Why is In­dia sen­si­tive to China’s road build­ing?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

The “eye­ball-to-eye­ball stand­off ” be­tween Chi­nese and In­dian troops high in the Hi­malayas is the long­est yet. Usu­ally bor­der in­cur­sions are sorted out within days, but this one has been go­ing on for more than a month with no sign of it end­ing.

Whereas the vast ma­jor­ity of fric­tions at the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol oc­cur in the dis­puted west­ern and eastern sec­tors of the bor­der, the cur­rent stand­off has un­folded af­ter In­dian troops crossed the de­mar­cated and mu­tu­ally rec­og­nized Sikkim sec­tion of the bor­der into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory.

The In­dian troops in­cur­sion into Dok­lam was to ob­struct China’s con­struc­tion of a road. In fact, over the past years there has been a lot of crit­i­cism in In­dia about China’s road and rail­way con­struc­tion in the Ti­bet au­tonomous re­gion. Which begs the ques­tion, why is In­dia so sen­si­tive about China’s in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion. The an­swer to that ques­tion is a re­flec­tion of In­dia’s re­sis­tance to open­ing up, as well as its ar­ro­gance and sense of ex­clu­sive­ness.

The In­dian gov­ern­ment de­scribes China’s road con­struc­tion as a “sig­nif­i­cant change of the sta­tus quo with se­ri­ous se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions for In­dia”, high­light­ing the ge­o­graphic prox­im­ity of the road to its vul­ner­a­ble “Chicken’s Neck” — the nar­row stretch of ter­ri­tory con­nect­ing the ma­jor­ity of In­dia to its more re­mote north­east ar­eas. How­ever, the road be­ing con­structed is in Chi­nese ter­ri­tory. Frankly speak­ing, even if In­dia is con­cerned, it doesn’t have the right to in­ter­fere, let alone make an in­cur­sion.

Ob­vi­ously the tres­pass­ing by In­dian troops vi­o­lates China’s sovereignty. What’s more, In­dia pur­sues a dou­ble stan­dard in this re­gard. Re­cently In­dia has been des­per­ately try­ing to com­plete its In­dia-China Bor­der Roads Project, which en­vis­ages the con­struc­tion of 73 strate­gic roads along the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol, of which 27 roads are cur­rently op­er­a­tional. In May, In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi chose to com­mem­o­rate three years of his ad­min­is­tra­tion by open­ing a bridge, the coun­try’s long­est, over the Lo­hit River, which will sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the travel time to the dis­puted eastern ter­ri­tory.

And in terms of mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment along the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol, In­dia has an ev­i­dent ad­van­tage over China. There are nine In­dian moun­tain di­vi­sions un­der the III, IV, and XXXIII Corps of its Eastern Com­mand, which are all ori­ented to the north. To sup­port th­ese di­vi­sions, the In­dian Army has also built nu­mer­ous lo­gis­tics nodes, troop habi­tats and un­der­ground stor­age fa­cil­i­ties.

More­over, the In­dian Army has cre­ated the XVII Moun­tain Strike Corps un­der its Eastern Com­mand so it can con­duct quick of­fen­sives or counter-of­fen­sives. The In­dian Air Force also en­joys an ad­van­tage, with its 22 air­fields in the eastern sec­tor lo­cated much closer to the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol. Its fight­ers and bombers, with their bases in the plains, will be able to take off without any pay­load penal­ties and will re­quire con­sid­er­ably less fuel to reach their tar­gets.

With the above su­pe­rior mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment, it is quite ridicu­lous for In­dia to view it­self as the weaker party and for it to take China’s road con­struc­tion in Dok­lam as a threat. Its ac­tions can only be ex­plained as ei­ther the pur­suit of re­gional hege­mony or a man­i­fes­ta­tion of an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex, in which it is try­ing to hide its weak­ness by tak­ing strong ac­tions.

Roads can be the path to wealth or the way to war. In China there is a say­ing “build roads be­fore build­ing wealth” and road con­struc­tion has played an im­por­tant role in the coun­try’s rapid devel­op­ment, not only bring­ing wealth to China, but also paving the way for co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and its neigh­bors.

Un­for­tu­nately, In­dia views in­fra­struc­ture in the bor­der ar­eas as only for mil­i­tary use with lit­tle con­sid­er­a­tion for their valu­able role in eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

In fact, the tres­pass in­ci­dent in Dok­lam has forced China to close the Nathu La bor­der cross­ing, stop­ping In­dian reli­gious pil­grims from vis­it­ing Lake Manasarovar in Ti­bet, which is sa­cred to both Hin­dus and Bud­dhists, hurt­ing Sikkim’s tourism in­dus­try, which ac­counts for 65 per­cent of the state’s GDP.

In­dia pur­sued a strat­egy of de­lib­er­ate ne­glect to­ward its bor­der ar­eas in the decades fol­low­ing the Sino-In­dian bor­der war in 1962, con­vinced that a scarcity of in­fra­struc­ture would ham­per any in­va­sion from the north. It is only in re­cent years that New Delhi has ac­knowl­edged the fu­til­ity of that strat­egy and or­dered mas­sive bor­der in­fra­struc­ture up­grades.

Yet in re­cent years, the in­fra­struc­ture con­nec­tiv­ity in Eura­sia has been en­hanced, es­pe­cially with the rolling out of China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, which, since it high­lights mu­tual ben­e­fit and com­mon devel­op­ment, has been warmly wel­comed by an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the coun­tries in the world.

In­dia is one of the few ex­cep­tions. Un­like other South Asian coun­tries, In­dia is op­posed to the ini­tia­tive as it con­sid­ers it an at­tempt by China to cir­cum­vent it.

In the view of In­dia, with the devel­op­ment of new in­fra­struc­ture con­nect­ing China and South Asian coun­tries, trade, in­vest­ment, in­dus­trial zones, and all sorts of ser­vices, will fol­low in the wake of newly con­structed rail­ways, roads and ports. There­fore, it fears South Asia will be drawn into the or­bit of China’s pow­er­ful econ­omy, and po­lit­i­cal lever­age will fol­low.

Al­though the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive has been pro­posed by China, it is also in the in­ter­ests of oth­ers, since it em­bod­ies the spirit of peace and co­op­er­a­tion, open­ness and in­clu­sive­ness, mu­tual learn­ing and mu­tual ben­e­fit.

But whether In­dia re­gards it as an op­por­tu­nity de­pends on its politi­cians demon­strat­ing wis­dom and judg­ment.

China and In­dia en­joy many sim­i­lar­i­ties, but they are also en­gaged in com­pe­ti­tion. In­dia’s at­ti­tude to­ward China’s road con­struc­tion in the age of glob­al­iza­tion is a mir­ror, re­flect­ing its lack of vi­sion, closed mind and in­tol­er­ance. It re­flects not only the gap that ex­ists be­tween the two Asian gi­ants in terms of their GDPs, but also the wide gaps in con­fi­dence, open­ness and in­clu­sive­ness.

China is devel­op­ing in the 21st cen­tury whereas In­dia re­mains in the 19th cen­tury. Its back­ward strat­egy is a his­tor­i­cal mis­take.

China is devel­op­ing in the 21st cen­tury whereas In­dia re­mains in the 19th cen­tury.

The au­thor is a se­nior colonel and se­nior fel­low at the Academy of Mil­i­tary Sciences of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army

Zhao Xiaozhuo

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