- Oct 5, 2009
The Indian media recently reported that a government agency admitted that: "the area along Line of Actual Control with China has 'shrunk' over a period of time and India has lost 'substantial' amount of land in the last two decades"1.
At a meeting in Leh attended by officials from the Jammu and Kashmir Government, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Army, it was noted that India has lost some of its territory due to Chinese intrusions in Ladakh: "Though this process is very slow but we have lost substantial amount of land in 20-25 years."
claude-arpiIt was also acknowledged that "there was difference in the maps of various agencies and that there was lack of proper mapping of the area".
The minutes of the meeting apparently pointed to "a lack of institutional memory in various agencies as well as clear policy on this issue, which in the long run has resulted in loss of territory by India in favour of China."
A couple of years ago, I had interviewed Mr. Thupstan Chhewang, the then MP of Ladakh2. When I asked if it was true that the Chinese were regularly sending grazers inside Indian territory and that the Indian side often did not react, he had told me: "The [Government] is very soft. Like in Chumur, the Chinese send their cattle for grazing, though it is very much Indian territory. When they are asked to go away, the Chinese say it is their territory. Our government agencies do nothing. Instead of encouraging nomads from Changthang to go there (it is legitimately our territory), they advise them to stay away. This is the type of situation that we are facing."
I quizzed him further: "Do you mean to say that the Indian Army is asking Ladakhi nomads not to go while the Chinese are encouraging their nomads to go there?" He replied "Yes, exactly."
It is a positive development that the intrusions have now been officially acknowledged3.
There was more in Chhewang's interview. He explained: "In Ladakh we consistently have Chinese incursions; some of them very serious. For example, the Chinese started building a road on the other side of the Pangong Lake on Indian territory. It was only after the construction had started that it came to the notice of the Government of India. It has now been stopped and we have constructed a road right up to the border. Both sides have speed boats to man the border. The lake is about 120 km long, some 40-45 km are with us, the rest with China. It means some 30 percent of the lake is Indian. The lake is very narrow, I am not very sure how the LAC is determined on the lake, but it is close to the shore."
He even recalled that a few years ago a Chinese patrol chased an Indian party four or five kilometers inside the Indian side of the lake, the crew of the Indian boat was captured and taken prisoner4.
The point I am trying to make is that generally speaking Indians hate confrontation. This becomes a problem when the defense of the territory is involved and in order not to look offensive to the opposite party, they prefer to hide the truth.
The Good Guys syndrome
This has been the story of sixty years of relations with China.
In the fifties, for the same reason the Government hid for five years the fact that the Chinese had constructed a road on Indian territory on the Aksai Chin plateau.
Another difficulty is that too often Indian leaders believe that others are like them, think like them and should therefore behave like them. It is just not true. The case of China is the most typical.
Take maps: during the above-mentioned meeting, it was stated that "there was lack of proper mapping of the area". In the fifties, while the new-founded People's Republic of China began swallowing up the Indian Himalayas in its maps, the Government in Delhi continued to publish maps of the Ladakh-Aksai Chin area showing the border as 'undefined'.
Another example is the first Indian Prime Minister's Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai policy. Nehru believed in the fraternity of nations, he believed in peaceful co-existence, mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs, mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty; he tried hard to impose these lofty principles on India's neighbours and particularly on China.
A clever Zhou Enlai pretended to agree with the Principles, but his mind functioned differently. Zhou, like his mentor Mao Zedong, was a hard core revolutionary who believed in the omnipotence of war. Remember what the Great Helmsman once wrote, "Some people have ridiculed us as the advocates of omnipotence of war. Yes, we are: we are the advocates of the omnipotence of the revolutionary war, which is not bad at all, but good and is Marxist".
We could go on endlessly. Of course, there is nothing wrong in believing in the omnipotence of peace, as long one does not forget that others may think (and act) differently5.
