Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member
Negotiations for complete withdrawal of Chinese troops in Ladakh are continuing in what is likely to be a long-drawn out process. The ground situation in Ladakh will change, around mid-November, when the winter commences. While several reasons have been given for the intrusions in Ladakh, there is one inescapable reality. China does not respect the inviolability of what India regards as its existing borders. At the same time, China refuses to present a detailed map on where in its view, the borders/LAC, emanating from the 1962 conflict, lie.
Any negotiations on resolving the border issue are meaningless, until China presents India with its maps, depicting its version of the LAC. It periodically extends its borders, triggering conflict and tensions. It has no interest in serious negotiations on the border issue, even though the guiding principles for resolving differences were agreed to in 2002, between PMs Vajpayee and Wen Jia Bao. India has, therefore, to be prepared for border tensions, as long as this situation continues. While another flare-up cannot be ruled out, we should decide how we are going to deal with China politically, diplomatically and militarily. Chinese media reports depict a sense of Chinese disdain for India’s policies and capabilities.
Complementing China’s hostility are its long-term policies to ‘contain’ India through supply of nuclear weapon designs and development of plutonium facilities to Pakistan. This is complemented by China’s continuing supply to Pakistan, of fighter aircraft, tanks, missiles, radars, UAVs, howitzers, frigates, submarines, etc. China has also extended unprecedented support to Pakistan in international forums, including the UNSC on the issue of J&K. China also deals directly with governments in PoK. It undertakes construction of roads and hydel projects across PoK. Moreover, it continues to support leaders and parties in South Asia that are none too friendly towards India, as it is doing in Nepal and has attempted earlier, in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bangladesh.
China received an unexpected jolt to its policy of coercively violating the maritime boundaries of all its neighbours, including Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Leaders of the 10 ASEAN member states demanded on June 27 that territorial and other differences in the South China Sea should be settled in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). They asserted: ‘UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.’ China has crudely used maritime military power to enforce its illegal claims. The primary motive for such behaviour is that the maritime space China is seeking contains 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China now faces ASEAN countries that have objected to its bullying and territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. India, on the other hand, has settled its maritime boundaries with all its eastern neighbours.
The strongest statement against China for its bullying was by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who averred on July 13: ‘Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with might makes right.’ Beijing’s approach has, however, been clear for years. In 2010, then-PRC foreign minister Yang Jiechi told his ASEAN counterparts that ‘China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact.’ This Chinese predatory worldview has no place in the 21st century. The US has simultaneously resorted to a display of military power. It has deployed two aircraft carriers in the South China Sea, directly challenging China’s coercive policies. Adding to China’s woes are the pressures from the US and others, for its actions in curbing democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, which are clearly in violation of China’s 1997 agreement with the UK. The US and Japan are also considering moves to dilute their existing economic relationships with China, even as China seeks to build a new relationship with Iran, involving an investment of $400 billion in the petroleum sector.
India needs to activate the recently established Quad for formulating a strategic framework to deal with China’s challenges and territorial ambitions in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Quad should associate Indonesia and Vietnam on issues of maritime security, across the Straits of Malacca. We should, similarly, work with the US 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, and France, which has a naval base in Djibouti, to cooperate in guaranteeing the security of energy supplies. India’s credibility will be vastly enhanced by supplying Vietnam Brahmos missiles that it has for long asked us, for its maritime security, in the face of continuing Chinese attacks. There is also need for a more focused effort on the well-documented accounts of China’s atrocities on its over one million Muslims, who are detained in concentration camps, prisons, and forced labour, while being subjected to electrocution, water-boarding and beatings. In the ultimate analysis, India will have to make it clear to China that seeking territorial gain by refusing to spell out the contours of the LAC would not work to its advantage.
Peace has returned to the Galwan valley, for the present. Our Parliament and people would justifiably want more details of the implications of what has transpired during the Chinese incursion into Ladakh. One looks forward to these issues being discussed frankly in our Parliament. A national consensus is imperative, if we are to successfully deal with the challenges a growingly assertive China presents to India and the world.