The Chinese Menace

The Indian approach to Chinese aggression, that forgives their past transgressions in the hope that they would behave better in the future, has failed. Our naiveté can be gauged from the fact that we have allowed Chinese trade surplus to rise to the level that it exceeds India’s defense budget, so that we are in effect, bankrolling Chinese aggression.

The Chinese Menace

(Source: IANS)

The far-sighted Chinese leadership recognised the disintegration of USSR in 1990 as a golden opportunity to replace Russia in the world order. Keeping their ultimate aim under wraps, the Chinese acquiesced in the unipolar world order of that period, but at the same time built up their economic power, using it to create principal-client relationships with strategically located, but impoverished states.

After the 2008 Western meltdown, the Chinese felt confident enough to articulate their hegemonistic ambitions openly by challenging the existing world order and trying to browbeat their smaller neighbours. Danger signals emanating from China were deliberately ignored by India, enamoured as we were by cheap Chinese imports.

With the US under Donald Trump ploughing a lonely furrow, the world community witnessed the curious spectacle of India and China coming together on innumerable issues like trade and climate change.


During this honeymoon period also, China remained implacably opposed to Indias more vital ambitions – Security Council membership and Nuclear Suppliers Group membership. China also periodically raked up contentious issues like sharing of river waters, deliberately slighting India in the bargain. With Chinas tacit support, Pakistan repeatedly needled India, and Pakistani terrorists kept the Kashmir cauldron boiling. China also nurtured ongoing border disputes, with standoffs in Depsang Plains (2013) and Doklam (2017), but lulled into complacency, the Indian leadership never retaliated.

PM Modi, who claimed a warm relationship with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, met Xi 18 times after becoming the Prime Minister in 2014. Also, Mr Modi had visited China five times, the maximum for any Indian PM. Not counting their recent meeting at the G-20 Summit, even after the Doklam standoff, Xi and Modi met four times: Xiamen in 2017 (September 3 to 5, 2017), BRICS Summit, Wuhan (April 27 to 28, 2018), an informal summit in Quindao in the same year (April 27 and 28, 2018) during the SCO summit and in Mahabalipuram (October 11 and 12, 2019).

In retrospect, the Doklam intrusion appears to have been a preface for the large-scale infiltration in Ladakh, three years later. To recapitulate: after a tense 73-day confrontation, the situation on the ground normalised in Doklam but the standoff was never officially resolved ~ no joint statement was issued by India and China. Rather, both parties made conflicting statements. According to India the road building activities of the Chinese had ceased, but the Chinese kept saying they would continue to exercise sovereignty over the disputed area.

Probably, emboldened by the forgive and forget response of India to their Doklam misadventure, the Chinese intruded in Ladakh in May 2020. It seems that the PLA (Chinese Army) had occupied hundreds of square kilometres of Indian territory in Ladakh during the winter. After mobilisation, the Indian army was able to retake some areas, and after talks, there was partial disengagement in Galwan, Hot Springs, and Gogra regions (JuneJuly 2020) and complete disengagement in Pangong Lake north and south banks (February 2021). But, even after two years, the impasse has not been resolved along rest of the border. Indian and Chinese troops are standing face to face on the long Indo-Chinese border. China has used the military stalemate by building war infrastructure, including militarised border villages, like artificial militarised islands in the South China Sea, roads, and even two bridges over Pangong Tso. We have improved our border infrastructure substantially, but at the same time we have allowed some journalists to show it live on TV.

On 9 December 2022, less than a fortnight after India conducted joint military exercises with the US Armys 11th Airborne Division, barely 100 kms from the Chinese border, around 300 PLA troops confronted an Indian patrol in Yangste area of Tawang Sector in Arunachal Pradesh. Reminiscent of the Galwan clash, Indian and PLA troops engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Some soldiers were injured, but thankfully there were no casualties. In identical statements before the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said, On 9 December, 2022, PLA troops tried to transgress the LAC in the Yangtse area of the Tawang Sector and unilaterally change the status quo The ensuing face-off led to a physical scuffle in which the Indian Army bravely prevented the PLA from transgressing into our territory and compelled them to return to their posts. The scuffle led to injuries to a few personnel on both sides…

However, the Chinese version was totally different. An editorial titled Indias border adventurism harms ties in the China Daily reads: But it is notable that the Indian troops have become more provocative in recent years, with a higher frequency of intrusions into China-controlled areas The ever-closer military cooperation between India and the United States on the premise of countering an increasingly assertive and aggressive China may also have played a part in some Indian military hawks trying to push the envelope on the border issue Just days before the latest skirmish, India and the US conducted a highaltitude joint military exercise in Uttarakhand near the Sino-Indian border India must restrain its troops from trespassing across the Line of Actual Control and work with China to calm the situation. Truth being the first casualty in any war, such differing perceptions are to be expected but the large number of PLA troops involved shows that the clash was a planned operation by the Chinese. This follows the well-defined Chinese strategy of carrying out asymmetric warfare by initially keeping their adversaries in good humour, stealthily occupying territory in small slices or carrying out aggressive manoeuvres, thus taking their opponents by surprise. A strong army makes China immune to the danger of escalation. This is the salami-slicing strategy carried out by China against its neighbours ~ India, Bhutan and Nepal, and against littoral states of the South China Sea.

As was done after the Ladakh incursion, the Indian leadership played down the Tawang incident. After his suo motu statement in Parliament, the defence minister declined to take any questions. Afterwards, the home minister sought to divert the discussion by alluding to a donation of Rs 1.35 crore received by the Congress party from the Chinese Embassy, in 2009.

Till date, the Government has not agreed to a Parliamentary discussion on this topic. Friendly nations have ignored the conflict. The US issued an ambivalent statement: We are glad both sides have quickly disengaged from clashes. We are closely monitoring the situation and encourage India and China to utilise existing bilateral channels to discuss disputed boundaries.

The aftermath of the Ladakh conflict was very unsatisfactory; 50,000 soldiers of both armies are standing face-to-face in the icy heights of Ladakh. Even after 16 rounds of talks, China has displayed no desire to step back. Instead of building a national consensus against China, the Indian press uses euphemisms like unilateral change of status quo for land-grabs; friction points for seized areas; and full restoration of peace and tranquillity for rollback of the intrusions. Meanwhile, China has adopted a new land border law that would justify its illegal annexation of territory. Before the BRICS Summit, scheduled for June 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in New Delhi, on 25 March 2022. Ostensibly, on a South Asian tour (Wang had visited Pakistan and Afghanistan before the India visit, and Nepal afterwards), Wangs visit was kept secret. After Wangs visit, China advised India to take a long-term view, explore China-India cooperation and speak with one voice at the virtual BRICS summit in China, under the Presidentship of Xi Jinping. Significantly, there was no offer by China to return to the earlier border. However, the PM did attend the BRICS Summit and also met Xi Jinping on side lines of the G-20 Summit in Bali.

The writing on the wall is clear. The Indian approach to Chinese aggression, that forgives their past transgressions in the hope that they would behave better in the future, has failed. Our naiveté can be gauged from the fact that we have allowed Chinese trade surplus to rise to the level that it exceeds Indias defence budget, so that we are in effect, bankrolling Chinese aggression. Resolute action is required not mere banning of Chinese apps. Hu Shih, a former Chinese ambassador to the US and President of Peking University said: India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border. We seem to have come a long way since then