The Indo-China Relations
The tragedy is that 50 years later, many in India still believe that the priority No 1 of India's foreign policy should be to make friends with China. Once again, there is nothing wrong to be China's 'friend' or even 'brother', but it should not be at the cost of India's territory or by bending backwards over each whim and fancy of the present regime in Beijing.
In India, you will find different types of apologists. Some could be called 'lackeys' (to use Mao's parlance): they usually have business or academic interests in China and love the reception they get when they travel to the Middle Kingdom. Let us not waste time over them.
Some of course fear China: "It is a large country, if we irritate Beijing, the Chinese will retaliate and the situation will become worse," is often heard from some 'experts'. Interestingly, the Supreme Court recently passed a judgement on the scope and meaning of self-defence. The judges said that "the law does not require a law-abiding citizen to behave like a coward when confronted with an imminent unlawful aggression". Of course, this was addressed to individuals and not to the State6
There also those who sincerely believe that India and China are two emerging economies, for a long time under the political and economic thumb of the West (in particular the United States), therefore their destiny is intimately linked. Their 'logical' conclusion is that Beijing and Delhi should work in tandem. They give a recent example: the common position at Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change which was a non-sense.
I will not elaborate on the subject, but the Indian Prime Minister recently rightly stated: "Well, I have no hesitation in saying that I think development in India cannot be a carbon copy of what happens in China. And the Chinese system is very different.7"³
Speaking to CCN, he reiterated his Government's stand: "there is enough economic space for both our countries to realize the growth ambitions of our respective countries". He however made it clear: "We are a functioning democracy. "¦Democracy is slow-moving. "¦I always believed that it may be slow-moving in the short term, but in the long run, an arrangement which has the backing of the people at large will prove to be more durable."
The recent Google episode in China demonstrates that India is not China, and it is China which has a lot to learn from India: freedom of expression could be the first lesson.
China's Short Term Future
If one analyses the future of the two countries, this should be kept in mind. India and China are different and their destinies may go in opposite directions.
Wei Jingsheng, the most famous Chinese dissident who spent 18 years in jail for proposing 'democracy' as the fifth 'modernization' (Deng Xiaoping had spoken of the Four Modernizations) recently wrote an Op-Ed in The Christian Science Monitor8, opposing the sentence of 11 years in prison for the mild dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Wei noted that because China "now sits prominently at the tables of global governance", its leaders think thus: "Since you made a fuss about releasing Liu after his arrest, we will punish him even more severely. In no uncertain terms, that will let you know that not only don't we care what you think, but we don't have to."
Wei adds: "We Chinese are intimately acquainted with this authoritarian arrogance", before concluding: "Now that China's leaders believe their prospering nation has emerged as a player in world history just as America's prestige has been weakened by the Iraq war and the recent financial meltdown, the hardliners have been able to wrest the upper hand once again."
The crux of the matter is that appeasement only strengthens the hardliners.
And the Indian government has not been alone to follow the path of 'friendship' at any cost. In 2009, the Obama administration tried the bhai-bhai way with Beijing, accepting to drop a proposed meeting with the Dalai Lama and later forgetting all contentious issues during the November presidential visit to Beijing. But this did not pay off as Beijing hardened its stance in all fronts.
The Washington Post pointed out that many American analysts today believe that "the Obama administration - with its intensive outreach to Beijing - tried too hard in its first year to cultivate ties with China. Playing hard to get might have helped smooth out China's swagger."
In looking at China we should always keep in mind that today (like yesterday), the unique objective of the Chinese leadership is to keep the Party's monopoly over State affairs. Further, the leadership always has more respect for a strong and decisive leader than a wishy-washy person.
Having probably got this message during his visit to Beijing in November, in 2010 Barak Obama seems decided to show the Mandarins in Beijing that the US remains a power to reckon with. He will meet the Dalai Lama and sell Black Hawk helicopters and anti-missile batteries to Taiwan.
