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  Opinion   Columnists  20 Feb 2024  Abhijit Bhattacharyya | It’s time for a relook at India’s policy on China

Abhijit Bhattacharyya | It’s time for a relook at India’s policy on China

The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College, and the author of China in India.
Published : Feb 21, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Feb 21, 2024, 12:00 am IST

India must reassess its approach towards China, facing persistent border tensions and strategic challenges

Due to the Dragon’s devious and vicious ways, one has to resort to authentic, credible open-source data to ascertain what kind of shenanigans the Chinese are up to in and around India. (Image: Twitter)
 Due to the Dragon’s devious and vicious ways, one has to resort to authentic, credible open-source data to ascertain what kind of shenanigans the Chinese are up to in and around India. (Image: Twitter)

It may be time to take a comprehensive relook at the entire gamut of India’s policy towards China. Why? Because, despite the seven-decade unrelenting hostility of the Communist Party of China (CPC), successive Indian establishments have not managed to formulate a nuanced stand on a consistent China policy to make ordinary citizens “feel good”. The repeated attempts by India to shake hands with the CPC has only led to the chopping of hands by the Chinese. Due to the Dragon’s devious and vicious ways, one has to resort to authentic, credible open-source data to ascertain what kind of shenanigans the Chinese are up to in and around India.

The latest Jane’s World Armies 2023 (Issue 54, Page 124) depicts the broad spectrum of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and also all global land powers’ deployment, equipment, training, organisation, ops, exercises, etc. “According to satellite imagery analysis dated 22 June 2020 carried out by Reuters and BBC, Chinese tents have been established 1.5 km within Indian side of Line of Actual Control (LAC). These structures weren’t present in imagery a month earlier, 22 May 2020”.

Contextually, what was reported in Indian newspapers recently also cannot be ignored: “Ladakh herders eye to eye with Chinese PLA”. The Ladakh nomads earned praise for resisting the Chinese Army’s attempts to drive them out of grazing area in “Nyoma region” early January. Thus, do these two narratives, from England and India, substantiate and corroborate each other? Isn’t there a common thread between these two incidents with a four-year gap? Don’t these two episodes show a brazen violation of Indian territory?

Can such incidents ever be taken lightly, or even overlooked, in a quest by some elements in this country to pander to the bully in Beijing just so that they can keep bilateral trade (which is anyway weighed against India) on track? To them, the repeated violations of Indian sovereignty by the Red Dragon appear to be of little importance when compared with their own business interests and profits.

The Chinese, understandably, have taken full advantage of this and consistently try to play off one section of Indians against another. India’s democracy and demography are exploited to enable the CPC to forcibly impose its will. Beijing’s representatives constantly claim that the border issue should be “kept aside”, while the two countries further their ties in “other areas”. They also periodically claim the right to revise the boundary line at the LAC according to their own “interpretation”, thus increasing the ambit of the PLA’s patrolling, but the moment India tries to exercise a reciprocal right according to its interpretation, friction erupts.

The Dragon keeps insisting that India and China “have more in common than differences”, that Delhi should “look into convergence rather than the sole point of divergence”, but Beijing has no interest in mutual interests. It has zero interest in resolving border issues because the CPC is into the bigger game of expansion and keeping India’s development in check.

India too has made blunders galore, allowing the Chinese bilateral trade balance to monstrously shoot up to an irreversible disadvantage for New Delhi from 1999-2000.

The open-source Chinese customs data on annual India-China bilateral trade figures showed that in January-December 2023 the total transaction value climbed to a record $136.2 billion. A section of pro-China Indian businessmen may “feel good” as India’s annual trade deficit has come down slightly, from $101 billion in 2022 to $99.2 billion in 2023, and India’s exports to China have “gone up” from $17.48 billion in 2022 to $18.5 billion in 2023.

However, more bad news for India from Jane’s World Armies 2023 (Page 128): “Joint training exercise (known as ‘hand-in-hand’) by China and India is among the most important bilateral defence exchanges”. It began with the 2007 India visit by Gen. Guang of China. The first “hand-in-hand” exercise took place in December 2007 in Kunming, followed by a second in Belgaum in December 2008, which focused on “counter-insurgency” and “counter-terrorism” ops. How surreal was that? On one hand, China ceaselessly terrorises India -- supporting, mentoring and instigating terrorists and insurgencies both within and outside India, and it simultaneously partners with New Delhi, its prime prey? And New Delhi accepts this with stoicism?

