ISSN 2330-717X

India And The Chinese Threat


By Rajeev Sharma

India’s China policy is going nowhere. The Chinese have bluntly declared that they will continue with their policy of issuing stapled visas as usual. Now the ball is in the Indian court. It is the Indian pride which is at stake – and it is not the India of 1962 when the Indian troops fought the Chinese without rudimentary battle uniform and were mauled.

It is time India conveys to the Chinese that it will be forced to review its One China policy if the Chinese pinpricks on Jammu and Kashmir continue. China must be made to understand the Indian sensitivities on Kashmir and that Kashmir is to India what Tibet is to China.

India did not sing the One China hymn in the joint communiqué that was signed at the conclusion of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to New Delhi. That may be pragmatic but not bold enough. India has to convey the ‘enough is enough’ message to the Chinese in concrete terms, in its back-channel as well as official contacts. India has to tell the Chinese that if they continue to give stapled visas to the people from the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh (no matter if in the case of the latter it is understood to be a ‘concession’ from the Chinese side) then India will retaliate in kind.

China may respond by using the Sikkim card and going back on its pledge to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that Sikkim is an integral part of India. But that should not deter India which is the third largest economy in Asia where China is number one. Let China go back on its commitment to India on Sikkim as it would only further expose the Chinese before the international community. In any case, the Chinese official media and Chinese tourist kits have several times portrayed Sikkim as an independent country even after the Chinese commitment. In June 2008 the PLA troops had intruded more than a kilometer into the “Finger Area” of Sikkim.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came up with unusually candid remarks on China during his meeting with editors in September 2010, though apparently he did not want to go on record. Nonetheless his remarks were widely quoted by mainstream print media. Singh said that China wanted to keep India bogged down in South Asia by playing on Indo-Pak tensions.

Sample a couple of quotes of Manmohan Singh on the subject:

  • “India had to take adequate precautions but not give up hope of peaceful resolution of issues with China…in reaction to ‘pinpricks’ by Beijing on Jammu and Kashmir and other issues.”
  • “China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect on this reality. We have to be aware of this.”

This is the first time when Indian assessment of China was articulated at the highest level in the public domain. Significantly, Singh’s remarks on China came close on the heels of reports of some eleven thousand Chinese troops in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Jammu and Kashmir which India considers as its own territory. India has not come up with any counter to the presence of PLA troops in Gilgit-Baltistan and it remains to be seen whether the UPA II would take any step at all.

Upgrading India’s relations with Taiwan is another diplomatic option that is open to India but the Manmohan Singh government seems too timid to embark on such a bold move. Thus far, the position is that India does not engage with Taiwan officially. Taiwan does not even have a full fledged embassy in India. Indian officials — leave aside the ministers and the Prime Minister– ever engage with their Taiwanese counterparts officially. This paradigm has to change.

The Indian Prime Minister’s take on China has been corroborated by a recent opinion poll by Pew Global Attitudes Project which said that only 34 percent of Indians view China favourably—the second lowest number in Asia after Japan. This compared with 58 percent in Indonesia and 85 percent in Pakistan.

The Chinese pinpricks to the Indians are swelling by the day. They are flexing their military and diplomatic muscle with impunity and expect India to take it all in its stride. That is precisely what India has been doing so far. Take a military example.

China’s highest military planning body, Central Military Commission (CMC), recently approved building two new aircraft carriers. One aircraft carrier – Varyag of Kuznetsov class — is already under construction. All the three aircraft carriers will be available to China by 2017 and each one will patrol South China Sea, Western Pacific and Indian Ocean and will make the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) a formidable power. The Chinese naval buildup has rung alarm bells in Japan and the US as China is trying to project to the world South and East China Seas as its areas of exclusive domain while it is of immense strategic interest to the international community that it has unfettered access to South China Sea, Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

On the issue of sharing of water of rivers that are flowing from China to India, the situation is no different. The Chinese are going hammer and tongs against Indian national interests and following what they perceive to be best in their national interest. The series of dams that the Chinese are building on the Brahmaputra – 32 by British media account – is a case in point.

It is not just India that is facing problems from the Chinese dam-construction activities on international rivers. Myanmar too is feeling the heat. A new controversy has erupted between China and Myanmar over a multi-billion dollar dam construction project on the Longjiang River on the China-Myanmar border. The river, known as Shweli in Myanmar, flows through Shan state in Myanmar and eventually joins the Irrawaddy River in the Saigaing region. China has already built three dams on the Longjiang River that have substantially depleted the water levels of the river in Myanmar. The new dam will inevitably exacerbate this crisis further which will pinch the Myanmarese traders even harder as they depend on water transport for carrying merchandise. Besides, the new dam will trigger new social, environmental and ecological problems for the Myanmar government which already has its plate full. Large number of local people will be displaced in Myanmar which will heighten ethnic tensions.

This is what the Chinese are doing to their time-tested allies like Myanmar. It is any body’s guess what the Chinese will do to India which they want to see divided into thirty parts as has been so eloquently and publicly projected in the state-controlled Chinese media some time ago. The question is: when will the Indians ever learn and when will the Indian elephant finally muster the courage to respond?

(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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