The first requirement of war is to assess the intention of the enemy. India has learnt its lesson visá- vis China in 1962 with Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister and Krishna Menon as defence minister and advisor. On 20 August of that year, while boarding a flight to Colombo, Nehru told the media: “I have asked our troops to throw the Chinese out of our borders”.
Exactly two months later, the enemy came hurtling down the NEFA hills, which are now known as Arunachal Pradesh. In the third week of November, Nehru wrote off NEFA as well as Assam. This writer heard him say over the radio, “My heart goes out to the people of Assam (Assam khatre mein hai)”, in which he included NEFA. A couple of days earlier, the State Bank had been ordered to empty its treasury in Tezpur, causing a scramble on the streets among the poor and the needy.
What was worse was that the madhouse of the town was ordered to release its occupants resulting in the unfortunate and insane patients running about on the streets of Tezpur. On the mid-night of November 20-21 the Chinese army declared a unilateral withdrawal. In the colder regions, when a serious invader begins an invasion, it is in spring so that he has time enough to capture territory, consolidate and decide on what he wants to do for the winter.
The NEFA invasion commenced at 16,000 feet in autumn, where it was all ice in sight and no earth. Any additional Indian troops who needed to come up the mountains would be dressed in a single pullover, cotton uniforms and canvas shoes. Our army had no howitzers or standard mountain guns that can fire from peak to peak. Our soldiers had the WWII .303 bolt action rifles.
Incidentally, the Chinese soldiers seen by our men had automatic rifles. The overwhelming logic for the Indian troops was to withdraw to the plains of Assam and to meet the enemy somewhat on a level playing field. But the generals we deployed in NEFA were evidently not competent. Neither Nehru nor Menon had any conception of war leadership. We have come a long way since those dark days of Chinese humiliation.
This time, the enemy action in Ladakh appears to be a message of objection to our reporting the weather in Muzaffarabad, Gilgit and Baltistan which are situated in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. This was interpreted as a threat for the takeover of POK. If we were to implement this action, China could lose quite a large portion of their prime One Belt One Road (OBOR), which is Beijing’s dream project. In law, they are building this partly in our territory and they know it.
They cannot afford to lose any part of this road. Nor can they risk an all-out war. Today, if there be a desperate need, the USA is likely to send us weapons we would want either on payment or on lend-lease, the basis on which Washington helped Europe during the Second World War. A leading US Congressman, Eliot Engels, also the Head of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs has somewhat raised the ante by voicing concern at Chinese behaviour along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
On the other hand, India has lost enough in Aksai Chin and has reason to get back some and there is certainly no scope for giving up any more territory, although Nehru had said on the floor of Parliament “where not a blade of grass grows”, to which Mahavir Tyagi also a Congress MP retorted that at present everyone could see that not a strand of hair grew on Nehru’s pate. This retort reflected the anger of the parliamentarians.
China is on the horns of a dilemma. Can it afford to risk losing the sovereignty over a part of its proud belt and road project? That would not be the end of the saga of sovereignty. At stake would be Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, the Muslim province to its west which Mao Zedong captured rather curiously in 1950; it was formerly known as East Turkestan. Mao invited the Uyghur leaders for a binge in Peking.
Most leaders of that rural province were tempted, especially when Peking offered to send them a chartered plane to come and go back. The political elite of East Turkestan, except for two Communist leaders went to Peking, enjoyed themselves thoroughly and signed a treaty of friendship. The same aircraft carried them back. Unfortunately, the plane crashed on its return flight. There was no one left but the two Communist leaders to take over power in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which they did. Thereafter the Communists faithfully merged East Turkestan into China.
The stakes of the current dilemma are big. For some reason, many countries of the world seem to implicitly blame Wuhan for having delivered the Coronavirus or Covid-19 as it is popularly known, to the world. President Trump has said so openly, while other nations seem less eager to venture to openly blame China. This second largest economy has a reverse problem of having to market most of its manufactured goods overseas.
The question therefore is: where will the Chinese dilemma end? As far as India is concerned, we should be satisfied if that portion of our territory in Aksai Chin is returned that the Chinese do not need it. Similarly, Beijing should stop claiming sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh. For the rest, India would leave it to the future.
But China has a great deal on its plate. In this day and age, its President Xi Jinping has declared himself emperor for life. Most senior members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCP) have been brought up on orthodox Communist lines. To them, anything imperial, or for life, is an anathema. The apparent revolt in Hong Kong is an external symbol of resentment at imperialism. As a similar reaction, Taiwan has elected a nationalist president Tsai Ing-wen, who believes in a strong and stable relationship between her country and the USA.
Until President Obama ruled, the USA was in no way feeling threatened; China was looked upon as a supplier as a supplier of cheap goods and depositor of good money. Donald Trump, being from a business background, detected that Xi Jinping’s ambition is to replace the USA as the world’s number one power. Various other suspicions have proliferated, such as China having launched a world war through Covid-19 that is currently ravaging the world.
China and the US have locked horns over the Coronavirus pandemic with Washington demanding a thorough investigation of the origin of the deadly virus which has claimed the lives of over three lakh people so far. In the bargain, there is greater anti-China feeling than ever before. Amid ongoing tension between the USA and China, American lawmaker Scott Perry introduced a bill in the Congress to authorize President Donald Trump to recognise Tibet as an independent nation.
The same Republican has also introduced a similar bill for Hong Kong and these two bills have been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This comes after Washington decided to revoke Hong Kong’s special status, an act that Beijing was quick to dub as “most barbaric”. At one stage, nearly eight to ten years ago, the Chinese economy appeared to be racing ahead in its march to help the country achieve its dream of conquering the world. But all good and easy things do come to a halt.
Workers are no longer prepared to work with compulsory cheapness. There were three cheap factors in the cost of production, namely labour, land and loans. The latter two have stayed but the workers have pressed their expectations. For several years, foreign investors have been whispering about their desire to move out of China. Some have moved to Vietnam and several other countries. But the real moving out has accelerated now, i.e., after the Hong Kong agitation.
The point being made is that the Chinese leaders have been fired by vaulting ambition. An English poet did advise his readers: “Let not thy ambition mock thy useful toil”. Few readers however, take the advice seriously and therefore, their stakes in life are bound to be high. This is the way India should read China’s message of Ladakh.
(The writer is an author, thinker and a former Member of Parliament)