Ahead of Taiwan’s national day on 10 October, the Chinese embassy in India penned a letter to Indian media houses asking them to adhere to the government’s One-China policy. The letter stated, “Taiwan shall not be referred to as a country (nation) or Republic of China or the leader of China’s Taiwan region as President.” It added, “We hope Indian media can stick to Indian government’s position on Taiwan question and do not violate the One-China principle.” It could be a warning that not adhering to Chinese demands would imply no advertisements. However, it is a continuation of Chinese wolf warrior diplomacy seeking to pressurize Indian media houses.
Currently there are heightened tensions between China and India along the northern borders as also between China and Taiwan. Taiwan’s foreign minister, Joseph Wu, reacted to the Chinese letter and stated, “India is the largest democracy on Earth with a vibrant press and freedom loving people. But it looks like communist China is hoping to march into the subcontinent by imposing censorship. Taiwan’s Indian friends will have one reply: GET LOST!”. Indians criticized the Chinese letter while support to Taiwan, a small nation facing a possible Chinese assault, skyrocketed. The Indian government stated that its media is free.
India, on the other hand, has been diplomatically meek in its response to Chinese comments on internal matters and aggression in Ladakh. The Indian foreign minister greeted his Chinese counterpart on China’s founding day on 1 October, whereas the Chinese ambassador greeted India on Independence Day. Mr. Jaishankar was unwilling to mention China in his address at the QUAD conference. The joint statement issued after his meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Moscow, on the sidelines of the SCO summit, also endorsed the Chinese viewpoint of terming the LAC as border areas.
The Prime Minister, displaying a similar attitude, refused to officially acknowledge his birthday greetings by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, and the Dalai Lama, continuing to adhere to India’s One-China policy. India also did not officially convey national day greetings to Taiwan. Mr. Modi has officially not accused China of occupying Indian territory in any public statement. The only positive action which has been taken is employing the Special Frontier Force, comprising of wards of Tibetan Refugees, in operations in Ladakh.
In August, the Chinese government mouthpiece carried an interview of the Pakistan ambassador to China on Kashmir. It was a one-sided story and projected India as a villain. The same mouthpiece refused to carry the Indian embassy’s rebuttal to the interview, compelling the embassy to publish it on its website. On the contrary, India’s free press rushes to interview the Chinese ambassador and carries his viewpoints, even if critical to India.
Officially, China has never followed the One-India policy. It recently announced that it does not accept Ladakh as a Union Territory, and while ignoring Indian objections constructs roads through disputed GilgitBaltistan. Simultaneously, it diplomatically censures India whenever there are visits by Indian leaders or foreign diplomats to Arunachal Pradesh. China has also blocked foreign funding for developmental projects in Arunachal claiming it to be disputed.
China has supported insurgencies in the North East, an aspect India has never discussed with them. As per current inputs, ULFA, an Assamese rebel group, has moved its bases from Myanmar to Yunnan province of China. It had also adopted the stapled visa policy for residents of Kashmir and Arunachal.
The only Indian leader to have questioned China on its policy was Sushma Swaraj as the foreign minister. In June 2014, during an interaction with the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, the late Mrs Swaraj had stated, ‘Mr Minister, we support the One China policy. However, we expect you to also have a One India policy.’ It was the first and possibly last time that India displayed its willingness to counter China.
India should learn from Taiwan and counter Chinese attempts to browbeat India diplomatically. There are multiple reasons why India must change its One-China policy.
If there must be close coordination between military and diplomatic efforts to resolve the ongoing standoff in Ladakh, then both must display the same level of aggressive power. If the army displays strength and resolve and warns China that crossing Indian army redlines in Ladakh could invite firing and India is prepared for escalation, then diplomacy cannot project a weak stance. Weak diplomacy will be exploited. China only moves back in the face of stiff opposition. Its willingness to discuss disengagement is because it is aware that clashes akin to Galwan would impact morale of its soldiers. India’s strength flows from its current deployment south of the Pangong Tso. Hence, in every conversation, China demands disengagement must commence with Indian pullback from this region. As per China, Indian deployment is within their territory, which India refutes.
Indian actions have compelled China to break its policy of 70 years and maintain PLA forces in Ladakh through the winters. The growing propaganda warfare by Chinese stateowned media is a sign of desperation in seeking to impact the morale of toughened Indian soldiers.
The positive bargaining stance which the army has provided must be backed by diplomats and the national leadership by breaking their decades old norm of a One-China policy. This would display firmness in resolve and a determination to counter China on its own ground. As a start the LAC should be referred to as the India-Tibet border. It would also indicate that India can be equally supportive of anti-China movements, in case China adopts the same approach. Further, as Mrs Swaraj had stated, the one-nation game can be played by both sides.
A Jekyll and Hyde policy of soft diplomacy and a hard-military face will never succeed in negotiations. On the contrary, it would project a weak government which is willing to accept partial, if not complete, Chinese demands and give them an advantage. The ideal face should be a resolute diplomacy alongside a hard military policy. This change in approach must be visible in future comments and negotiations with the Chinese. India must dump its OneChina policy.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.