Enough ca­pa­bil­ity to de­fend sovereignty

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS - The author is a fel­low with the China In­sti­tutes for Con­tem­po­rary In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions. Cour­tesy: chin­aus­fo­cus.com

The on­go­ing stand­off be­tween Chi­nese and In­dian troops in China’s Donglang area, ar­guably the big­gest cri­sis fac­ing the two coun­tries since the 1962 war, started a month ago when In­dian troops crossed into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory in the Sikkim sec­tion of the bor­der, which was de­lim­ited in 1890 in the Con­ven­tion Be­tween Great Bri­tain and China Re­lat­ing to Sikkim and Ti­bet and has been rec­og­nized by both sides for decades. Two ex­perts on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions share their views on the is­sue with China Daily’ Cui Shoufeng. Ex­cerpts fol­low:

In­dian Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Ajit Do­val con­cluded his visit to China on Fri­day, dur­ing which he met with Chi­nese State Coun­cilor Yang Jiechi on the side­lines of a two-day BRICS se­cu­rity meet­ing. Yet there are no signs to sug­gest the tres­pass­ing In­dian troops in China’s Donglang area are ready to with­draw, which goes against New Delhi’s com­mit­ment to find­ing “an am­i­ca­ble res­o­lu­tion” to the stand­off.

It is be­com­ing ev­i­dent the or­ches­trated provocation has po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions for Beijing. In­dia does not want war with China, be­cause even a short mil­i­tary clash could neu­tral­ize its black­mail­ing tac­tics in the bor­der dis­pute. Nor does China in­tend to use force, un­til diplo­matic mea­sures are ex­hausted. There is rea­son to be­lieve, there-

fore, that both sides are will­ing and have the ca­pa­bil­ity to defuse a clash be­fore it trig­gers a war.

In­dia “craves” for talks as long as it means con­ces­sions from China rather than for mak­ing amends for tres­pass­ing into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory. The best out­come it de­sires is prob­a­bly for China to ac­knowl­edge Donglang is dis­puted ter­ri­tory and, hence, China, In­dia and Bhutan should rene­go­ti­ate their bor­ders. Which is also the most un­likely re­sult, be­cause his­tor­i­cal and le­gal ev­i­dence, notably the 1890 con­ven­tion, is on China’s side.

In­dia may con­sider it a vic­tory even if China stalls its road con­struc­tion in Donglang, es­pe­cially be­cause In­dia will not stop build­ing mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties on its side of the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol.

Should both ob­jec­tives go down the drain, it is pos­si­ble that the tres­pass­ing In­dian troops will stay in Donglang un­til a thick layer of snow cov­ers the area, in a bid to “save face”. And by the next spring, In­dia could tighten its hold on Bhutan and or­ches­trate na­tion­al­is­tic sen­ti­ments at home. But New Delhi’s diplo­matic black­mail­ing is bound to back­fire, as Beijing has enough rea­son and mo­tive to de­fend its sovereign rights.

In­dia’s rare provoca­tive move has a lot to do with its mis­judg­ment about China’s com­bat readi­ness and road con­struc­tion in

Donglang. The road con­struc­tion, in fact, could solve the “last mile” dilemma fac­ing Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army per­son­nel and com­mod­ity trans­porta­tion near the China-In­dia bor­der. With the sup­ply prob­lem solved, the PLA’s bor­der troops will be­come more com­pe­tent, which New Delhi fears would threaten its il­le­gal con­trol of South­ern Ti­bet, his­tor­i­cally a Chi­nese ter­ri­tory.

The PLA’s on­go­ing struc­tural re­form, aimed at up­grad­ing com­bat skills and stream­lin­ing man­age­ment, might have been mis­read by In­dia.

New Delhi prob­a­bly also as­sumed Beijing would re­frain from us­ing force three months be­fore the ninth BRICS Sum­mit in Xi­a­men, Fu­jian prov­ince, and at a time when it is pro­ceed­ing with the Belt and Road pro­grams at full speed. In­dia’s lat­est arms deal with the United States — the pur­chase of US un­armed drones — along with other weapon im­ports, might also have made it feel con­fi­dent of sus­tain­ing the trans­gres­sion.

But such as­sump­tions are mean­ing­less given the tough, un­equiv­o­cal re­sponses from China’s de­fense and for­eign af­fairs of­fi­cials. Last month the PLA con­ducted a live-fire as­sault drill

on the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau to high­light its troops’ im­proved com­bat ca­pa­bil­ity at an alti­tude of 5,000 me­ters. So host­ing a cru­cial diplo­matic event, which In­dia is sched­uled to at­tend, does not mean China will con­cede even an inch of its ter­ri­tory.

Rather, Beijing is well po­si­tioned to de­fend its sovereign in­ter­ests if a bor­der com­bat be­comes in­evitable. The new Type-96 main bat­tle tanks, which re­port­edly took part in the plateau drill, have strong fire­power, ad­vanced ar­mor and good mo­bil­ity. The com­mis­sion­ing of cut­tingedge weaponry, from J-20 stealth fight­ers and DF-21D anti-ship bal­lis­tic mis­siles to the two air­craft car­ri­ers, should ad­e­quately pre­pare China for any even­tu­al­ity.

More im­por­tant, all Chi­nese weapons are backed by a com­plete na­tional de­fense sys­tem that is ca­pa­ble of in­de­pen­dently man­u­fac­tur­ing and main­tain­ing weaponry. Chi­nese troops, thanks to their sys­tem­atic and up-to-date train­ing, are suit­able for mod­ern com­bats, whereas In­dia has a less im­pres­sive record of de­vel­op­ing its own weapons. In other words, although di­a­logue re­mains a pri­or­ity in China’s ap­proach to bor­der is­sues, In­dia’s tres­pass­ing move risks back­fir­ing if it re­fuses to rec­on­cile.

... although di­a­logue re­mains a pri­or­ity in China’s ap­proach to bor­der is­sues, In­dia’s tres­pass­ing move risks back­fir­ing if it re­fuses to rec­on­cile.

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