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Force Magazine

Taken for a Ride
India should have insisted on the LAC clarification during the Chinese President’s visit

By Pravin Sawhney

The singularly important outcome of the three-day visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India, which was clouded by the military stand-off in Chumar-Demchok (Ladakh), was the mention of border resolution as ‘strategic objective’ in the joint statement. The word ‘strategic’ suggests that other bilateral issues including trade will not gallop ahead of the border resolution.

Does this imply that India has decided to reverse its China policy initiated by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in December 1988 and followed by successive Prime Ministers? Or is it simply a knee-jerk reaction to unexpected Chinese incursions which compelled Delhi to reflect the mood of the nation? Whatever the reason, it is a welcome move, though it will not help to either resolve the disputed border or end Chinese transgressions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

India, instead, should have sought clarification on the LAC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had initially demanded this, but changed his mind later. Being used to treating Pakistan as the sole adversary, there is, unfortunately, plenty about the Chinese that most Indians fail to comprehend.

Take Chinese diplomacy. Most experts in India cannot understand how Chinese President’s maiden visit to India could have a parallel narrative of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) incursions in Chumar-Demchok area. The incursions started on September 10 when Jinping embarked on his four nations tour of Tajikistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and India, and peaked on September 17 coinciding with his arrival in India when 1,000 PLA soldiers supported by helicopters made three simultaneous incursions in close proximity. They did not back-off even after Modi spoke with Jinping and he assured that the PLA would be reined in.

Some experts said that the PLA, like the Pakistan Army, is a state within state and does not listen to Jinping; he 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. As 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 as failure. Negotiations are events 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 Jinping came into 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 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 centre in China; Beijing had clearly decided to assume the leadership role in Asia by taking on the most powerful nation in the world.

Prime Minister Modi with President Xi Jinping during his visit to India
Prime Minister Modi with President Xi Jinping during his visit to India

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