SUR­REN­DER IN BEI­JING

India Today - - UPFRONT - Brahma Chel­laney is a geostrate­gist and au­thor

Diplo­macy, to be ef­fec­tive, must be backed by lever­age and cross-link­ages to min­imise the weaker side’s dis­ad­van­tages and help main­tain a de­gree of equi­lib­rium in a bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship. The In­dian lead­er­ship, how­ever, has ig­nored that im­per­a­tive, em­brac­ing diplo­matic show­man­ship. Its en­gage­ment with China is bereft of even the first prin­ci­ple of diplo­macy—rec­i­proc­ity—thus al­low­ing Bei­jing to reap a soar­ing trade sur­plus even as it un­der­mines In­dian in­ter­ests. Show­cas­ing the “suc­cess” of a bi­lat­eral sum­mit takes prece­dence over safe­guard­ing na­tional in­ter­est—a “hug first, re­pent at leisure” ap­proach.

Noth­ing can il­lus­trate this bet­ter than the re­cent Bei­jing visit of Man­mo­han Singh, In­dia’s most-trav­elled prime min­is­ter ever. He re­turned with a com­pletely hol­low river-waters ac­cord that ef­fec­tively hands China a pro­pa­ganda tool to blunt any In­dian crit­i­cism of its dam-build­ing spree in Ti­bet. Rarely be­fore have two ma­jor coun­tries signed an ac­cord so steeped in empty rhetoric as this mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing un­veiled dur­ing Singh’s visit. The ac­cord, in­cor­po­rat­ing not a sin­gle Chi­nese com­mit­ment or any­thing tan­gi­ble, seeks to pull the wool over the In­dian pub­lic’s eyes.

It is just a pub­lic re­la­tions text with only plat­i­tudes—that the “two sides recog­nised that trans-bor­der rivers and re­lated nat­u­ral re­sources and the en­vi­ron­ment are as­sets of im­mense value”; that they “agreed that co­op­er­a­tion on trans-bor­der rivers will fur­ther en­hance mu­tual strate­gic trust and com­mu­ni­ca­tion”; and that they also “agreed to fur­ther strengthen co­op­er­a­tion on trans-bor­der rivers” and “ex­change views on other is­sues of mu­tual in­ter­est”. As if to add in­sult to in­jury, the ac­cord even ex­tracts In­dia’s “ap­pre­ci­a­tion to China” for sell­ing “flood-sea­son hy­dro­log­i­cal data”, al­though In­dia pro­vides such data free to down­stream Pak­istan and Bangladesh year-round.

Another much-trum­peted ac­cord signed dur­ing the visit—the Chi­nese-dic­tated Bor­der De­fence Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment ( BDCA)— con­tains noth­ing to halt the in­creas­ingly fre­quent Chi­nese bor­der in­cur­sions or pre­vent a Dep­sang-style deep en­croach­ment again. De­fence Min­is­ter A.K. Antony has ad­mit­ted this, say­ing the ac­cord “does not mean noth­ing will hap­pen” on the fron­tier. Bei­jing wanted a new ac­cord to wipe the slate clean over its breaches of the bor­der-peace agree­ments signed in 1993, 1996 and 2005. But why did In­dia ac­cede to the vi­o­la­tor’s de­mand for new bor­der rules?

BDCA’s pro­vi­sions are so vaguely worded as to al­low China—a mas­ter at rein­ter­pret­ing texts—to cast the bur­den of com­pli­ance mainly on In­dia. For ex­am­ple, Ar­ti­cle II, with­out elab­o­ra­tion, calls for ex­change of “in­for­ma­tion about mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, air­craft, de­mo­li­tion op­er­a­tions and un­marked mines”. Does this mean that In­dia must in­form China about its mil­i­tary cargo flights to for­ward land­ing strips such as Daulat Beg Oldi and its de­mo­li­tion work to build Hi­malayan road tun­nels?

Or take Ar­ti­cle VI, which says min­i­mally: “The two sides agree that they shall not fol­low or tail pa­trols of the other side in ar­eas where there is no com­mon un­der­stand­ing of the line of ac­tual con­trol ( LAC)”. The home min­istry-ad­min­is­tered As­sam Ri­fles and Indo-Ti­betan Bor­der Po­lice (not reg­u­lar Army troops) that In­dia tim­o­rously de­ploys to fend off the ag­gres­sive Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army ( PLA) have a de­fen­sive mind­set and are in no po­si­tion to tail the Chi­nese. But if PLA troops in­trude and pitch tents, claim­ing they are on Chi­nese land, Bei­jing is likely to in­ter­pret this pro­vi­sion as bar­ring In­dian pa­trols from en­cir­cling them or set­ting up their own Dep­sang-style camp to keep an eye on the raiders.

Given China’s claims on In­dian ter­ri­to­ries and its re­fusal to even clar­ify the LAC, Ar­ti­cle VI, in ef­fect, ties only In­dia’s hands. No less sus­pect is Ar­ti­cle VII, which gives ei­ther side the right to seek “clar­i­fi­ca­tion” from the other if “any ac­tiv­ity” oc­curs in “ar­eas where there is no com­mon un­der­stand­ing” of the LAC. If In­dia were to seek clar­i­fi­ca­tion over a Chi­nese pen­e­tra­tion, it would likely get the stock re­ply that the “Chi­nese troops are on Chi­nese soil”. Con­trary to the pre-visit claim, BDCA con­tains no com­mit­ment to set up a hot­line be­tween the In­dian and Chi­nese mil­i­tary head­quar­ters; it only says the two sides “may con­sider” do­ing that.

Any Chi­nese leader com­bines an In­dia stopover with a visit to his coun­try’s “all-weather ally”, Pak­istan, but a meek Singh de­clined to club his China visit with a trip to Ja­pan or Viet­nam. Singh, in fact, was in Bei­jing at the same time as the Rus­sian and Mon­go­lian premiers, with Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev be­gin­ning his Bei­jing trip while Singh was cool­ing his heels in Moscow on an of­fi­cial visit.

Yet, with the help of the planeload of jour­nal­ists he takes with him on any over­seas visit, Singh mar­keted his China trip as a ma­jor suc­cess. In truth, as the two ac­cords at­test, he wil­fully played into China’s hands.

Www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

SAU­RABH SINGH/

BRAHMA CHEL­LANEY

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