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Mainstream, VOL LI No 22, May 18, 2013

Beware of Beijing

Saturday 18 May 2013, by Sushil Vakil

This article was written before Beijing ended its stand-off with New Delhi on the Sino-Indian border and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid visited Beijing.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has said that the world was laughing at us because we have made a mockery of our democratic system where the Opposition stalls functioning of Parliament instead of debating contentious issues. The statement sounds illogical as there are other issues that would cheer up other countries to laugh at us, like China’s incursion into Indian territory without meeting any stiff resistance. The lukewarm response has not only exposed the pusillanimity of Indian leaders in confronting Beijing but also launching a stiff military initiative.

India is in a precarious situation, unable to confront the mighty China in an open conflict. It believes that a breakout of hostilities could upset the already slow development process of the country, causing untold miseries to the poor multitudes.

Strangely enough, before the intrusion, the new Chinese leadership had not only sent the right signals but also outlined Panchsheel-type of policy principles in future relations with India. Among them was to “maintain strategic communications and keep bilateral relations between the two countries on track”. The others were to expand cooperation in infrastructure and investment, strengthen cultural ties and people-to-people contact, increase collaboration in multilateral affairs to tackle global challenges, apart from accommodating each other’s core concerns and handling differences existing between the two countries. However, the recent DBO intrusion remains a Chinese puzzle.

There is no denying the fact that China has time and again shown that it is not a country to be trusted. On the one hand, it is engaged in talks with India on Afghanistan and even proposing joint efforts to build up the war-torn nation, and on the other, it is making repeated incursions into our territory.

Admittedly, the latest face-off between India and China in Ladakh appears to be the worst since the one in 1986. For the past fortnight, Chinese troops have stationed themselves 19 km deep inside Indian territory in the Daulat Beg Oldie sector of the Ladakh region. The transgression by the Chinese Army is as deep as Pakistan’s 1999 Kargil incursion which led to a war between India and Pakistan.

This doesn’t preclude the possibility that China wants to repeat the 1962 episode of transgression into Indian territory which led to a war, just to show its military prowess in the region.

There is no denying that China’s provocative march into our territory by erecting tents poses a grave threat to India’s sovereignty. But it is unfortunate that despite the gravity of the threat Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described it as a “localised problem.” “We do have a plan. We don’t want to accentuate the situation. We do believe it is possible to resolve the problem. I think talks are going on,” he said to reporters at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Though on one side Beijing has been quick to respond to the PM’s intiative by adding that its government is “ready to work with India” to resolve the differences, but on the other it is yet to vacate the area falling on the Indian side. It ominously points out that China is reluctant to retreat to its orginal position.

It is ironical that after having a cordial meeting with our Prime Minister, such a provocative action on the Indo-China border casts aspersions on the Chinese intentions to resolve the border issue. China is now asking for talks to resolve the issue. It is high time we scrapped such talks as these are nothing but sheer waste of time.

Undoubtedly, New Delhi has been consistently following a policy of restraint with Beijing in spite of the latter’s provocative anti-India postures and actions on many sensitive issues. But there is a limit to restraint and it shouldn’t be one-sided. And at the same time it should not be at the cost of India’s sovereignty. New Delhi is in a catch-22 situation where it has to choose between the military taking on the third largest country or live in denial about the expansionist designs of China.

In the face of China’s rigid stand, Indian Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh presented a “factual status report” on the Chinese incursion to the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by the Prime Minister on May 1. He suggested various options to the government on resolving the issue, including aggressive use of force. This reportedly includes options such as cutting off Chinese supply lines in the area.

More importantly, the Ministers and bureau-crats concerned should immediately take stock of the situation and resources to ensure proper vigil by the Army and ITBP. We can’t let the Chinese have a field day at the border. Any logistic and operational support required to dominate China must be provided without delay. Besides, India should deploy additional troops in the area if it felt the Chinese were enhancing their presence. All political parties cutting across party lines should sit together to evolve a consensus on the issue and chalk out a strategy for a lasting solution to the imbroglio.

China, it seems, is out to grab Indian territories and take control of our vital installations on one pretext or other to serve its expansionist designs. We can call its bluff by moving our troops to advance positions keeping our international friends on board. Whatever be the context of the DBO intrusion, it is important that India makes the right moves. Though the terrain is extremely difficult, with temperatures dropping to minus 50 degrees Celsius, the ITBP is supposed to be fully equipped to dominate the assigned stretch of the LAC. Moreover, our jawans should remain prepared to prevent any undue advances of our hostile neighbour. The sanctity of the LAC must be maintained.

Lastly, India must not refrain from taking military action to thwart any Chinese provocative transgressions; otherwise we may suffer another debacle at the hands of China. In the meanwhile India must make the right moves on the Chinese intrusion, for its actions on this incident would set the tone for its dealings with the new Chinese leadership over the next decade. And it has to assert its national interests.

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