The five-point consensus signed between the Foreign Ministers of India and China on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting at Moscow to ease tension in the Eastern Ladakh sector has drawn mixed reactions at home both in India and China. Even before the ink had dried the Chinese English mouthpiece Global Times began to write about the likelihood of its implementation accusing India of flexing its muscles to create tension and nibbling Chinese territory. Incidentally, China till date has not shared with India its version of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) or its claim line. On what basis is then the Chinese accusation of nibbling its territory-based, is anybody’s guess because India has been unequivocal in its assertion that its troops are in its territory and LAC has not been crossed at any point. In another article, Global Times showed the Chinese apprehension in the likelihood of its implementation and expecting “India to show sincerity in implementation of 5-point consensus.” Despite the whole world labelling China as the aggressor, it continues to accuse India going to the extent of putting the blame on “Nationalist Sentiment” and connecting the ongoing border conflict with Indo-Pacific geopolitics terming it as a gamble by India. It also warned of a long haul in another article, “The China-India border deadlock may persist for a long time. Chinese people should be determined and patient. We should trust and support the PLA. Meanwhile, we must be confident about the wisdom of the country’s diplomats.”
While at home the reactions were from moderate to extreme with few rejecting it outrightly saying that no breakthrough has been made and others exuberating confidence. “The “five-point consensus” reached by the Foreign Ministers of India and China in Moscow on September 10, 2020, provides a glimmer of hope of a diplomatic solution.” The opposition parties’ response was also on the expected lines with direct potshots at the government and accusing it of failing to include an assurance of “status quo ante” and its inclusion in the 5-point consensus. Many veterans and former diplomats remain circumspect that we may concede too much to the Chinese. The veterans also feel that all such future negotiations at the political level should include the representatives of the Armed Forces lest we are handed over fait accompli like Tashkent or Shimla or Sharm el-Sheikh.
While series of meetings will begin soon to put into practice the decisions reached at Moscow so that it can be fully implemented leading to normalcy and avoidance of a conflict/war, to my mind there are five mistakes the Indians should not commit. These are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.
l Do not trust China. History is replete with examples of China’s deceit and treachery with its neighbours. Even the leaders of modern China post-revolution Mao Zedong and Chou En-lai are known for failing to walk the talk and stab the neighbours in the back. Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), the Army of the Communist Party of China (CPC) also has not behaved differently. Even Xi Jinping, the current all-powerful Chinese leader, is no different. He is a firm believer of the “Middle Kingdom” supremacy, and his “The China Dream” is nothing but a manifestation of China’s expansionist ambitions, Sino-centric view of the world. 2020 is the landmark year of his China Dream leading to 2021 centenary celebrations of the CPC. Will Xi mar the celebrations with a defeat? He is going to bargain hard making the “deadlock persist for long” as mentioned by GT. Let the negotiations continue, but our eyes should be glued to how China acts? Nothing short of a physical implementation of what its leaders say should be acceptable to us. Verification and re-verification must be the mantra for us.
l Do not surrender the tactical advantages. The demand for status quo ante is misleading, and we should not fall prey to the demand of few. It should be made very clear that restoration to status quo ante applies only to the Chinese troops which have unilaterally intruded into our territory at multiple points in Eastern Ladakh. As stated repeatedly, we are in our own territory, and we will not move back. For the first time after the 1962 conflict, India has occupied heights that not only give us a tactical advantage of dominating the Chinese but also open avenues for exercising offensive options. This advantage should not be surrendered at any cost keeping the Doklam experience in mind. Another thing to remember is that the terrain on our side hampers movement in winters due to closure of passes while the Chinese do not face such a problem in the Tibet plateau. Thus, vacating the heights will be at our peril giving the Chinese a chance to occupy them and threaten our Chushul defences, opening the gateway to Leh.
l Do not have dual control. The dual control of troops operating together is a certain way to disaster. We have learnt the bitter lesson at the beginning of the stand-off. There is no option but for the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) units deployed along with the Army to be placed under the command of the local Army unit/formation. That is the best way to ensure synergy and avoid conflicting situations. Both operational and administrative control should be with the Army.
