Sino-In­dian stand­off: some se­ri­ous food for thought

People's Review - - OP-ED - BY M.R. JOSSE mr­


More than two months af­ter the stand­off be­gan be­tween In­dia and China - linked to a ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute be­tween China and Bhutan over a Hi­malayan plateau - flick­ers of in­ter­est on the sub­ject are begin­ning to sur­face here in the me­dia. As the key el­e­ments of the dis­pute/ stand­off are now well-known to read­ers, this col­umn will fo­cus on as­pects that may be new and/ or oth­er­wise il­lu­mi­nat­ing. But be­fore that, it may be help­ful to note that Bhutan - which re­port­edly in­vited the In­dian mil­i­tary to help stop China's PLA from ex­tend­ing a road into what Thim­phu claims is Bhutanese ter­ri­tory – has be­come largely ir­rel­e­vant, or in­audi­ble! Was there truly such a Bhutanese in­vi­ta­tion to In­dia, one won­ders?


In any case, what is enor­mously telling is that - as Bloomberg Busi­ness­week re­ports - "This is the first time that In­dian troops have chal­lenged China on be­half of a third coun­try." Notable, too, is the jour­nal's un­ex­cep­tion­able com­ment that the Sino-In­dian flare-up is "one of the most se­ri­ous since China won a bor­der war in 1962" - as also its as­sess­ment that "armed con­flict would serve nei­ther coun­try's in­ter­ests. In­dia, with an elec­tion in 2019, would risk wound­ing its econ­omy. As na­tion­al­ists in both coun­tries stoke ten­sions, nei­ther side can af­ford to be seen stand­ing down. An­a­lysts pre­dict a pro­tracted stand­off." The pop­u­lar Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio (NPR), mean­while, re­ports that In­dia has "in­creased a mil­i­tary alert along its east­ern bor­der with China, mov­ing troops and weapons into the re­gion", and re­calls that In­dian de­fence min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley told par­lia­ment this week that In­dia's armed forces are "fully pre­pared" in the event of a con­flict with China. NPR quotes a Reuters' re­port that In­dian troops in Sikkim have been put on height­ened alert, while re­mind­ing that "the two coun­tries have long been at odds over In­dia host­ing of Ti­bet's gov­ern­ment in ex­ile and their spir­i­tual leader the Dalai Lama, con­sid­ered by China to be sub­ver­sive." A re­cent New Delhi-date­lined col­umn in the Wash­ing­ton Post by Jack­son Diehl, too, is re­plete with points to pon­der. While the thrust of Diehl's piece is that "In­dia's strat­egy for bal­anc­ing China de­pends heav­ily on the United States" has been thrown out of kil­ter with a Trump White House in chaos, he un­wit­tingly spills quite a few ad­di­tional nuggets of po­lit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence gath­ered at an of­fi­cially spon­sored con­fer­ence on US-In­dia re­la­tions where he par­tic­i­pated. Among them is this sparkler: "One In­dian of­fi­cial pressed the Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion - in­clud­ing State Depart­ment pros serv­ing in lieu of the as-yet-un­named Amer­i­can am­bas­sador and re­gional as­sis­tant sec­re­tary - to say whether a White House seem­ingly sunk in dis­or­der was even ca­pa­ble of fo­cus­ing on geopol­i­tics. "The vague as­sur­ances they of­fered con­vinced few...Sev­eral In­dian of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing one who par­tic­i­pated in Modi's visit to the White House in late June, in­sisted they re­main bullish on the re­la­tion­ship. The pres­i­dent and his staff, they say, were well pre­pared to en­gage with Modi, and the re­sults were bet­ter than any­one in New Delhi had ex­pected. "That drew a smile from a for­mer US of­fi­cial, who pointed out that it only con­firmed In­dia's sink­ing ex­pec­ta­tion from its would-be strate­gic part­ner."


Per­son­ally speak­ing, this col­umn has pe­ri­od­i­cally tried to ex­plain why the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will not act as In­dia's cat's paw vis-à-vis her ri­valry with China. That in­cludes the hu­mungous stakes in­volved in ex­pan­sive, mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial Si­noAmer­i­can co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tions, not to men­tion the cru­cial, shared prob­lem of North Korea's mis­sile/nu­clear chal­lenge, as was re­cently re­flected in an unan­i­mous UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion im­pos­ing se­vere eco­nomic sanc­tions against the Py­ongyang regime. In point of fact, much the same per­spec­tive was pro­jected by for­mer In­dian diplo­mat M.K. Bhadraku­mar's write-up in Asia Times which he be­gan by re­fer­ring to two sets of ver­bal warn­ings from China's state me­dia (Xin­hua/China Daily), in­clud­ing one declar­ing that the "win­dow for a peace­ful so­lu­tion is clos­ing. The count­down to a clash be­tween the two forces has be­gun..." Bhadraku­mar sug­gested that those warn­ings should be taken se­ri­ously by In­dia, re­mind­ing that "when In­dia stub­bornly ig­nored sim­i­lar warn­ings 55 years ago in a bor­der war, it re­sound­edly lost." That apart, Bhadraku­mar did well to point out that "no coun­try has backed In­dia in its seven-week stand­off with China." Con­tin­u­ing, he says that it is "par­tic­u­larly galling that the US has not taken any pos­ture fa­vor­ing In­dia. In­dia's postCold War strate­gic dis­course is heav­ily laden with the blithe as­sump­tion that the US re­gards In­dia as a ' coun­ter­weight' to China... In­di­ans refuse to see the geopo­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties. It doesn't oc­cur to them that US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will fight wars only if Amer­ica's in­ter­ests are di­rectly threat­ened. Why should he or­der the Pentagon to send marines to the Hi­malayas or to dis­patch a car­rier bat­tle group to hunt down Chi­nese subs in the In­dian Ocean?" Which ex­plains why, at the re­cent ASEAN-re­lated con­fer­ence in Manila - and, again, as Bhadraku­mar use­fully re­minds – US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi "did not waste time on the South China Sea or the In­dian Ocean", con­cen­trat­ing their minds rather on the North Korea and al­lied hot-but­ton is­sues.


Plainly, a se­vere test­ing time for Nepal lies ahead. Given that Prime Min­is­ter Deuba is head­ing to New Delhi soon, and China's se­nior vice pre­mier and polit­buro stand­ing com­mit­tee mem­ber, Wang Yang, is vis­it­ing Kath­mandu be­fore then, she needs to ex­hibit ex­em­plary diplo­matic skills to safely nav­i­gate to­day's dan­ger­ously choppy Sino-In­dian wa­ters. If Nepali lead­ers can em­u­late King Ma­hen­dra's adroit­ness in for­eign pol­icy and the geostrate­gic vi­sion of Prithivi Narayan Shah, she should be able to main­tain an even keel even on such a tur­bu­lent sea. Are they up to the test? We shall soon learn. If not, Nepal may lose her most prized pos­ses­sion: her in­de­pen­dence and po­lit­i­cal sovereignty. Any temp­ta­tion to lean on one side could be sui­ci­dal and avoided like the plague.

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