Bottomline | Pleasing China

Beijing has successfully tested coercive diplomacy against India

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

It is difficult to say whether it is ignorance or obfuscation. Probably it is a bit of both when at the conclusion of the recent 16th round of Special Representatives talks in Beijing, National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon told the media that the bilateral 1993 and 1996 agreements with China have helped keep peace on the disputed border. He also said that the April 13 intrusions by Chinese border guards deep inside India’s northern Ladakh remain unexplained. Neither China deemed it appropriate to inform Menon why they transgressed Indian land, nor were they asked to do so. The Indian interlocutors, it seemed, were anxious to forget the national embarrassment, unmindful of its security implications.

The Chinese April intrusions were the consequence of the ill-conceived 1993 and its follow-on 1996 agreements. And, the intrusions established credibility of Chinese coercive diplomacy, something that should worry India. Interestingly, China tested coercive diplomacy in the Ladakh sector where, unlike the eastern sector, the Indian Army had given a good account of itself in the 1962 war. Thus, more than the military, the political leadership should wake up to these harsh truths.

Three issues which have worked to India’s disadvantage in the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement (BPTA) are re-naming the entire disputed border as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the sector-by-sector approach for defining the LAC, and the concept of ‘mutual and equal security’.

Considering that the disputed border is neither agreed on the maps nor on the ground, it was easy for China to publicly declare at an appropriate time in December 2010 that it has a mere 2,000km border with India; with none in Jammu and Kashmir. This is half of 4,000km length that India wants its people to believe. The implication is that the border cannot be resolved; China will not change its stated position, and India cannot trade so much land for peace.

The only mutual doable now is to define and keep the LAC peaceful. India should have insisted on defining the LAC as a whole. A sector-by-sector approach accepted in the 1993 BPTA makes little military sense for India. From India’s perspective, the western sector (J&K) of the LAC is the responsibility of its northern and western army commands; the middle sector (Uttarakhand-Himachal) is with the central army command, and the eastern sector (Arunachal Pradesh) is the responsible of the eastern army command. The middle sector, which was least problematic, was mutually agreed and maps were exchanged in November 2000, with little progress on the other two sensitive sectors.

Now, how can the central army theatre commander, whose sector has been settled, pull his troops back when he knows that his adjoining areas are disputed? In military parlance, a theatre commander has to worry about both his sector, called his area of responsibility, and his adjoining sectors, referred to as his areas of interest. In short, the resolution of the middle sector has not helped the military which continues to guard the entire LAC lest it be altered by force. The Chinese on the other hand have a single theatre called the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) facing India. So, while China can claim progress on defining the LAC, in reality it does not help India.

Another unfortunate example of Indian foreign services’ mandarins making border agreements without military advice is the principle of ‘mutual and equal security’ mentioned in article 1 of the 1993 BPTA. The impressive infrastructure in TAR and the formidable Chinese airlift capabilities makes the principle of ‘mutual and equal security’ meaningless for India which has neither capability. Moreover, unlike India, the Chinese do not require acclimatisation of troops in TAR. For these reasons, Chinese troops are far in depth with their border guards manning the LAC, as against the Indian Army holding ground close to the LAC. Thus, even if the LAC is settled in entirety, the Indian Army will find it difficult to reduce substantial troops until the LAC is accepted as the border.

The Chinese cleverly re-inforced the principle of ‘mutual and equal security’ in the 1996 agreement which deals with military confidence building measures by having minimal troops and equipment close to the LAC. This now makes the border defence cooperation agreement (BDCA) — which is legally strengthened by the 1993 and 1996 agreements — suggested by China in March this year difficult for India to accept. Here is the Catch-22 situation confronting India: accepting reduction of troops close to the LAC as spelt in the BDCA will lower Indian Army’s morale which has assessed that an additional strike corps is necessary to defend Arunachal Pradesh. Rejecting or seeking to dilute the BDCA will negate the agreed principle of ‘mutual and equal security’ and strengthen Chinese use of coercive diplomacy in the future.

Under these circumstances, this is what Delhi should ask itself: Why would China ever want to go to war with India, when it has both the legal justification and credible military power to exercise coercive diplomacy at will against India?


Call us