l Do not compromise on defence preparedness. The development of infrastructure on our side should not be stopped at any cost. The present crisis may be overcome through prolonged negotiations, but one thing has become certain. China no more is a simple threat to our national security but a confirmed enemy. Two-front war in the future is not going to be just a probability but a likely possibility. We must prepare for it, and retain punitive deterrence in a manner that Pak is hesitant to join a two-front war. India no more can depend merely on diplomacy to keep our borders safe because of the growing Chinese belligerence in keeping with its China Dream. It is worth pondering that why China chose India for a confrontation from among multiple options it had? China wants to be the sole power in Asia and is unwilling to accept India as a challenger. It has also been experienced that only thing China respects is power or strength. India’s comprehensive national power will always remain weak in front of China until we have strong and modern armed forces. The Indian military has to be transformed from a force to military power. The process has been set in motion. But we Indians suffer from very short-lived memories. A Soldier and God is remembered only at the time of crisis and forgotten soon thereafter. Let it not happen again. Despite all domestic compulsions, a fixed amount of the GDP should be assured towards defence expenditure. The existing gaps in our joint warfare capabilities and fifth-generation warfare, including disruptive technologies, should be addressed on priority. Based on our national interests, India should also look forward to joining multilateral security organisations.
l Do not revert to old and outdated protocols and border management. The PLA through its strategy of “Altering Status Quo at Will” and Salami-Slicing technique has proved in the past that it has scant respect for these protocols. China deliberately has not made public its official claim line. With the Galwan incident of June 15, it was further confirmed that it had no respect for these protocols but had come well prepared to circumvent them to beat and scare the Indian troops who were scrupulously adhering to the protocols. It is a different story that they were taught a lesson of their lives by valiant Indian soldiers in unarmed combat. The orders have since been issued to the troops to open fire, but it goes to their credit that despite provocation by the Chinese, they have maintained top class self-control and fire discipline. Keeping Chinese behaviour in mind, the orders should not be changed. No ‘buffer zone’ but complete withdrawal by the Chinese troops to their pre-May 5 positions must be our stand. Aim of any new agreement on protocol should not be crisis management but a firm commitment of no more intrusions in the future for which delineation is very important.
In addition to the above, the other measures initiated to check China must continue until China commits to the full and final settlement of the border dispute. Economic measures must be further enhanced to tighten the noose. India has the unique advantage of being the Chairman of the World Health Organisation Executive Board. It should call for a special emergency session to summon the Health Assembly for combating the unprecedented damage caused globally by the pandemic and press for instituting an international enquiry to investigate the source nation of COVID causing an epidemic. Any deliberate omission by source country in delayed information to the global community about the onset of the virus, measures taken to prevent its spread to other countries and determine compensation to be paid by defaulter nation to the suffering nations. The Chinese reaction will be worth watching.
India should seriously consider re-thinking it’s One China policy if Xi does not relent. Tibet should be declared a disputed territory after garnering international support for the same and provide support to the Tibet freedom movement. Freehand should be given to the Dalai Lama and also further strengthen our relations with Taiwan. Taiwan is the hub of chip-technology, the technology of the future. It can contribute a lot to our Atmanirbhar Bharat mission. By highlighting the ill-treatment of Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang province, we should kill two birds with one stone. Not only bring China to international scrutiny but also expose Pakistan’s silence, a self-proclaimed messiah of the Muslim world.
Last but not least, we should not lose sight of the necessity of “Know Thy Enemy”. For a deep understanding of the Chinese, knowledge of Mandarin language is mandatory. By improving relations with Taiwan, we can begin to send our scholars to the island nation rather than the mainland. It would afford the twin advantage of avoiding the Chinese propaganda affecting the mind of our scholars but also learning perfect Mandarin. But more important than that is igniting the young minds for research on the Chinese people and its armed forces. Mandarin should be available as a choice among foreign languages at school and graduation level. Unfortunately, as per the New Education Policy (NEP), Mandarin has been omitted from the list of foreign languages to be taught. The government may like to revisit its policy and amend if convinced of the need.
For the first time, China’s hegemony and bullying has been challenged by none other than India. India should not let the opportunity drift off settling issues at its terms even if we have to wait till China concedes. We have avoided so far to get overawed by the Chinese influence operations and should continue to remain steadfast in the face of intensified Chinese effort of mind-games.
(The writer is a Jammu-based veteran, political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. Views expressed are entirely personal)