India has a moral commitment on Tibet – I
The govt has to be firm with China
Not Freeze; But Actively Discuss Border
In 1980 when Deng Xiaoping suggested sector-wise approach to resolving the border conflict between India and China it was presumed that he was only resuming Zhou’s line. However when the border talks began in 1981 Indian side got clear indications that the Chinese are pursuing a maximalist approach. By 1985 when the 6th round of talks began the Chinese had started making open claims over Tawang in particular and Arunachal Pradesh in general.
For the Chinese, the obvious policy appears to be to get the maximum territorial advantage of the talks. That is the reason behind their constant harping on Arunachal Pradesh. Even there the initial claims were only over the Tawang region.
Till the 60s the Chinese were talking about a bilateral settlement on Aksai Chin. The 38,000 sq. km. area part of Ladakh region came under illegal occupation of the Chinese Red Army, which started constructing the Karakoram Highway linking Tibet with Sinkiang region in the 50s.
Zhou Enlai, the then Premier of China, convinced Jawaharlal Nehru that the McMahon Line is an ‘imperial leftover’ and hence China and India should reject it. Under Krishna Menon Plan in 1960 it was even proposed that India should agree for the Chinese control over Aksai Chin while the Chinese on their part would agree for something ‘closer’ to McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh.
This, obviously, was not acceptable to India because China was conspiring to annex Indian territory in exchange for another Indian territory. The proposal failed; war followed; and we formally lost control over the Aksai Chin region.
Subsequently Sikkim became the theatre of conflict. While India was engaged in a war with Pakistan in 1965 the Chinese PLA was actively making incursions into the Indian territory in Sikkim along the Tibetan border. China blamed India for preventing its sheep from grazing inside the Indian territory, which led to the incursions. There were skirmishes between September and December in 1965 in that region.
Tensions continued along the Sikkim-Tibet border where there was armed conflict in September 1967 near Nathu La Pass when the PLA tried to cross the border in large numbers. Indian troops had successfully repulsed these advances.
By the 80s, the theatre shifted to the eastern sector and Arunachal Pradesh became the new arena of conflict. While under the so-called Krishna Menon Plan the Chinese were willing to agree for the Indian claims in the eastern region in exchange for Aksai Chin, in 80s they started making fresh claims over Arunachal Pradesh.
In 1980 when Deng Xiaoping suggested sector-wise approach to resolving the border conflict between India and China it was presumed that he was only resuming Zhou’s line. However, when the border talks began in 1981 Indian side got clear indications that the Chinese are pursuing a maximalist approach. By 1985 when the 6th round of talks began the Chinese had started making open claims over Tawang in particular and Arunachal Pradesh in general.
What followed gives a clear idea of the Chinese method. There were major border violations by China in 1987 in the Sumdorong Chu Valley where the Chinese had penetrated deep into the Indian territory and constructed a helipad and started bringing in reconnaissance. This had led to a major military build-up and an eyeball-to-eyeball positioning of both the troops.
Tensions ran very high for several years until the Narasimha Rao regime signed a treaty with the Chinese Government in 1993. In a way this treaty too could be called a victory for the Chinese side, as it had resulted in both Indian and Chinese troops moving out of the Sumdorong Chu Valley and leaving it a neutral region. Once again while the Chinese had to vacate the territory that they occupied the Indians were forced to vacate what belonged to them.
Almost five decades of efforts to resolve the border issues had resulted only in India conceding every time and ending up as the loser. Zhou talked of a ‘package deal’; Deng talked of sector-wise approach. We today see neither of them to be relevant anymore. Of the 2500-km border only peaceful sector is the middle one-namely the Tibet-Uttarakhand/Himachal border, which is not more than about 550 km.
The Chinese refuse to talk anymore about the Aksai Chin. For them it is a settled fact. What is unfortunate is that even our own leadership stopped talking about it. Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988; Narasimha Rao in 1993 and Vajpayee in 2003. The nation has not heard them talk about the occupation despite the fact that there is a unanimous Parliament resolution of 1962 on getting that territory back.