What was the compulsion for India to resume the Beijing-Delhi defence dialogue in China January 2013, after a five-year suspension from 2008 to 2013? Why was the “hand-in-hand” resumed in Chengdu in November 2013 and a 13-day Pune exercise held in November 2016? Even after Doklam 2017, the series resumed in Chengdu in 2018 and finally in 2019 in Meghalaya, where 130 PLA personnel from the Tibet Military Command participated? The PLA’s interactions with India’s defence establishment eventually led to a “hand-to-hand” combat in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 and the death of 20 Indian soldiers.

The Indian setbacks didn’t just end there. The Dragon now poses an unprecedented new threat with its “Strategy Indirect Approach”, from the Himalayan snows to India’s coastline and the sea lanes which carry India’s trade. The proxy forces of third countries will help the PLA Navy do surveillance of India and its neighbours, using everything from tourists to fishermen, cargo freighters to oil tankers, frigates to submarines.

China today boasts of a formidable Navy of two aircraft-carriers and 355 fighting ships and bases in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean, but keeps its fleet safely ensconced in its wharfs and docks to avoid any physical contact with irregular sea warriors in Red Sea and Arabian Sea. It is content to let the US Navy, Indian Navy and others protect the sea lanes from pirates/terrorists, allowing the CPC time to strengthen its fleet for another day.

Like dictators everywhere, China’s overlord deploys the “Big Lie” when the truth gets uncomfortable. Hence a junior PLA officer, Col. Wu, was brought in for a frontal assault on India’s external affairs minister, parroting the old line that “it is unwise to link the border issue with overall relations as it doesn’t represent the whole picture of India-China bilateral relations”.

That’s not all. Col. Wu also astoundingly claimed that the “Galwan Valley lies on the Chinese side of the LAC”, and the death of 20 Indian soldiers in June 2020 was “entirely the responsibility of the Indian side”. Col. Wu’s top bosses -- President Xi Jinping and foreign minister Wang Yi -- must have been pleased. For, in its eyes, the Dragon is always right and all the rest -- from Japan to the Philippines, from Taiwan to Thailand, from Vietnam to India -- always wrong!

It may be time to take a comprehensive relook at the entire gamut of India’s policy towards China. Why? Because, despite the seven-decade unrelenting hostility of the Communist Party of China (CPC), successive Indian establishments have not managed to formulate a nuanced stand on a consistent China policy to make ordinary citizens “feel good”. The repeated attempts by India to shake hands with the CPC has only led to the chopping of hands by the Chinese. Due to the Dragon’s devious and vicious ways, one has to resort to authentic, credible open-source data to ascertain what kind of shenanigans the Chinese are up to in and around India.

The latest Jane’s World Armies 2023 (Issue 54, Page 124) depicts the broad spectrum of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and also all global land powers’ deployment, equipment, training, organisation, ops, exercises, etc. “According to satellite imagery analysis dated 22 June 2020 carried out by Reuters and BBC, Chinese tents have been established 1.5 km within Indian side of Line of Actual Control (LAC). These structures weren’t present in imagery a month earlier, 22 May 2020”.

Contextually, what was reported in Indian newspapers recently also cannot be ignored: “Ladakh herders eye to eye with Chinese PLA”. The Ladakh nomads earned praise for resisting the Chinese Army’s attempts to drive them out of grazing area in “Nyoma region” early January. Thus, do these two narratives, from England and India, substantiate and corroborate each other? Isn’t there a common thread between these two incidents with a four-year gap? Don’t these two episodes show a brazen violation of Indian territory?

Can such incidents ever be taken lightly, or even overlooked, in a quest by some elements in this country to pander to the bully in Beijing just so that they can keep bilateral trade (which is anyway weighed against India) on track? To them, the repeated violations of Indian sovereignty by the Red Dragon appear to be of little importance when compared with their own business interests and profits.

