VIEW­POINT: THE CHI­NESE CHAL­LENGE

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

Post be­ing anointed Pres­i­dent for life, Xi Jin­ping told 3,000 leg­is­la­tors of the Chi­nese Par­lia­ment on March 20, 2018, “The Chi­nese peo­ple have been in­domitable and per­sis­tent. We are re­solved to fight the bloody bat­tle against our en­e­mies, and on the ba­sis of in­de­pen­dence we are deter­mined to recapture the relics.” He did not iden­tify China’s en­e­mies but said China would not cede a sin­gle inch of its ter­ri­tory. That raises the ques­tion which ter­ri­to­ries Xi was talk­ing about – all the il­le­gal Chi­nese claims of which he him­self has been party to? Some an­a­lysts feel the “bloody bat­tle” part is di­rected to­wards Tai­wan, cap­ture of which will im­ply China bat­tling the US. Since 2000, In­dian del­e­ga­tions vis­it­ing China were told that China will in­te­grate Tai­wan into main­land China by 2025. It is pos­si­ble Xi was re­fer­ring to that.

But, what about other il­le­gal Chi­nese claims, in­clud­ing In­dia; Arunachal Pradesh, Eastern Ladakh and else­where? Be­sides, not only China has ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the East China Sea (ESC) with Ja­pan and South China Sea (SCS) with Viet­nam, the Philip­pines, Malaysia, Brunei and Tai­wan, she ac­tu­ally claims ter­ri­to­ries in 23 coun­tries even though shar­ing borders with only 14. Over­all, il­le­gal claims of present day China it­self. Many of th­ese claims are based on un­sub­stan­ti­ated so-called his­tor­i­cal claims dat­ing back to cen­turies. But here too China cun­ningly chooses par­tic­u­lar time­line in par­tic­u­lar cen­tury to go back. For ex­am­ple, in the sev­enth cen­tury Ti­bet was an em­pire, span­ning the high heart­land and deserts of the north-west, reach­ing from the borders of Uzbek­istan to Cen­tral China, from half­way across Xin­jiang, an area larger than the Chi­nese heart­land. In 763, Ti­betan army briefly cap­tured the Chi­nese cap­i­tal Chang-an (to­day’s Xian and much later it was the Mon­gols who later ruled China then oc­cu­pied Ti­bet. So should Mon­go­lia claim Ti­bet?

Get­ting back to Xi, he said, “We have strong ca­pa­bil­i­ties of tak­ing our due place in the world. We have fought for that big dream for about 170 years. To­day more than ever the Chi­nese peo­ple are close to that dream, ever more con­fi­dent and ca­pa­ble of re­al­iz­ing the re­ju­ve­na­tion of the Chi­nese na­tion.” All told, typ­i­cal call by a mod­ern­daty Hitler an­nounc­ing the use of force.

China has been send­ing mixed sig­nals to In­dia. In De­cem­ber 2017 China’s Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Yang Jiechi de­liv­ered Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping mes­sage to Prime Min­is­ter Modi that both coun­tries should as­pire to be­come “friends for gen­er­a­tions” and “part­ners in re­ju­ve­na­tion”. But si­mul­ta­ne­ously PLA was per­ma­nently estab­lish­ing in North Dok­lam. Yang Jiechi was also State Coun­cilor un­der Premier Li Ke­qiang in 2013 when lat­ter vis­ited In­dia in wake of 19 km deep in­tru­sion at Raki Nala in Dep­sang Plains of Eastern Ladakh. Next, Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi telling me­dia in Bei­jing in March 2018, “De­spite some tests and dif­fi­cul­ties, the China-In­dia re­la­tion­ship con­tin­ues to grow. …China is up­hold­ing its rights and le­git­i­mate in­ter­ests and tak­ing care to pre­serve the re­la­tion­ship with In­dia… Chi­nese dragon and In­dian ele­phant must not fight each other but dance with each other….. If China and In­dia are united, one plus one will be­come eleven in­stead of two. With po­lit­i­cal trust, not even the Hi­malayas can stop us from friendly ex­changes”. But Wang Yi’s call for tango also raises many ques­tions. Dance to whose tune – China’s? Doesn’t his state­ment about up­hold­ing China’s rights and le­git­i­mate in­ter­ests im­ply all il­le­gal claims (Dok­lam, Arunachal Pradesh, other ar­eas) and isn’t this a threat? What is the ba­sis of trust­ing China – a call to Tango? Where was China when Rus­sian Pres­i­dent was push­ing for stronger In­dia-China-Rus­sian re­la­tions decade plus back? The In­dian re­sponse was quite er­ratic.

A govern­ment memo asked se­nior lead­ers and govern­ment func­tionar­ies not to at­tend Ti­betan di­as­pora events to mark 60 years of Dalai Lama’s ex­ile and thank In­dia for giv­ing Ti­betans shel­ter. With Ti­betan Prime Min­is­ter Lob­sang San­gay in­vited for Modi’s swear­ing-in, would it not have been pru­dent to qui­etly or­ches­trate post­pon­ing ‘thank you’ event to end 2018, giv­ing time to ob­serve Chi­nese be­hav­iour? In­dia also can­celled the an­nual Asian Se­cu­rity Con­fer­ence to be hosted this month by the In­sti­tute of De­fence Stud­ies and Anal­y­sis (IDSA) cit­ing “ad­min­is­tra­tive rea­sons”, this year’s theme be­ing “In­dia and China in Asia: Mak­ing of a New Equi­lib­rium”. Whether there was fear or not of state­ments dur­ing the event could dis­please Chi­nese par­tic­i­pants, it does in­di­cate un­due ap­pease­ment – a sign of weak­ness.

Sure, With Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj is at­tend­ing the For­eign is Min­is­ters meet in China ahead of the SCO sum­mit in Qing­dao in June 2018 which will be at­tended by Prime Min­is­ter Modi, but Chi­nese sig­nals need to be read with cau­tion. Re­cent news have ap­peared that PLA is build­ing yet another road in Dok­lam lead­ing to the Jham­peri ridge oc­cu­pied by In­dia. In March 2018, Chi­nese boats car­ry­ing arms en­tered Bangladesh waters and arms were smug­gled into the coun­try al­legedly for lo­cal ex­trem­ist groups and in­sur­gent out­fits in north­east In­dia. While Bangladesh mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and Coast Guard are un­der scanner, it is quite likely that China is as­sist­ing over­throw of the Bangladesh Govern­ment and per­haps as­sas­si­na­tion of Sheikh Hasina.

That China has been arm­ing and sup­port­ing in­sur­gents in In­dia north­east as also Maoists is well known. In 2015, China es­tab­lished the United Lib­er­a­tion of West, South and East Asia com­bin­ing nine mil­i­tant groups in­clud­ing the NSCN (K) and ULFA. All th­ese are the real face of China who has also been us­ing Pak­istan against In­dia, em­ploy­ing an­cient strat­egy to ‘Kill with Bor­rowed Knife’. In­dia must re­main stead­fast even though China will likely to go for in­tru­sions along the LAC, es­pe­cially in Arunachal Pradesh, in or­der to pres­sure In­dia to join the CPEC, which In­dia should not be­cause that would im­ply sur­ren­der­ing sovereignty like Pak­istan. At the same time, if we want peace, we must pre­pare for war. In geopol­i­tics, no ne­go­ti­a­tions work from po­si­tion of weak­ness.

LT GEN­ERALP.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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