China’s recent intrusions in Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso has once again proved that after years of serious efforts to accommodate or somewhat appease China, India has not yet learned any meaningful lessons about the Chinese strategic mindset. After annexing Tibet, Mao said, Tibet is the palm, and now they must get the five fingers- Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Arunachal Pradesh. However, India’s early leadership was perceptive enough to visualize this and act accordingly by warming up to the five fingers.
History between India and China
In 1954, India and China signed the Panchsheel agreement or the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. With it, also began India’s implied support to the doctrine of the “One-China” policy. However, Communist Party of China’s expansionist plans continued to simmer in Chinese inroads in Tibet and later in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh. The betrayal and debacle of 1962 shattered Jawahar Lal Nehru, ultimately leading to his demise and sending India into a phase of strategic depression. India became inward-looking, insanely skeptical of foreign powers, and obsessed with putting its own house in order. After 1962, China and India went through a long phase of uneasy silence, apart from the clashes of 1967 when the Indian army routed the Chinese in Nathula, killing hundreds of PLA soldiers and the Chinese attack on the Assam Rifles patrol party in 1975 at Tulung La in Arunachal.
In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi’s China visit after the Sumdorongchu standoff ‘broke the ice’ and resumed bilateral ties after three decades. In 1993, PM Narsimha Rao visited China and signed the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement.
In 1996, China agreed upon a range of CBMs with India in the military field along LAC. After that, it was the border trade agreement of 2003 to promote border trade through Nathu La and develop friendly ties. In 2005, India-China signed the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary Question, in 2012, the agreement on border tri-junction (India, China, and Bhutan), and in 2013, the agreement on border defence and cooperation.
India continued with its policy of engaging China and accommodating Chinese concerns in the hope of resolving border disputes, weakening China’s ties with Pakistan, and harness the strengths of civilizational-cultural ties. In 2015, India extended the privilege of electronic visas to Chinese citizens on arriving in India and removed China from the list of the “countries of concern” to attract more Chinese investment. It resulted in massive dumping by Chinese firms doubling the trade surplus to $60 billion per year.
On borders, Chinese intrusions continued. In 2013, the Chinese made incursions in Depsang valley, indulging in provocative military action. In 2014, during Xi Jinping India-visit, PLA made incursions in Ladakh’s Chumar area and in 2017, in Doklam plateau, resulting in a 73-day long stand-off between the two armies. In 2018, Delhi refused an official contact with Dalai Lama and Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile.
Lessons from the Past
After 22 rounds of special-representative level meetings, the CCP shows no intent to resolve the border dispute. The flare-ups in Doklam, Depsang, Chumar, Ladakh, and pressure on Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh clearly suggest that CCP is still chasing Mao’s dream of occupying the five fingers.
On the Indian side, it appears that there is still a policy ambiguity about China. Whether China is an adversary or a friend continues to remain an unanswered question at the policy level? Over the last 30 years, India’s foreign ministry mandarins have advocated the policy of positive engagement with China. India’s dominant left-wing academic and journalistic community have consistently held that India and China have an economic interdependence, and India cannot economically grow without China.
The recent skirmishes have once again proved that both groups are living in a fool’s paradise. After decades of written agreements and CBMs, China still encroaches into Indian territory, making a complete mockery of goodwill and appeasement shown by India. In the economic realm also, Delhi’s foreign policy officials preferred engaging China either through BRICS or by joining the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank). However, it hardly brought any favorable change in China’s strategic behaviour. China has not transferred any technology to India. It has had an unfavorable effect on the local innovation and entrepreneurship and increased India’s dependence manifold.
Over the Chinese side, the strategic thought has been consistent, i.e., to keep the borders vague and make continuous inroads laying sovereign claims to more and more territory. Chinese have deliberately continued with the policy of keeping LAC vague and widening the military and economic gap with India so that it can negotiate on its terms in the future.
It is not hard to discern the pattern of “two-steps forward and one-step backward” in Chinese policy. Moreover, China agreed to a range of things in the bilateral agreements with India; however, they continued to misinterpret them and change the goalposts when it suits them. As recently as 2018, China agreed to Delhi’s offer of an annual informal bilateral summit. However, such goodwill gestures had no impact on China’s intrusions. After the Doklam standoff, China built permanent structures and enhanced its deployments gaining control of most of the barren plateau claimed by India’s ally, Bhutan. Interestingly, China agrees to the bilateral summits and diplomatic engagements because it aligns well with its “engagement with containment” strategy with India.
India has to learn from Tibet’s and its own experience that deception, surprise, and concealment is a fundamental aspect of CCP’s strategic thought, diplomacy, and military policy. The reason lies in the devious expansionist intent, the essence of the CCP’s strategic thought process. It originates from the genesis of CCP, its inherent ideological totalitarianism, deterministic approach, and the revanchist attitude, rooted in historical grudges and frustrations. Also, China’s expansionist intent is not merely India-specific and confined to the political domain. China’s bullying and arm-twisting in the South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Eastern Turkestan also emanates from the same imperial DNA of CCP.
On the home front, extreme levels of information control, suppression of religious and cultural minorities, in particular, the treatment meted out to Uighurs in the reeducation camps of Xinjiang and the lunatic mission to homogenize China with Han Chinese population remind one of the fascist regimes of Hitler and Mussolini and the horrors of the holocaust. Perhaps a little digression, but if the world powers do not unite against the racist and fascist regime of CCP led by Xi Jinping, humanity may witness another holocaust.
Reportedly, the recent Ladakh incursions were planned months ago after India abrogated article 370. Also, it becomes pertinent to mention that there is a strong likelihood of China-Pakistan working in tandem preceding the recent incursions. China and Pakistan’s intelligence and security establishment has evolved into an intricate and robust network cooperating and collaborating at multiple levels and on multiple fronts. Further, India’s appeasement and meek response to its intrusions ended up whetting China’s voracious appetite for grabbing more territory, instead of placating it.
The Road Ahead
As long as CCP continues to exist, China will be India’s adversary, and it would be irrational for India to trust China in the future. Under the Mao’s reincarnate Xi Jinping, CCP has long-term imperial ambitions of world domination, and hence China’s errant behaviour is likely to abate in the future unless India abandons Dalai Lama, accepts a completely subordinate status and act accordingly, willingly surrenders Arunachal and whatever new claims of sovereignty that will float from Beijing, as per their strategic interests. The policy of engagement or a long era of appeasement since 1988, in Brahma Chellaney’s words, has proved to be a Himalayan blunder and a monumental disaster. Now the question arises- what should be India’s future course of action? Certainly, no engagement! Beyond that, Delhi needs a multi-pronged and a long-term strategy to contain China.