For the Chinese, the obvious policy appears to be to get the maximum territorial advantage of the talks. That is the reason behind their constant harping on Arunachal Pradesh. Even there the initial claims were only over the Tawang region. These claims were based on the so-called historical aspects like the birth of the 6th Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso there.
But now the claims extend to the entire state of Arunachal. In 2006, just a couple of weeks ahead of the visit of the Chinese President Hu Jintao to India, the Chinese Ambassador to Delhi Sun Yuxi had made the outrageous claim that Arunachal Pradesh belonged to China. “In our position the whole of what you call the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory, and Tawang (district) is only one place in it. We are claiming all of that-that’s our position,” he told the news channel CNN-IBN. India forced China to call him back. But the events after his return make it amply clear that the Chinese have their eyes firmly set on that state.
For China the McMahon Line is only an excuse. This so-called ‘imperialist line’ is the one that demarcates the border between Myanmar and China. It is thus clear that it either intends to occupy more Indian territory or use it as a bargaining chip for something else. The big question is: What could that something else be?
One of the most contentious issues between India and China has been the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his people on the Indian soil. Although successive Indian Governments, starting with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954, have conceded directly or indirectly that Tibet is a part of China, the Chinese harbour serious apprehensions. They see in HH the Dalai Lama not a venerable saintly figure but a ‘divisive politician’. They are convinced that it was His Holiness and the agents of the West that were responsible for the recent uprising in Tibet and apprehend more trouble in future.
India on its part tries to mollycoddle China by assuring it that its soil wouldn’t be allowed to be used for any anti-China activities. Yet the suspicions remain. They knew about the tremendous popularity HH the Dalai Lama enjoys in Tibet even to this day despite his exile for almost half-a-century. In the 80s, when his representatives were allowed by the Chinese authorities to visit Tibet, they received unprecedented and spontaneous welcome. That must have rattled the Chinese leadership.
The Chinese attitude towards the Dalai Lama and his people hardened quite a bit after that, which continues to this day. No effort is spared by China to browbeat countries that extend an invitation to HH the Dalai Lama. Very recently it pressurised Sri Lanka into withdrawing its invitation to him. All this in spite of the fact that countries like India categorically declared that Tibet is an internal matter of China.
This brings us to the most crucial aspect of India-China relations-i.e. the Tibetan exiles including the Dalai Lama, not Tibet. This shift from Tibet to the Tibetans is very important today.
For India the critical issue is its sovereignty. The Government has to be firm on that question. The policy of freezing border question and addressing all other issues like bilateral trade and cultural exchanges etc no longer works. It has to sit down and seriously work on the demarcation of the border by exchanging maps. While doing that we must act as equals, not as subordinates or inferiors.
What plagues Indian establishment is the utter lack of unanimity in the ruling establishment. Reports suggest serious differences between the PMO and the MEA on one side and the Defence Ministry and the Home Ministry on the other.
India has a moral and ethical commitment to HH the Dalai Lama and his people. Every Indian wants them to realise their dream of a return to their homeland but with dignity and honour. India is duty-bound to help in that process. Unfortunately our Government has completely abdicated that duty. It is only the American official visitors who raise the question of Tibet with their Chinese counterparts; we seldom do that.
Just to reiterate: It is no longer the question of Tibet; it is the question of the Tibetans now. (To be continued)
(Courtesy: Organiser; October 4, 2009)
India has a moral commitment on Tibet-II
We need a strategic vision
Leverage on diplomatic relations
For almost one decade the Russia-China talks remained deadlocked over this ‘principle’ issue. But with the Soviets not budging the Chinese had to climb down and in 1983 they finally agreed to not insist on the principle anymore. The US and many others tend to dismiss all this as Chinese propaganda. It may be partly true. But the underlying lesson remains; that you don’t have to acquire same number of naval carriers as your adversary; you should rather have enough capability to disable them.
‘Dialogue is the only solution’, our leaders untiringly exhort when it comes to our relations with the neighbours. Undoubtedly. But what is more important is perseverance.