The Chinese, understandably, have taken full advantage of this and consistently try to play off one section of Indians against another. India’s democracy and demography are exploited to enable the CPC to forcibly impose its will. Beijing’s representatives constantly claim that the border issue should be “kept aside”, while the two countries further their ties in “other areas”. They also periodically claim the right to revise the boundary line at the LAC according to their own “interpretation”, thus increasing the ambit of the PLA’s patrolling, but the moment India tries to exercise a reciprocal right according to its interpretation, friction erupts.

The Dragon keeps insisting that India and China “have more in common than differences”, that Delhi should “look into convergence rather than the sole point of divergence”, but Beijing has no interest in mutual interests. It has zero interest in resolving border issues because the CPC is into the bigger game of expansion and keeping India’s development in check.

India too has made blunders galore, allowing the Chinese bilateral trade balance to monstrously shoot up to an irreversible disadvantage for New Delhi from 1999-2000.

The open-source Chinese customs data on annual India-China bilateral trade figures showed that in January-December 2023 the total transaction value climbed to a record $136.2 billion. A section of pro-China Indian businessmen may “feel good” as India’s annual trade deficit has come down slightly, from $101 billion in 2022 to $99.2 billion in 2023, and India’s exports to China have “gone up” from $17.48 billion in 2022 to $18.5 billion in 2023.

However, more bad news for India from Jane’s World Armies 2023 (Page 128): “Joint training exercise (known as ‘hand-in-hand’) by China and India is among the most important bilateral defence exchanges”. It began with the 2007 India visit by Gen. Guang of China. The first “hand-in-hand” exercise took place in December 2007 in Kunming, followed by a second in Belgaum in December 2008, which focused on “counter-insurgency” and “counter-terrorism” ops. How surreal was that? On one hand, China ceaselessly terrorises India -- supporting, mentoring and instigating terrorists and insurgencies both within and outside India, and it simultaneously partners with New Delhi, its prime prey? And New Delhi accepts this with stoicism?

What was the compulsion for India to resume the Beijing-Delhi defence dialogue in China January 2013, after a five-year suspension from 2008 to 2013? Why was the “hand-in-hand” resumed in Chengdu in November 2013 and a 13-day Pune exercise held in November 2016? Even after Doklam 2017, the series resumed in Chengdu in 2018 and finally in 2019 in Meghalaya, where 130 PLA personnel from the Tibet Military Command participated? The PLA’s interactions with India’s defence establishment eventually led to a “hand-to-hand” combat in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 and the death of 20 Indian soldiers.

The Indian setbacks didn’t just end there. The Dragon now poses an unprecedented new threat with its “Strategy Indirect Approach”, from the Himalayan snows to India’s coastline and the sea lanes which carry India’s trade. The proxy forces of third countries will help the PLA Navy do surveillance of India and its neighbours, using everything from tourists to fishermen, cargo freighters to oil tankers, frigates to submarines.

China today boasts of a formidable Navy of two aircraft-carriers and 355 fighting ships and bases in the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean, but keeps its fleet safely ensconced in its wharfs and docks to avoid any physical contact with irregular sea warriors in Red Sea and Arabian Sea. It is content to let the US Navy, Indian Navy and others protect the sea lanes from pirates/terrorists, allowing the CPC time to strengthen its fleet for another day.

Like dictators everywhere, China’s overlord deploys the “Big Lie” when the truth gets uncomfortable. Hence a junior PLA officer, Col. Wu, was brought in for a frontal assault on India’s external affairs minister, parroting the old line that “it is unwise to link the border issue with overall relations as it doesn’t represent the whole picture of India-China bilateral relations”.

That’s not all. Col. Wu also astoundingly claimed that the “Galwan Valley lies on the Chinese side of the LAC”, and the death of 20 Indian soldiers in June 2020 was “entirely the responsibility of the Indian side”. Col. Wu’s top bosses -- President Xi Jinping and foreign minister Wang Yi -- must have been pleased. For, in its eyes, the Dragon is always right and all the rest -- from Japan to the Philippines, from Taiwan to Thailand, from Vietnam to India -- always wrong!

Tags: india-china relations, indi china border tensions, border disputes