Taming the Dragon: Part 2

Continued from Part 1

The Chinese Ambassador too has upped the ante by stating that ‘ Withdrawal of Indian troops as a pre-condition for any meaningful dialogue’, a break from the more accommodating stance adopted earlier when diplomatic negotiations would precede any unrealistic unilateral demands as is the case now and Chinese media are constantly reminding India of the results of the 1962 war.

India though, boldly attended the Shanghai Cooperation Summit and PM Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping informally on the sidelines of G-20 in Hamburg despite China falsely claiming that a meeting would not be possible when in the first place as no meeting was planned. The Indian response, since inception of this conflict, with the closing of Nathu La Pass for Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims has been  very measured and sober in discourse as opposed to Chinese saber-rattling. Even today(20/07/2017), the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs(MEA), Govt. of India, Mr. Gopal Bagley said Differences between the two countries should not turn in disputes and India has kept all diplomatic lines open and India sought a peaceful resolution off differences with China including Doklam.

China has also raised the 1890 Anglo-Chinese treaty which defined the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet; and was demarcated later in 1895. This clearly referred to, as Pandit Nehru, the then Prime Minister wrote, only to northern Sikkim and not to the tri-junction which needed to be discussed with Bhutan and Sikkim and which is the contentious area in the question. Moreover it had been unfair considering the fact that Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim, the main parties to the boundary settlement weren’t even consulted. China has been hoodwinking the world to believe what in reality is its own concealment of facts and agreements. By quoting selected excerpts from the letters exchanged, it has clearly emerged a huge ‘political manipulator’.

However the shrill blitzkrieg of Chinese state-run media and the almost daily briefings by the Chinese Foreign Affairs and Defense Ministries in a coordinated fashion in their offensive has an underlying agenda: To test the Indian resolve to stand by its ally, Bhutan in times of conflict. It has tried to create a rift by issuing inflammatory statements of India undermining Bhutanese sovereignty, how it has been converted into a protectorate of India, and how India used it as a cover to hide its ulterior motives. Without a shred of doubt, these unfounded allegations are downright balderdashy. It is paradoxical that a nation which has converted Pakistan into its economic colony, burdened Sri Lanka and Cambodia with debts and exerted its inimical influence in policies of Nepal speaks of ‘territorial integrity’ and ‘Respect for international law’, which is a nonsensical presumption.The Indian concerns of presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir(PoK) have been consistently neglected and questions on them evaded, which makes the Chinese lecturing even more absurd.

Another opinion article in the Communist Party mouthpiece, quoted a research fellow saying,’ By applying the same logic, Pakistan can invite a third country (read China), in case of border conflicts and that claim would extend up to Jammu and Kashmir, besides PoK’ .  In the current scenario, it is of paramount necessity that India stand by Bhutan as its net security guarantor and stand up to the bullying tactics of the dragon. For, if India fails to do so, it would send a wrong signal across, and would make Bhutan think twice before putting all its eggs in the Indian basket. And more importantly, it would raise serious doubts in India’s immediate neighbourhood about her capabilities to project herself as a countervailing force to the Chinese juggernaut which is poised to undermine rules-based order. Bhutan has played well to not be engulfed in the power struggle between the two Asian giants. At the same time, it has respected Indian sensitivities.

China wants to squarely target the bedrock of this mutual understanding and conjure up suspicions. India has done well to not fall into this shrewd trap and has been remarkably patient in the current circumstances. In retrospect, China has also been particularly miffed about India’s outright boycott of the One Belt One Road(OBOR) initiative. India was the only major nation that did not send any representation for the OBOR Forum, a neo-imperialist strategy masqueraded as an ‘economic initiative’. The visit by Tibetan monk in exile, His Holiness Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, the whole of which is claimed by China also has it incensed. The memories of Operation Falcon carried out by Indian Army to protect Arunachal Pradesh from China’s expansionist tactics in 1986 and the subsequent withdrawal of Chinese troops after flag meetings are still fresh.

India is prepared for the long haul in the remote and inaccessible hilly terrain with soldiers pitching in tents and establishing regular supply lines. Enough has been mentioned and documented about China’s  coercive diplomacy, from tip-toeing US surveillance ships in the disputed South China Sea to Chinese vessels ramming Japanese Coast Guard Ships, the incursion would seem to be nothing new considering the steady increase in such episodes.

One of the ways to counter it is more aggressive patrolling of the border areas and raising the cost of conflict for the Chinese. The trade deficit which reached almost $60 billion, for every $1 dollar of goods India exports, it imports $5 worth of Chinese merchandise, can be new tool in New Delhi’s kit in bargaining with China. As President Obama once mentioned, one has to pull out all stops in driving a point home to the Chinese for they can be unrelenting in their stance and can conjure up surprises during negotiations.

India should be wary of Chinese submarines lurking in Indian Ocean and docking in Pakistani Ports especially Gwadar and Karachi which are at a stone’s throw away from India’s major cities like Mumbai and Surat. Instilling confidence-building measures in our neighbours through active diplomacy, without playing the ‘Big Brother’ card (which was evident in our debacle with Nepal) would pay rich dividends in the future. The South-Asian countries have shared timeless cultural exchanges and are united by an underlying thread of people-to-people contacts despite differences. Fortifying ties with the energy-rich Middle East and aligning the Act East Policy with India’s mission of being a Blue Water Navy have been the steps in the right direction.

The whole Indian political establishment, including the opposition parties should be careful to not fall inside the Chinese traps. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi confirmed he had met the Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui after his party initially denied the meeting. While it is paramount to stress that leaders meeting envoys of other countries is not a big deal, it becomes highly significant when the said other country is China, which is in an active stand-off with your country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a leaf out of China’s books by surprising everyone with invitation to the ASEAN(Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members for the Republic Day Parade in 2018. This is the first time multiple heads of state are invited to witness both the cultural diversity and economic prowess of India. The just concluded Malabar Exercise among the US-India-Japan tripartite forces in the Indian Ocean have for sure raised Chinese hackles for it has specifically focused on one aspect:  To detect submarines capable of sliding unannounced into the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, silently taking positions near the Indian coastline. This has become increasingly important given the fact that Indian Navy has witnessed a surge of Chinese submarines entering the Indian Ocean. The strategic advantage that India exerts over the Strait of Malacca has been giving Chinese analysts sleepless nights. India can decisively impose a choke on the vital sea-lanes through which nearly most of China’s fuel , energy and trade passes.

By not buckling under pressure and standing up to the dragon, India would do well to drive home the point that the 21st Century does not belong to a single player, but belongs to whole of Asia.

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