Lt Gen Rajiv Bhalla, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Retd) Writes :
China in its latest incursion at Galwan and Pangong Tso Lake areas has only continued with their unstated domineering philosophy and should not come as a surprise to India. The Chinese have mastered the art of ambiguity and deceit and display extreme patience with a long-term perspective in settling disputes. They are ardent followers of the military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu and put to practice his teachings zealously. Over the years they have successfully achieved their aspirational strategic objectives with their visionary finesse, economic might, dictatorial system, and soft power manipulations.
In the late seventies and early eighties when India was vigorously pursuing for early settlement of the border issue, the Chinese put it on the back burner on the pretext of modernisation commitments. However, they continued with their aggressive border activities and patrolling while enhancing their economic might and industrial growth. They have settled their land borders with all their neighbouring countries except India and Bhutan, probably to retain strategic dominance over a major regional power.
Historically, the Chinese have never compromised on their interests especially in settlement of border disputes and are known for their hard bargaining and negotiations for a favourable solution. The Chinese have been extremely aggressive and hawkish for their strategically important claimed areas and all intrusive actions are well calibrated to put India on the back foot. Their regular and frequent incursions over the past few decades into the areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Ladakh have primarily been to keep their claims alive. The Chinese over the years have been encroaching our lightly held and remote areas in an attempt to nibble away our strategic advantage of occupying the watershed.The orchestrated incidents in various sectors are an indication of a well planned design and not isolated incidents at the local level They have misinterpreted the McMahon Line to suit their interests and have gone against the basic principle of watershed, recognized and accepted the world over. Their intrusion in Sumdrong Chu valley in 1986 resulted in India adopting a forward posture as part of Operation Falcon. Post this intrusion, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Beijing and accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) vis-à-vis their suzerainty over Tibet.
During these four decades of development and modernisation in China, Tibet seems to have been reasonably well integrated with mainland China with a major shift in the demographic profile. The connectivity and infrastructural development of TAR with mainland China has improved the lives of the Tibetan youth, who had till then only experienced the vagaries of weather and poor connectivity. This meticulously executed transition by the Chinese is presumed to ensure that the exiled Tibetan Government will probably never see a free Tibet.
It is important to understand and analyse the Chinese modus operandi for effectively countering their nefarious designs. The presence of a political Commissar in the Chinese military structure is visualised to ensure adequate control over PLA’s day to day functioning by the political authority. They talk less and their intentions are indicated more by actions and through prepared narratives. It also helps in conveying strong messages to other nations in the region. Today their sole purpose is primarily to deal with two competitors, India and USA; India along the land borders and USA in the Pacific region. Over the years China under Communist Party of China (CCP) has emerged as an egotistical dragon and strives to be acknowledged as a military superpower, after its economic growth success story. To be recognised as a superpower amongst the international community and comity of nations, the Chinese need to exhibit their military prowess against a major military power. This they may do with India through a border skirmish or some other belligerent action. This will help enhance its image to be the unquestioned military superpower, only next to USA if not equal to it.
India has always vied for a cordial relationship propounding the existence of adequate space for both nations to grow without jeopardising the interests of the other. Accordingly, India has been instrumental in nominating China in the UN Security Council, evolving the principles of Panchsheel and never interfered in their internal affairs. However, Chinese have always been unreliable with hegemonic intent and have endeavoured to keep India engaged along the Western borders by supporting Pakistan in their machinations. The concurrent border incidents by both Pakistan and China are equally well orchestrated but diverse. In one case the actions are duly acquiesced by the political hierarchy, while on the other front they are at the behest of the highest military authorities.
It is time India gives up on its soft power options and adopts a hard stance to convey a no-nonsense approach to the belligerent China. The experience of Chinese activities over the past few decades should help us draw conclusions and lessons to deal with them. The issue should not be soft-pedalled any further and they definitely need to be paid back in the same coin. We too must apply the principles of statecraft ‘Saam, Daam, Dand and Bhed’ as enunciated by the philosopher Chanakya to impede their strategy. Certain hard decisions need to be initiated to make it clear that India is not a soft state.
Firstly, the acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over TAR in 1988 resulted in withdrawing all support to the Tibetan movement and its Government in exile. This probably came as a shock to the Tibetan fraternity and was considered as a betrayal to the Tibetan cause by those residing in India. We however need to review the acceptance of sovereignty due to violation of established protocols by China. India should consider supporting the Tibetans again, as being done by China in J&K and for terrorists based in Pakistan. India must consider Tibet as an Autonomous region and question the Chinese claim over the vast Plateau. We must also support the chosen successor of Dalai Lama and propagate his succession amongst the Tibetans world over, and endeavour to establish his influence at Potala Palace in Lhasa. This will help the local population of TAR to consider him as the incarnated form.
Secondly, we must deal with China in the Indian Ocean region, where he is extremely sensitive and vulnerable to his economically dependent sea lanes. The presence and training by the Indian fleet in close proximity to the Chinese shipping lanes should be undertaken to convey a strong message to deal with them at a place of own choosing and at their weakness and vulnerability. The firing of missiles, as they have been doing against Japan and Taiwan, will further convey our resolve very firmly. This should be done as a quid-pro-quo on their belligerent activities on the border. We must also take actions to prevent any base coming up at Hambantota or any other area in the Indian Ocean.
Thirdly, India needs to review and rethink through their ‘One China’ policy and establish bilateral relations with Taiwan to provide all the necessary political and economic support overtly. While we may not establish a full-fledged diplomatic relations as yet, but the recourse to do so should be an option kept open by us.
Fourthly, the time is ripe to strengthen the Quad and take in more regional partners against the Dragon. Joining together of all the grieving nations would help build enough muscle to deal with their hegemonic inclination and take the case to United Nations or International Court of Justice. In the existing international milieu, war not being an option, we need to seek recourse with international agencies for peaceful resolution of the dispute but with resoluteness.
Fifthly, it is imperative to deal with China economically wherein all endeavours be made to reduce our dependence on Chinese goods in a phased manner. Simultaneously we must draw the manufacturing to Indian soil by ruthlessly getting rid of obstacles hampering in ease of doing business. This aspect has been ongoing for the past few years but with little success. The bureaucracy must examine various models and help in moving towards ‘Make in India’, a clarion call given by the Prime Minister.
The Chinese have assiduously delayed the settlement of the border issue with malafide intentions, to enhance military capabilities, create infrastructure, amalgamate Tibet with mainland China and Hanisation of the TAR. It should be very clear to us that Chinese understand only the language of power, which needs to be built up and displayed distinctly.
This incident should be treated as a turning point in our dealings with China and India should use Chanakya’s sutra of ‘Dand’ after the unsuccessful application of soft options stratagem.
Ke Wang, “ Rethinking Chinese Territorial Disputes: How the Value of Contested Land Shapes Territorial Policies”, University of Pennsylvania .
 Brahma Chellaney,“Timid India Allows China to Nibble at Himalayan Border”, The National, May 7, 2013.
 Rajiv Sikri, “The Tibet Factor In India-China Relations”, Journal of International Affairs Vol. 64,
No. 2, Sino-Indian Relations.
 Sumit Ganguly, “ The Sino-Indian Border Talks, 1981-1989 A View From New Delhi”, Asian survey, Vol. XXIX, No. 12, Dec 1989
Lt Gen Rajiv Bhalla, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Retd), a former Director General of Military Training, retired as the Military Secretary.
Article uploaded on 09-07-2020
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.