India’s Prime Minister Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Welcoming Dinner during G20 Leaders’ Summit, 15th November 2022, in Badung, Bali. (Photo | PTI) It was the first time that the two leaders publicly exchanged words since a military standoff in Galwan Valley in April 2020. “Their exchange may not indicate a return to normalcy between the two countries,” reports suggested.
“The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible. The peaceful resolution of conflicts, efforts to address crises, as well as diplomacy and dialogue, are vital. Today’s era must not be of war,” the draft statement of G-20 said. It almost echoes Modi’s words to Putin in Samarkand, it was observed.
The statement was made in the context of Ukraine war, but should apply to India’s relations with China and Pakistan too : With them, normalization, not chauvinism, is the need of the hour.
“Happy to have met Joe Biden, we had fruitful exchanges on key issues,’’ tweeted Modi. He thanked Biden for his constant support for strengthening the India-US partnership. That was also at Bali. This partnership was not allowing normalization with China.
G20 Presidency India assumed on December 1, observers pointed out, is routine, nothing distinct; it is just by way of turns that India got its turn this year. But that was blown up by BJP:
“ We envisage the G20 Presidency as an occasion to showcase India to the world,” the BJP leaders said: India’s focus would be to build consensus and champion the Global South within the G20.” And added: “the government aimed to organise around 200 meetings across 32 sectors in locations across the country. (The Indian Express, 08-12-2022).
Perhaps this is the first time foreign policy has been raised to such a level and it is important to take into the people, on a large scale, the message “this is not an era of war,” and it should apply to China and Pakistan as well. It is high time that chauvinism and jingoism are buried fathoms deep.
This is one purpose and the theme of this Part-4, and of the series, on India’s Border Conflict with China, recently marked by the Dec 9 clash in the Tawang sector, in the Northeast.
Prime Minister Modi met in November last the Chinese President Xi Jinping briefly on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. Both sides said the two leaders exchanged pleasantries. And this was not to the liking of USA, as reports indicated. The Dec 9 clash created once again a further stalemate in the protracted and halting negotiations.
Just three days before the meeting at Bali, US made a brazen move fearing if the Bali meet would lead to a thaw in India-China relations: US treasury secretary Janet Yellen, on Nov 11, was meeting Indian leaders. “Seeking to nudge India to cut trade ties with China and Russia, Yellen said it is high time the world moved away from doing business with “risky countries, ” it was reported by newindianexpress.com(12th November 2022).
Pitching the concept of ‘friend-shoring’, where countries will source their needs from those with shared values, she said: “For too long, countries around the world have been overly dependent on risky countries or a single source for critical inputs. We are proactively deepening economic integration with trusted trading partners like India.”
The US and the West that called for globalization and opposed protectionism only a few years ago changed the tune, and launched a brazen trade war against China and Russia, citing flimsy grounds. The Asia Pacific strategy and QUAD are also meant to contain China.
Addressing the media jointly with Yellen, Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that India and the US will look forward to strengthening bilateral ties with greater vigour. India thus falls in line, being roped in as a partner.
Yellen also noted that the while the Ukraine war has brought distress to the world economy with energy prices skyrocketing, the challenges from the conflict and supply strains have in fact brought India and the US closer together. India is an indispensable partner to the US, Yellen added.
This partnership was not allowing normalization with China, we noted, whereas normalization, not chauvinism, is the need of the hour.
BJP and Congress compete in chauvinism, drummed up by the media
Media sensationalized the recent clash on Dec 9, in spite of the fact that it was “immediately” defused as per official statements by the government and the army. This is how the pro-US media sabotages any efforts at keeping peace. Republic Media Network, for example, uses the American metaphor, shock &awe strategy. Others compete. That was the trend in the media generally, as also in the parliament, once again. This does not gel with the precept “this is not an era of war”
AS if to create an alibi, a minor clash at Tawang that was sorted out “immediately”, as per official statements by Indian authorities, was blown up both within and outside parliament. Chauvinistic war of words between Congress and BJP was used to divert attention from all burning issues of the people. Congress leader and spokesman Jairam Ramesh twisted even Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo, and raised the slogan “Cheen Par Chuppi Todo, Bharat Jodo (Break the silence on China, unite India).