Although Obama's approval of the sale of the missiles by Lockheed Corp is only the implementation of an agreement signed by the Bush Administration, Xinhua immediately reacted sharply. The news agency stated that the United States should be "fully aware that the Taiwan issue is related to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and involves China's core interests and the national sentiment of 1.3 billion Chinese people."
Pointing an accusing finger at Washington, the Chinese article added: "the arms sales to Taiwan fully justified any suspicion about the United States' sincerity to take concrete actions to 'respect each other's core interests." Beijing asked the United States to immediately stop arms sales to Taiwan "in order to avoid damaging bilateral cooperation in key fields."
In The Washington Post's article quoted above, an US expert explained the American dilemma: "We're in the role of the supplicant". A senior U.S. trade official mildly threatened: "If [Beijing] continues on this particular path in a strong and inflexible way, there will be a significant political backlash not just in the United States. China needs to be aware of that."
About being a supplicant, it is fortunately not the case of India, which is not indebted to China and is in a more comfortable position, in this domain at least9.
The Tibet Connection
Another important factor which will play a crucial role in China in 2010 is the power struggle within the Party between the 'clique' of President Hu Jintao and the 'princelings' (offspring of high-ranking Party officials) of Vice-President Xi Jinping. The struggle is today visible even in defence postings. The Straits Times mentioned that after the 'princeling politicians', China has now 'princeling generals'.
The South China Morning Post reported that General Zhang Haiyang, son of General Zhang Zhen, a former Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission under President Jiang Zemin has become Political Commissar of the Second Artillery Corps, which controls China's nuclear and conventional strategic missiles. His promotion comes five months after he became a full general.
The interesting part of the story is that General Zhang was earlier in charge of Tibet. He served as Political Commissar of the Chengdu Military Region and was responsible of the Sichuan earthquake's relief in May 2008, as well as for crackdowns on the Tibetans in March/April of the same year.
Commander-in-Chief Hu Jintao has also offered plum postings to some of his favorites. Hu wants to make sure that officers in key posts are loyal to him after his retirement. The loyalty of the new Generals has to extend to the Communist Youth League faction, the dominant clique in China today.
Since October 1, a large number of senior appointments in the PLA and the paramilitary People's Armed Police (PAP) have been announced.
The China Brief10 of The Jamestown Institute pointed out: "Given the party's reliance on the PAP to crack down on 'the three evil forces of separatism, terrorism and religious extremism' across the nation, high-level personnel changes at the PAP deserve special attention. In late December, Lieutenant General Wang Jianping was appointed PAP Commander. The 56-year-old General Wang replaced General Wu Shuangzhan, 64, who is retiring after having served a record ten years as head of the paramilitary force. Wang and about two dozen officers were promoted in what the Chinese media described as one of the largest-ever reshuffles since the PAP was set up in 1983."
General Wang is one of Hu's favorite. The new rising-star was elevated twice in 2009 - from PAP Chief of Staff to Vice-Commander, and then Commander. But Oh! Surprise, he also served as Commander of the Tibet Autonomous Region's PAP from 1996 to 200011. The Tibet connection prevailed.
Pema Thinley (alias Padma Choling), the new Governor of Tibet has also served earlier in the PLA in Tibet. The new emperors in Beijing are not ready to take any risk and Tibet has become the best school to fight the three 'evil forces'.
As a young Tibetan Bhuchung D. Sonam put it in the portal Phayul.com12, this is "another regimented official exchange of position in a carefully manufactured show."
Sonam noted: "Jampa Phuntsok [Qiangba Puncog for the Chinese], Pema Thinley and others who apparently hold high positions are mascots to show the world that Tibetans are fairly represented and happy in the Motherland. But in fact, they mostly do the barking when Beijing raises a stick and wag their tails when Beijing shows a bowl of chicken noodles."
He is not far from the truth as all powers are vested with the present Party boss in Lhasa, Zhang Qingli.
On January 1, an article in Xinhua announced: "China's armed forces are stepping up combat adversarial training and war games in a bid to make up for diminishing real combat experience among their ranks. Field troops of the People's Liberation Army are taking year-end military examinations in which their superior commands have introduced war games played by 'red' and 'blue' sides."
