India’s appeasement policy won’t help
It is high time the PMO and the MEA gathered courage to speak on the South China Sea and the issues having a bearing on national security, particularly in forums like the East Asia Summit, with the same clarity as the Defense Minister did.
During the past month China inflicted a national humiliation on India by intruding 19 kilometers across what has been the traditional border between Ladakh and Tibet since the 17th century and forcing India to not only pull back from its own territory in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector, but also to dismantle defense structures in the Chumar sector.
China has consistently refused to define where the so-called “Line of Actual Control” lies and acted aggressively when it finds Indian defenses neutralize its tactical and strategic advantages by pushing its claims westwards and well beyond what its own maps had earlier depicted. Moreover, apart from violating all past agreements on the Ladakh-Tibet border, China’s territorial claims also violate the provisions of the Wen Jiabao – Manmohan Singh Agreement of 2005 on the guiding principles for a border settlement which state: “The (Sino-Indian) boundary should be along well defined and easily identifiable geographical features, to be mutually agreed upon”.
India’s claims, based on historical data, also fulfill the provisions of the 2005 agreement as they set the western borders up to the Indus river watershed, with the Karakoram mountains forming the natural boundary. After being militarily humiliated, India chose to subject itself to diplomatic ridicule in the joint statement issued after the visit of Premier Li Keqiang.
While the joint statement paid lip service to the 2005 guiding principles, there was no mention of the need for defining the LAC in accordance with these guiding principles. Unless we do this and insist on China furnishing its version of the LAC, the Chinese will continue to stall and obfuscate while placing our forces in an untenable position along the borders, with India meekly agreeing to pull down any defenses the Chinese demand.
Worse still, India agreed to accept some ridiculous and one-sided provisions which are clearly detrimental to its national interests. The most astonishing provision of the joint statement was the sentence: “The two sides are committed to taking a positive view and support each other’s friendship with other countries”. This, in effect, was an endorsement of Chinese policies of “low cost containment” of India.
Over the past three decades China has provided Pakistan designs for its nuclear weapon, allowed the use of its territory in 1990 by Pakistan for testing nuclear weapons, upgraded Pakistan’s enrichment centrifuges, provided unsafeguarded plutonium production and reprocessing facilities and violated its commitment to the MTCR, by providing Pakistan wherewithal for manufacturing medium and long-range ballistic and cruise missiles.
China is also Pakistan’s largest arms supplier, providing equipment ranging from JF 17 fighters and T 90 tanks to modern frigates. General Musharraf had made it clear just after the visit of then Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji that the Gwadar port being built with Chinese assistance would be made available to China if there were tensions with India. Moreover, does our ill-advised endorsement of the nature of Sino-Pakistani collusion not suggest an endorsement of Chinese growing presence in POK and the Northern Areas of Gilgit-Baltistan? As the Chinese government mouthpiece, The Global Times, mockingly observed: “India must accept and adapt to the enviable friendship between China and Pakistan.
China cannot scale down this partnership merely because of India’s feelings!” On May 28 President Rajapakse of Sri Lanka signed a “strategic cooperation partnership” agreement with President Xi Jinping in Beijing, in which the two sides agreed to strengthen defense cooperation while jointly cracking down on the “three challenges of terrorism, separatism and extremism” and expanding cooperation on “international and regional affairs”.
Virtually every South Asian leader choosing to challenge India, ranging from President Waheed in the Maldives to Begum Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh and Prachanda in Nepal, has received a warm welcome at the highest levels in Beijing. Moreover, China is bent on blocking India’s entry into forums like the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Worse still, India grandiosely agreed to support a Chinese role in the Gulf of Aden, without getting similar Chinese endorsement for its maritime and energy interests in the South China Sea, most notably for its exploration projects in the Phu Khanh Basin off the coast of Vietnam.
Interestingly, while commissioning the first squadron of carrier-based Mig 29 aircraft on May 13, the Defense Minster, Mr. A.K. Antony, asserted that there should be freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, adding that while India is not a party to disputes there, it believes that these disputes should be settled according to the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). Mr. Antony added the protection of the sea lanes of communications is imperative for India’s trade, commerce and economic development.
Sadly, such clarity on Indian interests is not evident in other parts of South Block. Moreover, Mr. Antony believes that there can be no “miracles” in the development of India-China relations and has no intention of either taking up residence in Beijing or waxing eloquent on the serenity and tranquility surrounding Tiananmen Square! New Delhi has to understand that the appeasement of an assertive China is a recipe for global and regional marginalization.
Given China’s territorial claims, which have expanded from just Tawang, to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh and its activities in PoK, India should not merely stop voicing the inane mantra that “Tibet is an Autonomous Region of China,” but make it clear that we did not invite the Dalai Lama to India. We would be happy if he reached an agreement to return to Tibet, with China respecting the provisions of the 17-point agreement it signed with the Tibetans in 1951. Moreover, apart from acquiring berthing facilities for the Navy in Vietnam, India would be well advised to provide Vietnam the ability to protect its maritime interests by the supply of Brahmos cruise missiles, much in the manner that China provides Pakistan ballistic and cruise missiles.
On river waters, India is well placed to work with lower riparian states in the Mekong basin and, indeed internationally, to isolate China on its refusal to engage in prior consultations on projects on the Brahmaputra river. It is also high time the PMO and the MEA gathered courage to speak on the South China Sea and issues having a bearing on national security, particularly in forums like the East Asia Summit, with the same clarity as the Defense Minister, instead of appearing apologetic, weak and vacillating. The statements made and cooperation envisaged when the Prime Minister visited Japan are a good beginning.