With countries like China we need to understand that there is no easy solution even if you are ready to talk. The border dispute between our countries is more than six decades old. And the talks too are almost three decades old by now. Not much has been achieved. In fact while the talks are on we concede more and achieve little.
That is the most important lesson that we must learn: while in talks, be firm. Set your goals firmly before going into the talks; and once there, be steadfast.
Maybe we can take a leaf or two out of China’s own history. China resolved a very vexatious border dispute with Russia in 1991. While India has a border stretching to over 4500 kms, Russia too shares a border of almost the same length with China. Interestingly not just the length of the border but the nature of the dispute too is same; China declares that it doesn’t recognise ‘imperial treaties’ as they were ‘unequal’ treaties. It is well-known that China wants everything redone after 1949.
The pattern followed by China in its talks with Soviet Russia is similar to what it does with all other countries; and to what it did with India too. When the talks began between China and Soviet Russia in mid-60s the Chinese insisted that the Russian side should first of all agree ‘on principles’. By ‘principles’ what it meant was that the Russians should agree with its contention that all the historical treaties arrived at between Russia and China prior to 1949 should be considered as ‘unequal treaties’.
Realizing the carefully laid trap in the name of ‘principle’ the Russians at once rejected the Chinese argument and insisted that they were not going to negotiate a new boundary and were only willing to discuss ‘minor technical adjustments’. They accused China of “attempting to substantiate its claim to 1.5 million sq kms of land that properly belonged to the Soviet Union by using a far-fetched pretext of righting the ‘injustices’ of past centuries”. Naturally the initial talks in 1964 collapsed. When they resumed in 1969 the Soviets were firm on their position that there is no question of negotiating a new boundary except to talk about a few issues limited to not more that 0.1 million square kilometers. The Chinese side persisted with its demand that the ‘basic principle’ of the unequal nature of the past treaties must be accepted by Russia first.
For almost one decade the Russia-China talks remained deadlocked over this ‘principle’ issue. But with the Soviets not budging the Chinese had to climb down and in 1983 they finally agreed to not insist on the principle anymore. Once that happened the rest of the negotiations went on and a final settlement was arrived at by 1991.
Just to understand the success of Russia and China border settlement we have to understand the mindset of the Russian leaders. One statement of Boris Yeltsin while on his way to Beijing in 1996 would suffice to indicate it: “There are instances in which we agree to no compromises. For example, the issue of to whom the three islands – in the Amur River not far from Khabarovsk and the…. Bolshoy Island in the Argun River in Chita should belong. With regard to this our position remains firm: the border should be where it lies now’.
Can we show that firmness? Have we done that before? China insisted that it wouldn’t recognize McMahon Line since it is an ‘Imperial Line’. Have we come across a Yeltsin in India who would have told them that if McMahon Line is fine for China and Burma to settle their borders why not the same for China and India? Do we have the courage to tell them that barring some ‘minor technicalities’, the border should be where it lied in 1947 or 1949?
So perseverance – the Russian type, is the key. But two more issues played important role in settling Russia-China border dispute. Firstly, both the countries felt a need for ‘coming closer’ for strategic purposes. In early 80s under Deng Xiaoping it became an important part of the Chinese new foreign policy. But more importantly the second factor, the superior military might of Russia, was also a clincher.
No meaningful settlement will be possible between two unequal neighbours. It has been made amply clear by the repeated statements of our military bosses that India lags far behind China in terms of its military capability. Elsewhere the new RSS Sarsanghachalak Sri Mohan Bhagwat also said: “Though frequent wars and border infringements imposed on us after the independence have made us some what less complacent regarding our defense preparedness, we are still less prepared for any potential war as compared to that of China and it is necessary to make more potent arrangement to secure our borders”.
Critics may call it war-mongering, but the fact remains that we need to strengthen our preparedness. But what do we understand by defense preparedness? Do we mean parity in terms of weapons, aircraft and ships etc? Is it possible? Someone suggested that since China spends 7 per cent of its GDP on defense we too should spend that much. But 7 per cent of the GDP for China and 7 per cent of the GDP for India are not the same. Here also the Chinese experience might give us a clue as to what we should do. For China, the US is a bigger rival. Even to this day it spends 14 times more money on its defense than China. That China had to face humiliating situation when a US aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz entered the Taiwan Strait in 1995-96 to force China to stand down from its threats to Taiwan. If China learnt any one lesson from this stand-off, it was that in military terms what is important is capability, not necessarily parity. Through capability one can build deterrents without actually entering into a race for parity. And that is what China did in the last 15 years.
