By Lt Gen S L Narasimhan (Retd)
China’s official tabloid Global Times has warned India that she will retaliate if India attempts to sour China- South Asia ties. It said that India is always unnerved to see exchanges between China and South Asian countries. This report was in the context of two incidents. One, General Chang Wanquan, China’s Defence Minister is visiting both Nepal and Sri Lanka. Two, China and Nepal are going to conduct their first ever joint exercise between their armies. The report also blamed India for not allowing Bhutan to establish diplomatic relations with China.
In the Global Times article mentioned above, China has said that, “If such tendencies in India continue, China will have to fight back, because its core interests will have been violated”. One is at a loss to understand as to how relations with Nepal and Sri Lanka become core interests for China unless she treats these countries as her own territory.
If that is the case, these countries have a lot more to worry about, than India. As per official documents or speeches by her leaders and officials, China’s core interests are preserving China’s basic state system and national security (维护基本制度和国家安全); national sovereignty and territorial integrity(国家主权和领土完整); continued stable development of China’s economy and society (经济社会 的 持续稳定发展) and “national unity” or “reunification” ( 国家统一/两岸统一/统一大业). The visit of the Chinese dignitary to India’s neighbours does not fall into any of these categories. Unless China is trying to push the envelope as far as her core interests are concerned, the averments in that article do not hold water.
China will do well to look at her own past before blaming India. In 2007, when a quadrilateral security dialogue was started with Australia, Japan, India and USA taking part in it, China went ballistic. Deferring to China’s concerns, the initiative was called off after the Malabar Exercises that year.
In 2011, China protested USA sending teams to Arunachal Pradesh to recover the mortal remains of their air crew that went missing during World War II. China could not stomach even a sacred responsibility of USA towards her soldiers. On 12 July 2016, Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favour of Philippines on the reefs in South China Sea. China’s reaction was very vocal and she did not adhere to the verdict.
While China is sensitive to any action or reaction that is contrary to her interests, even though it may not be affecting her core interests, her actions that affect India’s core interests have been considerable. In 1954 she constructed the Western highway which passes through Aksai Chin.
In 1963, she got into an agreement with Pakistan to acquire Shaksgam Valley which is part of Jammu and Kashmir. Interestingly, she also placed the onus of negotiating with her for this Valley on the country that gets Jammu and Kashmir when the boundary issue gets resolved between India and Pakistan. She constructed the Karakoram highway through Gilgit – Baltistan which is in the disputed Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and started using it from 1979.
Mr Manmohan Singh visited Arunachal Pradesh in October 2009, a state of India of whom he was the Prime Minister. China was very upset and protested. Similarly, when Mr Narendra Modi visited the state in February 2015, China again condemned it strongly. The Chinese spokesperson mentioned that China has never recognised Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India.
China seems to forget that her own premier Late Mr Zhou Enlai had offered to settle the boundary on the lines of the McMohan Line which meant that China agreed that Arunachal Pradesh was part of India. As late as 2005, China’s former premier Mr Wen Jiabao signed the agreement titled “Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question”.
Article 7 of that agreement stated, “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas”. This included the settled populations of Arunachal Pradesh as nothing to the contrary was mentioned in the agreement.
In recent times, a number of activities that she has been doing are affecting the India China bilateral relationship adversely. In 2013, when Mr Li Keqiang was visiting India, a Chinese patrol came to Daulat Beg Oldi and camped in an area which is disputed. In 2014, when Mr Xi Jinping was visiting India there was a face-off between India and Chinese troops in Chumar area. Though many analysts point out that these were pre planned, this author is of the view that they were coincidental.
China has been an obstruction to India getting a permanent membership in the UN Security Council on the premise that she has joined hands with Japan whose relations with China are frosty. China has also been an impediment in India getting a membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group on procedural issues. But she has also indicated that she will support Pakistan’s induction into the group.
One is not sure how that will overcome the procedural impediments, in addition to the fact that Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation record is far from satisfactory. China also placed on technical hold and then vetoed, India and other countries’ application to proscribe some of the terrorist leaders from Pakistan repeatedly. The organisations that these individuals lead have already been placed on the proscribed list by the UN 1267 committee.
China announced her One Belt One Road initiative which she claims as Belt and Road Initiative now, on the pretext that it was incorrect translation. However, Chinese term “Yi Dai Yi Lu” ( 一带一路) means One Belt One Road! China Pakistan Economic Corridor which is part of the Belt and Road Initiative passes through Gilgit – Baltistan, thereby, directly affecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India. While Chinese officials acknowledge that they understand the concerns of India, they do not indicate that China will address the same.
The issues mentioned above directly affect India’s sovereignty and core interests more than the Chinese core interests being affected by India that is not even objecting to the visit of the Chinese dignitary to Nepal and Sri Lanka. While one does not expect a largesse from China, it will be fair to expect her to address the genuine concerns of India. Her strategic behaviour in the recent past have not been commensurate with that of an emerging world power. At best it has been one of a power that is not sure of herself.