bhutan, saying it had no right to ‘interfere’ with the China-Bhutan boundary talks, or to make territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf.
The Global Times brazenly sought in an editorial to subvert the territorial sovereignty and integrity of India.
It accused India of ‘bullying tiny Himalayan countries’ and oppressing Bhutan.
It called on China to take the lead ‘in restoring Bhutan’s diplomatic and defence sovereignty’, doing away with ‘unfair treaties between India and Bhutan that severely violate the will of the Bhutanese people’ and putting ‘more efforts into establishing diplomatic ties with Bhutan at an earlier date’.
Capping these virulent and insolent outbursts, it wrote: ‘Beijing should reconsider its stance over the Sikkim issue.’
‘Although China recognised India’s annexation of Sikkim in 2003, it can readjust its stance on the matter.’
‘There are those in Sikkim that cherish its history as a separate state, and they are sensitive to how the outside world views the Sikkim issue.’
‘As long as there are voices in Chinese society supporting Sikkim’s independence, the voices will spread and fuel pro-independence appeals in Sikkim.’
These sulphurous fulminations could not have emanated from Beijing side without Xi Jinping’s approval and knowledge.
Breaking out of the corner into which China has painted itself would be a feat. Whether Xi is able to pull it off will be known in the coming days.
Meanwhile, of the ‘lessons of history’ which China is asking India to remember, the most important is China’s infinite capacity for unlimited prevarications, tergiversations and prestidigitations when it comes to its self-indulgent pursuit of its fixations.
[Mr B. S. Raghavan I.A.S (Retd.) is former Policy Adviser to UN (FAO), Chief Secretary, State Governments West Bengal and Tripura, Secretary to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Government of India, and is currently the Patron of the Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and Adviser to Indo-Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He was a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the time of China’s invasion of India. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of C3S.]