These 'exercises' are often held with foreign 'friendly' Armies, like the Indian Army in 2007 and 2008. Xiao Shizhong, a researcher at the PLA's Academy of Military Sciences explained that "military exercises have become a major platform for armed forces around the world to build up their military theories and practice."
Defence Secretary, Pradeep Kumar, who headed a 10-member delegation to Beijing13 early January, discussed with his Chinese counterparts a 'mechanism for defence exchange'. It was decided that the Indian and Chinese armies would conduct their next round of joint military exercises in 2011.
The strange aspect of the 'exchange' between the two countries held in Kunming (Yunnan Province) in 2007 was that it was an anti-terror military exercise (code-named 'Hand-in-Hand'), involving 103 troops from each army. Were the Indian troops training the Chinese to handle their restive populations in Xinjiang or Tibet? Nobody has answered this question so far, though for Beijing these 'exercises' seem important.
At that time, The People's Daily commented: "Although some military and diplomatic observers said that the joint training is more symbolic than substantial, many acknowledged that the point is not the scale of the joint training or what specific anti-terrorism skills are involved. The point is that the soldiers on both sides are moving toward each other in a friendly way."
But as long as the intrusions continue, is it necessary to hold 'anti-terror' exercises?
Bashing the Indian Media
At the same time, the official Chinese media keeps bashing the free Indian press. In an article 'Indian media agencies harm themselves in playing up strife between China and India', an unnamed author, described as a professor of the School of International Studies in Beijing University declared in The People's Daily: "The Indian defence establishment as well as the Prime Minister and foreign minister have emphasised that Beijing was no longer a threat. Yet, the Indian media does not favour a positive relationship."
He accused the Indian media: "Over recent years, many Indian media agencies have used malicious means to attract attention and pursue political or economic interests, and the China-India relationship has become the main victim. The so-called 'dragon versus elephant' has always been a hot topic that India's domestic media agencies are fond of reporting."
It is easy to bash the media. One can only presume that the Chinese government has very little of knowledge about the role of a free press.
Rapid Progress in the defense field
While China watchers have noted rapid progress in Chinese defence preparedness, India continues to move at slow pace. Delhi started the tender process for a Fourth Generation aircraft14 some eight years ago, but today only two out the eight required steps have been concluded. It may take several more years and unexpected episodes to go through the entire process, provided that some new Minister or Air Chief does not decide to start again from scratch (probably for very valid reasons, as for the Eurocopters two years ago!).
In the meantime, the Chinese are working very hard on the Fifth Generation fighter plane. Can we conclude that by 2020, India will again be a generation behind? If one goes by the Chinese declarations, yes.
Ho Weirong, the Deputy Commander of PLA Air Force announced that China's 5th generation fighter will enter service in the next 8-10 years.
In October 2008, in an interview to a CCTV program, 'Face to Face', the interviewer asked Ho when could China expect to have its 5th generation fighter, the PLA Air Force Deputy Chief spoke about the 'intense' R&D work being done on it. He estimated that the 5th generation fighter could be delivered to PLA Air Force in the next 10 years.
In the meantime, Chinese supremacy may continue for some time. According to deal tracking firm Dealogic: "Global property sector M&A [merger & acquisitions] reached just $151.8 billion in 2009, the lowest level since 2003"³. However China witnessed an increase of 41 per cent in its M&A levels from its previous year: "China attracted deals amounting to $29.3 billion or 19 per cent of the global volume - the highest total on record," commented Dealogic.
But Beijing faces a serious problem. It will have to reevaluate its currency, sooner or later. Even in China many agree that Beijing has no choice. Zhang Bing, a researcher at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, stated in a research paper that the government's current Yuan policy of gradual reform is wrong. Zhang admitted: "There's a very urgent need for pushing forward the reform plan on the Yuan and now is the best timing." He concluded that: "a 10 per cent appreciation in the Yuan against the dollar should have a limited impact on the Chinese economy'. It would reduce speculative fund inflows by effectively eliminating expectations of a Yuan appreciation.15"³
Whether Beijing decides to reevaluate the Yuan in 2010 or not, ultimately the decision is inescapable and this will have incalculable consequences for the Middle Kingdom.
