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The Chinese challenge

Defexpo 2018 Special By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Illustration(s): By Anoop Kamath / SP Guide Pubns
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


Doklam stand-off is a manifestation of the larger geopolitical contest between India and China

Post being anointed President for life, Xi Jinping told 3,000 legislators of the Chinese Parliament on March 20, 2018, “The Chinese people have been indomitable and persistent. We are resolved to fight the bloody battle against our enemies, and on the basis of independence we are determined to recapture the relics.” He did not identify China’s enemies but said China would not cede a single inch of its territory. That raises the question which territories Xi was talking about - all the illegal Chinese claims of which he himself has been party to? Some analysts feel the “bloody battle” part is directed towards Taiwan, capture of which will imply China battling the US. Since 2000, Indian delegations visiting China were told that China will integrate Taiwan into mainland China by 2025. It is possible Xi was referring to that.

But, what about other illegal Chinese claims, including India; Arunachal Pradesh, Eastern Ladakh and elsewhere? Besides, not only China has territorial disputes in the East China Sea (ESC) with Japan and South China Sea (SCS) with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, she actually claims territories in 23 countries even though sharing borders with only 14. Overall, illegal claims of present day China itself. Many of these claims are based on unsubstantiated so-called historical claims dating back to centuries. But here too China cunningly chooses particular timeline in particular century to go back. For example, in the seventh century Tibet was an empire, spanning the high heartland and deserts of the north-west, reaching from the borders of Uzbekistan to Central China, from halfway across Xinjiang, an area larger than the Chinese heartland. In 763, Tibetan army briefly captured the Chinese capital Chang-an (today’s Xian and much later it was the Mongols who later ruled China then occupied Tibet. So should Mongolia claim Tibet?

Getting back to Xi, he said, “We have strong capabilities of taking our due place in the world. We have fought for that big dream for about 170 years. Today more than ever the Chinese people are close to that dream, ever more confident and capable of realizing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” All told, typical call by a moderndaty Hitler announcing the use of force.

China has been sending mixed signals to India. In December 2017 China’s Special Representative Yang Jiechi delivered President Xi Jinping message to Prime Minister Modi that both countries should aspire to become “friends for generations” and “partners in rejuvenation”. But simultaneously PLA was permanently establishing in North Doklam. Yang Jiechi was also State Councilor under Premier Li Keqiang in 2013 when latter visited India in wake of 19 km deep intrusion at Raki Nala in Depsang Plains of Eastern Ladakh. Next, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling media in Beijing in March 2018, “Despite some tests and difficulties, the China-India relationship continues to grow... China is upholding its rights and legitimate interests and taking care to preserve the relationship with India… Chinese dragon and Indian elephant must not fight each other but dance with each other... If China and India are united, one plus one will become eleven instead of two. With political trust, not even the Himalayas can stop us from friendly exchanges”. But Wang Yi’s call for tango also raises many questions. Dance to whose tune - China’s? Doesn’t his statement about upholding China’s rights and legitimate interests imply all illegal claims (Doklam, Arunachal Pradesh, other areas) and isn’t this a threat? What is the basis of trusting China - a call to Tango? Where was China when Russian President was pushing for stronger India-China-Russian relations decade plus back? The Indian response was quite erratic.

A government memo asked senior leaders and government functionaries not to attend Tibetan diaspora events to mark 60 years of Dalai Lama’s exile and thank India for giving Tibetans shelter. With Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay invited for Modi’s swearing-in, would it not have been prudent to quietly orchestrate postponing ‘thank you’ event to end 2018, giving time to observe Chinese behaviour? India also cancelled the annual Asian Security Conference to be hosted this month by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) citing “administrative reasons”, this year’s theme being “India and China in Asia: Making of a New Equilibrium”. Whether there was fear or not of statements during the event could displease Chinese participants, it does indicate undue appeasement - a sign of weakness.

Sure, With External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is attending the Foreign is Ministers meet in China ahead of the SCO summit in Qingdao in June 2018 which will be attended by Prime Minister Modi, but Chinese signals need to be read with caution. Recent news have appeared that PLA is building yet another road in Doklam leading to the Jhamperi ridge occupied by India. In March 2018, Chinese boats carrying arms entered Bangladesh waters and arms were smuggled into the country allegedly for local extremist groups and insurgent outfits in northeast India. While Bangladesh military officials and Coast Guard are under scanner, it is quite likely that China is assisting overthrow of the Bangladesh Government and perhaps assassination of Sheikh Hasina.

That China has been arming and supporting insurgents in India northeast as also Maoists is well known. In 2015, China established the United Liberation of West, South and East Asia combining nine militant groups including the NSCN (K) and ULFA. All these are the real face of China who has also been using Pakistan against India, employing ancient strategy to ‘Kill with Borrowed Knife’. India must remain steadfast even though China will likely to go for intrusions along the LAC, especially in Arunachal Pradesh, in order to pressure India to join the CPEC, which India should not because that would imply surrendering sovereignty like Pakistan. At the same time, if we want peace, we must prepare for war. In geopolitics, no negotiations work from position of weakness.


The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.