Minister of External Affairs (MEA) S. Jaishankar made a statement in the Rajya Sabha on Dec 7 on the developments in foreign policy. He spoke of Modi’s remarks “this is not an era of war”, and said the PM gave voice to a global sentiment. Jaishankar said this is a reiteration of Delhi’s position, but the framing that Modi voiced “global sentiment” is a new formulation after the Bali declaration. PM Modi’s statement, MEA said, “was in the context of the Ukraine conflict, where our advocacy of dialogue and diplomacy has been consistent and persistent. It has a larger resonance as well…”
SCO is a platform formed at China’s initiative, it is well known, and India and Russia (involved in Ukraine war) are among its members. Pakistan that started as an Observer has also been a Full Member. It is to be hoped that the remarks “this is not an era of war” apply to India’s immediate neighbors, China and Pakistan in particular, both of which are very much part of the Global South the MEA mentioned.
Modi’s precept “this is not an era of war,” should apply to China and Pakistan as well. It is high time that chauvinism and jingoism are buried fathoms deep. But then…
The pro-US lobby don’t want, don’t allow any normalization
The debate that went on in parliament was not consistent with the precept “this is not an era of war”. Congress members, outdoing the BJP, raked up the border situation, and wished to know whether the PM had raised the issue of the June 2020 killing of 20 Indian soldiers in Ladakh’s Galwan region when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit.
The pro-US lobby, on both sides of the parliament, don’t want, don’t allow any normalization. See the US’ script:
The Dec 9 incident, at Yangtse area of the Tawang sector of LAC, came to light on Dec 12. The US at once jumped in, to fish in troubled waters, as reported on Dec 14 by ddnews.gov.in, Union government news (TV) agency:
“The United States has described Chinese incursion in Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh a growing trend by Beijing to assert itself and to be provocative in areas directed towards US allies. During a press briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder said, US Department of Defense continues to closely watch developments along the LAC in Tawang: “We have seen People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to amass forces & build military infrastructure along so-called LAC.” He said US will continue to remain steadfast in its commitment to ensure the security of its partners.” He also ensured support to India, a constant ally, and its efforts to control the situation.
It is notable India’s official media refers to the ‘commitment,’ of the US Department of Defense and Pentagon, to remain steadfast to ensure the security of its partners. They allege China was provocative towards US allies.
This, so soon after the incident! And after the India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in Parliament: “In this face-off, few soldiers on both sides suffered injuries. I would like to tell this House that none of our soldiers died or suffered any serious injury.” He added: “After this incident, the local commander of the area held a flag meeting with his Chinese counterpart on December 11 under the established system and discussed this incident…This matter has also been taken up with China through diplomatic channels.”
The US pokes its nose, and the Opposition Congress makes a fuss after the Army itself issued a statement, spoke of a trend of contests since 2006 ( i.e., Congress-led UPA time), of persistent differences in perception; it said the Chinese PLA troops contacted the LAC, it was contested by Indian soldiers and both sides immediately disengaged. See the text:
On the other hand, the Chinese military on Dec 13 said that Indian soldiers “illegally” crossed the disputed border in the Himalayas and “obstructed” Chinese troops triggering a stand-off on December 9 (republicworld.com). It was resolved immediately.
Despite the acknowledged “differences in perception”where exactly the LAC lay, Rajnath Singh spoke of a Chinese attempt to change the status quo, which is a frequent charge of late. It is notable that such an allegation was made even before the Dec 9 incident :
MEA S. Jaishankar informed the Rajya Sabha on Dec 7 that it has been made clear to the Chinese diplomatically that any attempts to unilaterally change the LAC will not be tolerated..