The Chinese leadership has realised that it would be foolhardy to try to take on the US might head on. Instead they started working on the stratagem that would give it an advantage in case of any conflict. The bottomline for China is to raise the costs of war exorbitantly high for the US to think several times before taking the plunge. They call the military capabilities that support this strategy as “assassin’s mace”. The ‘mantra’, to quote the Foreign Affairs magazine, is that the ‘assassin’s mace’ will enable ‘the inferior’ (China) to defeat ‘the superior’ (the US).
The Chinese today have ICBMs that can effectively destroy forward US bases like the Kadena Air Base on Okinawa Island in Japan or the Anderson Air Force Base on Guam in South of Japan. The message is clear: in the event of war, China has the capability to the forward bases of the US redundant in no time.
Today, the US is greatly worried about what is described as the “wasted assets”. It has forward bases, but China has the capability to strike them with accuracy at will. The US has a huge and most powerful Navy, but the Chinese are deploying UAVs, radars and reconnaissance satellites that can detect warships at progressively greater distances. The Chinese have a large number of submarines with advanced torpedoes and high-speed sea-skimming missiles that can stalk US carriers. It has aircraft that carry high-speed anti-ship ballistic missiles. Thus even the vast US Navy is fast becoming a ‘wasted asset’ for the US.
In other words the East Asian seas are a no-go zone for the US Navy today. It is noteworthy that the Chinese Navy is still at its nascent stage. What China did was to demonstrate capability, not necessarily the parity.
Not just the seas and the sky, even the cyberspace is increasingly being made redundant for the US by China. It is reputed to have launched cyber attacks on the Pentagon that disabled computer systems there. Even the low-earth-orbit satellites of the US, which supply crucial military and commercial data for the US, are well within the reach of the anti-satellite ballistic missiles or ground-based lasers of China. In other words even those are turning out to be a ‘wasted asset’ for the US. Many of the ‘smart weapons’ of the US depend on the GPS constellation. The PLA is working overtime to acquire the capability to destroy this constellation thus making the US military just redundant when it comes to any confrontation in the East.
The US and many others tend to dismiss all this as Chinese propaganda. It may be partly true. But the underlying lesson remains; that you don’t have to acquire same number of naval carriers as your adversary; you should rather have enough capability to disable them. The mute point is: where do we stand in terms of research and production of modern weaponry? Prof. Steve Cohen of the Brookings Institute says that India is the most lethargic country when it comes to indigenous production of weapons. May be our politicians and military bosses are driven by ‘other’ considerations in depending on imports rather than developing indigenously?
Another important lesson that we should learn is to frustrate the enemy. China practices it to the full. It has encircled us from all sides. It has built a ‘listening post’ in Burma’s Coco Islands and upgraded it into a full base later. It has built the Gwadar Port in Sindh, Pakistan. It is building a commercial port in Sri Lanka. It is engaged in building infrastructure in countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. All these will become strategic assets for China. The Gwadar port can function as a base for the nuclear submarines of the Chinese Navy.
Sadly, we are doing nothing on that front too. We have done precious little to help countries like Taiwan. The Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj was in India last month. Despite the fact that we have best of the relations with that country which is very strategically located: land-locked between Russia and China, we hardly thought of leveraging our relations to the strategic advantage of our country. The argument is that such a move would unnecessarily ‘irritate’ China. We have an Air Force base in Kazakhstan but no aircraft.
What is needed is a strategic vision, not just statements. Unfortunately while we seem to lack it we are not even trying to learn a lesson from our own adversary, China.
(The writer is member of National Executive Council, RSS.)
(Courtesy: Organiser, October 11, 2009)
Published by Ram Madhav
Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation
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