Dancing with the Dragon…
I came across two data points recently regarding China – both of which had very worrying implications vis-a-vis India and our strategic objectives.
First, a great article “The Drag of a Dragon” by Prof Brahma Chellaney on China’s continued aggressive posturing on the border issue and the long-term implications of seeming to be “playing along” with the Chinese game.
It offers real food for thought. Read on* (Excerpts):
“Yet another round of India-China border talks begins today in what is a 26-year saga of unending negotiations that of late are acquiring an even more laid-back spirit. Breaking the monotony of alternate meetings in New Delhi and Beijing, the two countries� �special representatives� now confer in holiday hideaways, which have ranged from Kumarakom and Khajuraho in India to Xian in China. The latest meeting is in the hill station of Coonoor, in the Nilgiris.
As if to publicize that India offers more exotic retreats than China, the Indian government is generously hosting a second consecutive round of talks.� It will be remarkable if the Coonoor talks conclude in any way different from the houseboat diplomacy on the Kerala backwaters of Kumarakom � with warm handshakes, a statement applauding the �open, friendly, cooperative and constructive atmosphere,� and a promise to meet again.�If stunning Khajuraho, Xian and Kumarakom failed to lift the talks to a higher plane, rugged Coonoor is unlikely to invigorate a wilting process.
It has been almost 45 years since Mao Zedong�s regime launched a military invasion of India that led Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru � the world�s best-known panda-hugger until then � to make a national broadcast denouncing China as a �powerful and unscrupulous opponent.� That surprise aggression, and the ignominy it inflicted on the Indian state, followed the consolidation of Chinese hold over Tibet and three years of calculated efforts by Beijing to dispute the Tibetan frontier with India.
When the People�s Liberation Army had marched hundreds of miles south to annex independent Tibet and nibble at Indian areas, this, in Beijing�s eyes, was neither an expansionist nor forward policy. But when the outgunned and outmanned Indian army belatedly sought to set up posts along the mountain frontier to discourage further Chinese encroachments, Beijing and its friends dubbed it a provocative �forward policy� and proceeded to employ it as a rationalization for the attack.
Decades later…India and China are still not separated by a mutually defined frontline. Worse, the wounds of that war have been kept open by China�s publicly assertive claims to Indian territories, including some areas it overran in 1962…
…Beijing is still loath to exchange maps with India of the main sectors � the eastern and the western � so that the ambiguities plaguing the line of control are purged. In the western sector, China actually maintains an outer and inner line of control.
All in all, the ongoing process of border negotiations since 1981 redounds to China�s credit but not to India�s. There are three main reasons for this.
? First, a long, barren but continuing process chimes with the Chinese interest to keep India under strategic pressure…Beijing is following the principle, �negotiate to engage the other side, not to reach accord� This principle dovetails with China�s broader two-pronged strategy to present a friendly face while building up its power-projection force capability through military, economic and diplomatic means.
Rich in symbolism, the talks continue to be woefully short of progress on specific issues…India and China remain the world�s only neighbours without a defined frontline. Their 4,057-kilometre frontier represents neither a line of �actual� control nor even a mutually agreed line in maps.
? Second, China persuaded India in 2003 to shift from the practical task of clarifying the frontline to the abstract mission of developing �principles,� �concepts� and �framework� for a border settlement. This shift was designed to release Beijing from its commitment in 2001 to exchange maps with India of first the western sector and then of the eastern sector � a pledge it had already breached by missing the mutually agreed deadlines.
…Given its vantage point, China in unwilling to settle on the basis of the status quo. It knows no Indian government can cede even a slice of Arunachal, yet it persists with its egregious territorial claims with a twofold objective: to up the ante against India, and to keep progress at bay.
? Third, India has sadly retreated to a more and more defensive position, bringing itself under greater Chinese pressure…Far from adopting a nuanced position on the core issue, Tibet, to gain leverage, India continues to be excessively cautious and obliging in its diplomacy, arming Beijing with an open licence to demand more.
It is worse when India countenances such intransigence by opening negotiations on Chinese claims, however preposterous.
Nothing better illustrates this than the separate statements earlier this year of two capable and level-headed officials � Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan � that because China lays claim to Tawang, that issue is on the agenda to find a final border resolution. …it is no small irony today that Tibet�s exiled god-king says Tawang is part of India while New Delhi discusses Tawang with China in the border talks.
…The Sino-Indian negotiations have brought out in sharp relief that New Delhi�s acquiescence to China�s annexation of Tibet has come to haunt it, as Chinese claims on Indian territories are predicated on their alleged links with Tibet.
…A periodic treat for the special representatives, in any event, cannot substitute for progress. Indeed such stagecraft hardly honours the memory of the 3,270 Indian army men killed by the Chinese invaders in 1962.
What India needs…to ensure that no prime minister will tell the nation what Nehru did in 1962 � that China returned �evil for good.��The 32-day invasion in 1962 lasted longer than the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan and claimed the lives of more Indian soldiers than any other aggression faced by India since independence, with the exception of 1971.
The next worrying bit of data was this�graph from an excellent report** by US’ National Intelligence Council that shows the projected rise in China�s defense�spending�over the next two decades…
As you can see, it is expected to more than double over this period…
By contrast, Indian defense spending remains at a measly�$20bn (annually).
To understand why this is so worrying, read “China: India’s new Blind Spot?”
A small excerpt from that post:
“Amidst this re-distribution of the global balance of power, and in parallel, China�s military spending continues to increase unabated (and inaccurately reported) � thus hastening the scenario outlined above. Recent reports from the US Department of Defense suggest that actual military expenditure may be two to three times more (between $70bn ~ $105bn) than what the government officially admits ($35bn)[iii].� At this level, this would make China�s defence budget, �the world�s second-largest, well above those of Japan and Britain�.� By contrast, India spends a measly $19bn annually.
See also some of my related, previous posts on this topic:
* The article originally appeared in The Asian Age on 21st Apr ’07; Copyright: Asian Age, 2007
** The report, “Mapping the Global Future is the third unclassified report prepared by the National Intelligence Council in the past seven years that takes a long-term view of the future. The National Intelligence Council, as a center of strategic thinking and over-the-horizon analysis for the US Government, takes this as one of its key challenges.”
Sadly, I dont think there is as much debate and discussion on strategic issues in India as is needed (although K Subrahmanyam and Prof Brahma Chellaney are notable exceptions – and Bharat-Rakshak ocassionally has some very good links)…Fortunately this report is available for freeand I would suggest anyone who has even a little bit of interest in this field to go through it.
* Image courtesy: Wikipedia