Coercive Diplomacy
China’s April 2013 intrusions in Ladakh are a result of India’s appeasement policy

China has gobbled up 1,488km of Indian territory in Ladakh (J&K)In an unexpected development, a Chinese border guards’ platoon (30 soldiers) moved in and pitched tents 19 kilometres inside Indian territory at Depsang Valley overlooking Daulet Beg Oldie (DBO) on 15 April 2013 in Ladakh in the Western sector. The last time they did a similar thing was in 1986 in Sumdorong Chu in the Eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh). Both times, the Chinese forces had blessings from the highest quarters: then supremo Deng Xiaoping and now the President and chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi Jinping. Then, the Chinese were not a risen power and the occupation of Sumdorong Chu, of little tactical significance, was meant to test Indian gumption, through military coercion, after the passing away of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who Deng admired for being a strong and determined leader. There was a year-long stand-off with menacing military build-up on both sides ending in a mutually agreed disengagement with neither side looking a loser. The Chinese finally left Sumdorong Chu of own free accord in 1995. China’s military coercion had not worked for two reasons: India showed political will, and China’s military capability did not match its coercion.

This was the turning point for both sides. China decided to settle the border dispute on its terms, and for that to happen it focussed on building military capabilities against India in Tibet. The People’s Liberation Army took lead over Chinese external affairs machinery in dealing with India. India, on the other hand, did the opposite. In a goodwill gesture, India abandoned nascent military infrastructure build-up along the disputed border and decided to run bilateral relations through friendly negotiations. As gap between military capabilities grew, Indian leaders felt increasingly compelled to give concessions to China to maintain peace. Taking advantage of India’s weakness, China, in nine choreographed moves starting 1988, turned tables on India.

The result was the exceptionally successful April 2013 military coercion, which lasted three weeks as India agreed to have peace on the LAC on Chinese terms. Ironically, the terms are nothing new but a reiteration of disadvantageous agreements that India has itself signed over years to keep peace with China. These terms are encapsulated in the Chinese document called Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) and are under discussions by the two sides. Thus, there are three high level committees focussed on the border dispute: the two special representatives, who are political appointees, are tasked with border resolution. A joint working group of the external affairs ministries is working on peace and tranquillity on the border. And military sector commanders have formalised interaction to resolve tactical issues on the border. It is evident that after the successful military coercion, Chinese will have the upper hand, with India left with little room for manoeuvre.
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