“Diplomatically, we have been clear with the Chinese that we will not tolerate any attempt to unilaterally change the LAC… So long as they continue to seek to do that, if they have built up forces, in our minds it constitutes a serious issue, then our relation is not normal and the abnormality of that has been witnessed in the past two years. The military commanders of the two countries are talking and it should be left to them. House should be understanding of the national sensitivity of such a delicate matter,” Mr. Jaishankar said. (thehindu.com, December 08, 2022)
That has been the desire and endeavor of USA, the Head of QUAD and the senior partner, the ally. They don’t want, don’t allow any normalization. And India is heeding the US:
“India, a key asset for the US” , a news analysis by theprint.in, 23 December, 2022, candidly said: “New Delhi is now more amenable to receiving Washington’s support to balance Beijing, as reflected in the willingness to tolerate American presence in India’s immediate neighbourhood.” (The author is an Establishment man: Vinay Kaura, assistant professor, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Rajasthan. )
Instead of opposing BJP’s chauvinism, Congress vies with the government in toeing this US line.
It was the Congress that sought to outdo BJP in jingoism, sample these statements:
The Congress party on Dec 18 accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “running away” from a debate in Parliament on LAC.. It also alleged that the PM does not utter the word “China” and asked whether the government was “silent” due to its “close ties” with that country. Rahul Gandhi said “the government was sleeping while China was preparing for war”. Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said the government had tied the hands of the armed forces who are full of valour”. “Veer Sena, kayar raja (brave army, coward king),” that is the story of the country, he alleged. Jairam Ramesh also raised the slogan “Cheen Par Chuppi Todo, Bharat Jodo (Break the silence on China, unite India).”
Bharat Jodo with anti-China slogans? Is it not to serve the US line?
Modi meeting Xi Jinping was not to the liking of USA, as reports indicated. The Dec 9 clash created once again a further stalemate in the protracted and halting negotiations. “ India and China still have some 60,000 troops each and advanced weaponry deployed in the Ladakh theatre, ” it was reported.
Jaishankar significantly said in the House : “.. it is something which is left to the military commanders to deal with. I think the House should be understanding of the national sensitivity of such a delicate matter,” he said, without giving details.
That was on Dec 7, two days before the Dec 9 clash, reported on Dec 12, and the US already jumped in. Immediately, the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, the US stooge allowed inside India for decades against all cannons of international law, blamed China for Tawang clash, reported the media, with an anti-China bias.
This needs to be viewed in comparison to China’s assessment and attitude:
On Dec 13 Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said: “As far as we understand, the current situation on the China-Indian border is generally stable.”
“The two sides have been maintaining open communication on this issue through diplomatic and military channels…We hope that the Indian side and the Chinese side will move in the same direction, and honestly, implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of both countries. Strictly abide by the spirit of the relevant agreements and accords signed by both sides and work together to maintain peace and tranquillity in the China-India border area.” (republicworld.com).
“ Our relationship is not normal,” Jaishankar said, in contrast!
The same Indian news agency added: “Indian nationals in Tawang are infuriated over the recent face-off between Indian and Chinese troops and are ready to fight against China side-by-side with the Indian Army.” It hints Chinese citizens’ presence in Tawang and a division, which go beyond the differences in perception.
The allegation is that China wants to unilaterally change the status quo.
“Attempt to unilaterally change the status quo?”
Ever since Galwan clash, the peace and tranquility along LAC that prevailed for long by mutual agreement, was disturbed. The reasons need to be examined objectively, dispassionately.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, speaking of Tawang Dec 9 clash, spoke of a Chinese attempt to change the status quo. It is notable that such an allegation was made even before the Dec 9 incident: MEA Jaishankar informed the Rajya Sabha on Dec 7 that it has been made clear to the Chinese diplomatically that any attempts to unilaterally change the LAC will not be tolerated.
It appears quite justified and reasonable. But it needs to be analysed objectively:
Amit Shah ominously declared, in August 2019, when Ladakh was separated from Kashmir, that India would get them back: PoK is ours, Aksai chin is ours, they are part of JK, we will get them, and you will see this in future…This was during the debate on re-organization of JK and Art 370.