But future decisions will depend on the fundamental preoccupation of all Chinese leaders: the core importance of the survival of the Party. Indian 'experts' have to grasp this fact.
US-China relations will face strains
The only certainty is that the situation in China will remain far more unstable than in India. A scenario found on the website of The Financial Times makes interesting reading. The author projects till 2019 when shortage of water in China heralds the end of an epoch: "By 2015, it was [already] obvious: China was seriously parched. The Great Wall of Credit of 2009-2012 had unleashed too much industrial capacity consuming too much water. That exacerbated a nationwide shortage - China had more than a fifth of the world's population, but only six per cent of its fresh water. Four years later and the crisis has taken on ruinous dimensions. Crop failure and famine in the deserted interiors; emergency rationing in the teeming coastal cities. "¦Ten years ago  China had it all: a well-nourished workforce, vast reserves of paper money, a new swagger on the international stage. The sharp currency revaluation of 2010 unleashed a global mergers and acquisitions spree the likes of which the world had never seen"¦ That president Xi Jinping is considering beseeching poorer neighbours for food aid, is a measure of how far the mighty have fallen."
One can envisage several other scenarios, but one point is certain, China will have to face far more serious problems than India in the years to come. For sure, there is no need for India to club its future with that of the Middle Kingdom.
One of these possible scenarios is a conflict with India about water. It could be triggered by the extreme nervousness of the divided leadership of a declining empire.
India can continue to believe in the omnipotence of peace, but should be ready for any eventuality.
1. Report in The Times of India (January 10, 2010) http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/...China-Official-report/articleshow/5430564.cms
2. To read interview, see: http://www.indiaabroad. com/news/2008/mar/27inter.htm
3. Though the information was later denied by the Indian Defence Minister.
4. They were later released.
5. In the above case, the result was not long to come; eight years after signing the Panchsheel Agreement, China treacherously attacked India in the NEFA and in Ladakh. The nation paid a heavy price for not being able to understand the Chinese way of thinking.
6. A Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Dalveer Bhandari and A K Ganguly said that "nothing is more degrading to the human spirit than to run away in the face of danger". The Court then laid down a 10-point guideline on the right to self-defence. It also clarified that it did not approve the use of force in excess of what was warranted.
The Court inter alia stated: "The citizen, as a general rule, are neither expected to run away for safety when faced with grave and imminent danger to their person or property as a result of unlawful aggression, nor are they expected, by use of force, to right the wrong done to them or to punish the wrong doer of commission of offence".
"The right of private defence is thus designed to serve a social purpose and deserves to be fostered within the prescribed limits."
7. IANS news item available on http://www.deccanherald.com/content/37458/pm-says-india-china-not.html
8. See Op-Ed in The Christian Science Monitor on http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0104/If-the-US-won-t-stand-up-to-China-who-will
9. Though the trade imbalance has risen by $10 billion to an estimated $14 billion (out of a total trade volume of $43 billion). India's growing trade deficit with China was on the agenda of the eighth Joint Economic Group dialogue between India and China which was held on January 20 after a four-year gap.
10. The China Brief (Volume X, Issue 1, January 2010), see http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=35880& tx_ttnews[backPid]=25&cHash=e160070e18
11. Hu Jinatao was Party Chief on the Roof of the Word between 1988 and 1992.
12. Same Man, Same Chair (January 16, 2010) by Bhuchung D. Sonam http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?c=4&t=1&id=26421&article =New+Man+Same+Chair
13. While in China, the delegation visited an armoured division and the Academy of Military Science and met Chinese Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie.
14. Also known as the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft or MMRCA.
15. See http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20100105-715887.html