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The Meaning of Latest Chinese Transgression in Ladakh, Ahead of Chinese President’s Visit to India &

Mr. D.S.Rajan, C3S Paper No. 2040 dated 17 September, 2014


 The widely reported latest entry of Chinese soldiers and also civilians in government vehicles, into Demchok area , close to Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, to prevent locals from working in an irrigation project, happening just prior to the beginning of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, should not come as a surprise to anybody; this is because that the incident in question seems to fit in with the pattern of the Chinese making small , but significant border intrusions with the apparent aim of asserting their territorial claims, while taking care in not precipitating any major crisis, during and close to the periods of exchanges of high level visits in the past between the two nations. Besides making intrusions, coinciding with such visits, China has also been making authoritative assertions and implementing key measures with respect to its territorial claims against India. The intentions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) behind these could be two fold- applying pressure on the Indian side as boundary talks are certain to come up for discussions during the visits and noting the likely international gaze on the visits, signaling to outside powers that China will not compromise on territorial sovereignty issues including that with India.

The following post-1997 data, given in   chronological order could be relevant to what has been said above:

(i) The Chinese troops made incursions into six kilometres of the Indian border across Himachal Pradesh in February 1997, just after   former PRC President Jiang Zemin’s visit to India in preceding December.

(ii) A Chinese army patrol transgressed the LAC in the Asaphila region of the Upper Subansiri District of Arunachal (one of the eight pockets of dispute as per Chinese thinking ) on June 26, 2003, at a time when the then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee was still in the PRC on an official visit.

(iii) The Chinese intruded into the Asaphila area in May 2005, shortly after the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao ended his visit to India (The Chinese side promptly denied such report).

(iv) Before the then Chinese President Hu Jintao’s  visit to India in November 2006, China’s Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi, affirmed that “the whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory”.

(v)  Prior to the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in December 2010, Beijing denied visa to India’s Northern Army Commander and began issuing ‘stapled’ visas to residents of J&K and

(vi) China carried out a prolonged military intrusion near Daulet Beg Oldi in the Depsang Plains in Aksai Chin prior to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s first visit to India in May 2013.

It will be a mistake to look at China’s border transgressions into India in isolation to the country’s “core interests’-based foreign policy framework, visible since middle of 2008. Before this period, Beijing’s emphasis in international relations was on ‘hiding one’s capacities and biding one’s time’ (veteran leader Deng Xiaoping’s famous 24-character maxim of tao guang yang hui). The change seems to have come about mainly due to China’s confidence gained through its ability to achieve a sustained growth; also due to its conviction that the country’s   ‘comprehensive national strength’ has grown and hence in proportion to that, it should increase its influence over the world. To understand the framework, what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping said (Speech delivered at a party Politburo Study session convened on 28 January 2013) are important. He declared that “China will never pursue its development at the cost of sacrificing interests of other countries …. We will never give up our legitimate rights and will never sacrifice our national core interests. No country should presume that we will engage in trade involving our core interests or that we will swallow the ‘bitter fruit’ of harming our sovereignty, security or development interests”. The 18th CCP Congress document echoed the same spirit. It proclaimed that China’s ‘banner is to forge a win-win international cooperation’; at the same time it laid emphasis on China making ‘no compromises’ on issues concerning ‘national sovereignty and security of core interests’. Most significant has been the document’s clarification that “the two aspects are pillars of Chinese diplomacy and do not conflict with each other” (People’s Daily, 16 November 2013). Of particular interest has been its mention, undoubtedly exhibiting a high sense of assertiveness, that China “will never yield to outside pressure” and “will protect legitimate rights and interests overseas”; this has been noticed for the first time in a CCP congress document.

India should not expect that the visiting PRC President Xi Jinping will explain to the Indian side about the reasons for his country’s transgression in the Indian border. It should instead realise that Xi will not be in a position to deviate from the China’s ‘ two pillar’ foreign policy framework fixed by the CCP- forging win-win international cooperation and making no compromises on sovereignty issues. Xi has been instrumental in launching two recent foreign policy initiatives with ‘no conflict’ element as core- New Type of Major Power Relations and New Type of International Relations. While promoting the initiatives, he has held talks with the world leaders including US President Obama, the Russian President Putin and Asian leaders. He at the same time did not forget to emphasise to these leaders the importance of ‘each country respecting the core national interests of the other’.

It cannot be denied that there is a contradiction in China’s foreign policy based on core national interests. These interests demand China to work for international cooperation , but without compromising on all sovereignty related issues; thus the PRC remains consistent in claiming territories abroad perceived as its own and showing great amount of assertiveness in pursuing the claims. This is making China’s ties with its neighbouring nations having territorial problems including India, complicated.

