China’s August 2008 Olympics will be the third turning point in India-China relations. While the 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan was the second turning point; the first was the 1962 war which left an indelible scar on the collective psyche of India’s political and military leadership: To both, since then, the Chinese soldier has appeared seven feet tall. In the first instance, China emerged as a determined regional power seeking an Asian role. In the second, China was propelled onto the global stage by a new strategic partnership, though temporary, with the US. What came to the fore in the first two instances was that the Chinese revel in a show of strength, are past masters at propaganda termed psychological operations in military parlance, and consider appeasement as a sign of weakness which they exploit further. This is because the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) remains an important component of China’s highest decision-making bodies. For this reason, negotiations with China must always follow a credible military muscle. Unfortunately, this basic fact has been glossed over by India’s establishment that, since the 1998 nuclear tests continues to conduct submissive diplomacy with China.
Concedes George Fernandes, India’s defence minister from 1998 to 2004 (see interview): ‘I do not think that India has ever, including now, taken what China is doing or can do to our national security very seriously.’ So when India’s National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan talks about ‘existential threats’ to national security, implying failed or failing neighbourhood states that claim Indian territory or support anti-India insurgencies, he is saying that actual and potential threats from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma and maybe Bhutan are more than a handful. The oblique reference is that India already feels extremely vulnerable and thus lacks the stomach and stamina to displease China. With facts staring New Delhi in the face, this is a blunder and it is a matter of time before the chickens will come home to roost.
Since 1998, China has enormously improved its strategic and operational capabilities in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and has excellent border management on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). It refuses border resolution and a mutual understanding on the LAC alignment as it assists it in its increased border transgressions. In addition, China continues to support the ‘existential threats’, especially from Pakistan, to India.
This is not all. In what is unprecedented, Chinese ambassador speaking on Indian soil has twice in the recent past claimed the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as China’s territory. The land in question is about 90,000sqkm, so large that no self-respecting nation can barter it for peace. Beijing refers to this land as ‘lower Tibet.’ With blinkers on, New Delhi refuses to see the straightforward writing on the wall: Once Tibet falls after the exit of the Dalai Lama, it will be time for the PLA to move boldly into ‘lower Tibet.’ The seeds of the conflict with China lie in the ‘eastern sector’ of Arunachal Pradesh. The timelines for all this are clearly evident. China, with its enormous economic clout, has already arrived on the world stage even before the August Olympics that are meant to formally anoint China’s risen status. While all major countries are rebuking China’s human rights records in Tibet, few are willing to undermine their own economic interests by fulsome action on the issue. By extension, it should be clear that none will back a militarily ill-prepared and ill-equipped India if the PLA was to occupy large swathe of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh. The present Chinese doings are indicative of how little wake-up time India is left with to safeguard its territorial integrity. New Delhi simply does not understand China.