Thursday, September 18, 2014
President Xi Jinping Checks Prime Minister Modi
By Pravin Sawhney
By PLA’s massive intrusions in Chumar (Ladakh) which were timed with President Xi Jinping’s three-day India visit beginning September 17, China managed to humble Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his home turf.
Modi who appeared totally in control on the first day in Ahmedabad and had Jinping’s ears for most of the day, was reasonably subdued in Delhi. Even in the press statements, Modi, unlike Jinping, flagged the border stand-off right in the beginning, asking for clarity on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). However, by underplaying the border issue, Jinping seems to have sent a powerful message to India’s neighbours about Beijing’s might. The latter will help Beijing get fulsome support from littoral nations in the Indian Ocean for its ambitious maritime silk route project, which could, with time, acquire military overtures.
Unfortunately, this unsaid message got lost on India’s thinking community which cannot differentiate between the two adversaries, Pakistan and China. Some experts said that the PLA, like the Pakistan Army, is a state within state and does not listen to Jinping and its own foreign office; Jinping was seen to have been embarrassed by his own troops. Others prognosticated that a humiliated Jinping had committed to resolve the border dispute at an early date. Nothing is further from the truth.
China, unlike the western nations, does not view aggression or war as an end of diplomacy. Aggression for Beijing is less about military and more about psychological victory; it is an inalienable part of its negotiating style. Moreover, China does not consider a particular negotiation, whatever its level, as a make or break event which should either show result or be dubbed failure. Negotiations are meant to frustrate and stress the opponent till he, at an opportune time, accepts Chinese viewpoint as his own. This explains why China adopts a historical and at times deceptive perspective in diplomacy till it suits it to arrive at a quick favourable conclusion.
When the Chinese fifth generation leadership under President Jinping came in office in 2012, it was confident of exploiting its enormous economic might garnered by earlier leaderships to both consolidate its territories and expand its strategic frontiers. This explains Jinping’s elevation as head of all three high offices, namely as head of the Politburo Standing Committee, Central Military Commission and government at the same time. This consolidation was done to obviate the possibility of more than one power centres in China; Beijing had clearly decided to assume the leadership role in Asia by taking on the most powerful nation in the world. During my visit to Beijing in July 2012 at PLA’s invitation, the Chinese military was vocal in naming the United States as its sole adversary; suggesting by default that it did not consider India worthy of rivalry.
Against this backdrop, India should know that let alone resolve the border dispute, or agree to a LAC, China will not even disclose its perception of the LAC. Why? Because it helps China nibble Indian territory and also keep India under great psychological pressure fearing a war where no outside country will come to its assistance. While India misleads its people on its military preparedness against China, Beijing understands the hollowness of Delhi’s claims made regularly by its political and military officers and scientific community.
Of the total 3,488km disputed border, the 1,488km in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir) is most vulnerable and, by Delhi’s own admission, has been transgressed and even intruded more. This is not coincidental but is a part of Chinese strategy to encircle India where it is weakest. Unlike Arunachal Pradesh which has the McMahon Line drawn by the British in 1914, Xinjiang’s (China) border with Ladakh has historically been an open frontier till 1959, when both India and China made strong territorial claims.
In an abrupt development, which Delhi underplayed, China in December 2010 declared that its border with India was 2,000km and not 3,488km as claimed by India. Beijing had said that it did not have a border with India in Ladakh, where Indian troops are locked in a confrontation with the Pakistan Army in the Siachen glacier since May 1984. With a mere LAC, which by definition is a military line, in Ladakh, China is now pushing the frontier westwards by denying any advantages that the Indian forces have, for example, in Chumar-Demchok area.
This should tell Delhi that the border dispute is not a tactical issue. It is the sole strategic issue which unless balanced with politico-military efforts will impede India’s rise. Increased bilateral trade and commerce can surely wait.