The broad meaning of China’s continuing Ladakh transgressions for India, which can be derived from the foregoing, is as follows:

  1. Are the unending Chinese Ladakh transgressions a result of China’s own perceptions of the LAC as different from that of India? Or, do they signal a sinister Chinese motive to claim entire Ladakh as part of the PRC ? These questions assume validity when one considers blogs which had appeared in the Chinese language version of the official ‘Global Times’ in 2009 (under the title “Ladakh- another Southern Tibet”, bbs.huanqiu.com/thread-283700 dated 13 December 2009).The blog described  Ladakh region   as part of China’s Tibet, along with the assertion that the Chinese government has never recognized New Delhi’s official position that Ladakh is part of India. It further argued that the Volume 8 of the “Historical Atlas of China”, published in Beijing showing China’s territories as existed in 1820, included Ladakh as part of China’s Tibet. “Whether it is McMahon line in the East or Johnson line in the West, both have no legal basis and received no recognition from the Chinese government and people”, it asserted. India therefore needs to obtain official clarification from China whether the PRC accepts Ladakh as part of India.

  2. India will have to be prepared for the Chinese border intrusions /transgressions not to end soon as the PRC considers them as a certain mean to assert its claims on the territory which it considers disputed. There is a possibility that the intrusions can expand further and lead to a India-China ‘local war’. The PRC visualizes occurrence of ‘local wars under informatisation conditions’. The belief is that such wars can be short and happen in China’s periphery, enabling China to realise limited political objectives.

  3. India should examine whether there are chances of a non-peaceful China’s border assertion happening. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s   ‘Active Defence’ strategy does not rule out the armed forces resorting to ‘offensive operational postures’. Forceful recovery of ‘Southern Tibet’ (as China calls Arunachal) and fighting a ‘partial war’ with India were topics in the Chinese blogs some time back. China’s use of force to turn territorial conditions in its favour has precedence. Beijing launched ‘counter attacks in self-defence’ against Vietnam, India and former Soviet Union in 1979, 1962 and 1969 respectively. In the current period, China is indulging in a show of force in East and South China seas.

  4. There is not going to be a quick end to the border issue with China, notwithstanding the latter’s oft repeated preference for a ‘negotiated solution’ of the issue. Border talks could go on endlessly, but China cannot be expected to shed its consistent claim on the entire Arunachal Pradesh, being called by it as ‘Southern Tibet’. India’s response should therefore be based on a long term strategy aimed at strengthening its defence preparedness against any Chinese misadventure.

  5. India should understand that economic links alone cannot improve its ties with China. It should address the question as to why China-Japan security ties have come to suffer now, despite their economic closeness.

  6. India should realise that it alone cannot counter balance China’s rise and partnership, not alliance, with other China-wary regional powers like Japan and ASEAN nations would be necessary. The new government in India has already moved closer to countries like Japan, Vietnam etc; by inviting President Xi Jinping to the country, New Delhi has at the same time given indications that India wants to balance these relationships  with that of China. The Asian powers in general definitely look for economic benefits in their ties with China, but at the same time consider strong relationship with the US, may be with India too, as a balancing factor. For India, US relations are also important; US assistance can increase India’s military potential to meet challenges from China. India should at the same time become a key player in Asia-Pacific region, playing a stabilising role in participating in   multi-lateral mechanisms for setting up an open and inclusive regional order.

  7. Bilaterally, China’s keenness to get closer to India and the vice versa at this juncture are beyond question. The motivating factors for both are obviously mutual economic benefits. Of interest with regard to China’s position is a very recent Chinese language blog (Huan Qiu Shi Bao, Chinese version of the Global Times, written by Prof Wang Yiwei of the Chinese People’s University International Affairs Department, Beijing, 16 September 2014) which identified the roots of misunderstandings between China and India and wanted their removal. According to it, the Chinese people suspect that India is using US and Japan to contain China and the Indians believe that China is restraining India through its moves in Indian Ocean and building of ports in Pakistan,Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc. India also fears that China opposes India’s nuclear policy. Indian articulations on the need to improve relations with China have come from the country’s leaders during their recent interactions with the Chinese side. New Delhi’s attitude to towards formation of BRICS bank has especially been revelatory of India’s priorities. However, for the two nations, the long term scenario could be more important. India-China trust deficit still persists due to the issues dividing them strategically; suffice to point out that in the background of their different strategic outlook, New Delhi and Beijing may face an uphill task in establishing mutual trust. (The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India.Email: dsrajan@gmail.com)

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