Is it not a brazen attempt to “unilaterally change the status quo”?
The Chinese media expressed concern that India is pushing ahead, is provocative. It took note of Amit Shah’s assertions in parliament. China had protested when JK was re-organized, a new map was issued. Nepal had protested when another map of Kalapani- Lipulekh area was issued that was close to LAC.
They were not mere maps, but were accompanied by actions:
Lt. Gen. (retd) S. L. Narasimhan, Member, National Security Advisory Board, had said one possible reason for the recent stand-off is that the Chinese “aren’t clear why infrastructure is coming up” on the Indian side. “They are unsure of what we are doing in our area.”(The Hindu, June 03, 2020).
“We urge the Indian side…to comply with the agreements signed, refrain from unilateral actions complicating the situation,” China’s MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian had said .
The Chennai-Mamallapuram Modi-Jinping summit happened amid pressures to abort it. There was uncertainty, unusual for such events, until four days before the summit that finally went off well. But pressures, from US and its lobbies in India, continued and India took a shift in policy and that could be seen when it joined hands with the West in the cold war, to press for a resolution in WHA of WHO blaming china on Covid-19. Then followed the provocative events.
Lt Gen (retd) H S Panag, ex- GOC in C, Northern and Central Command, long before Galwan clash, wrote (28 May, 2020) :
“China is extremely suspicious of India. It believes that in the long term, India’s strategic aim is to restore the status quo ante 1950 by recovering Aksai Chin and other areas captured/secured by China.” China wants to maintain status quo. Obviously India wants to change it. And that is at the root of the face-off.
In the talks on June 6, 2020 India reportedly wanted restoration of status quo. It needs to be pointed out that status quo ante 1950, mentioned above, implies restoration of colonial claims of British India: Because China, the PRC, was yet to reach and establish itself in Tibet area by that time.
“Much as I would like to speculate about China’s broader political aims, the direct political aim is simple–to maintain the “status quo” along the LAC on its own terms, which is to forestall any threat, howsoever remote, to Aksai Chin and NH 219…” .
Is it not a New Forward Policy by Modi?
That is… the second edition of India’s Forward Policy, the first being Nehru’s that led to the 1962 war. Many experts know it is one trigger for the recent face-offs, unprecedented in 45 years. And now Tawang is the scene of action.
It was not merely political rhetoric by Amit Shah as can be seen below:
A responsible ex-diplomat of India, P.Stobdan, who had served in National Security Council Secretariat and now Senior Fellow at IDSA, an elite and knowledgeable resident of Ladakh, brazenly said:
“ We also decided that after abrogating Article 370, we will take Aksai Chin. This is not about LAC… We kept talking about it but never made any progress…Not anymore, ” Stobdan Stobdan alleged that the real reason why the Chinese are now reacting is because “we have now become offensive, because we are now building roads, constructing infrastructure there and doing deployment. This is our Forward Policy and we need to be firm on this”.
India decided to take Aksai Chin; it became offensive; it is beefing up by additional deployment and new infrastructure. That is the essence of the above Indian, authentic reports.
Lt Gen (Retd) HS Panag, wrote in theprint.in on 19 Sep 2019: “ Modi Govt’s “strategic policy shift” rattled both Pakistan and China.”
Then happened Galwan and recently the Tawang clash. Why Tawang now? We reviewed in part-2.
“ Eye on China, govt plans a ‘frontier highway’, at a cost of around Rs 27,000 crore”
Union Home Minister Amit Shah was in the Northeast on Jan 6 came down heavily on Congress and said that their slogan for North-East was “Look East”, which PM Modi has changed to “Act East.” He was in Manipur and Nagaland and said that in the last eight years, the Modi government spent Rs 3.45-lakh crore in the Northeast, which equals the cumulative spending in the 25 years before that. He was addressing a gathering after inaugurating 12 projects worth Rs 300 crore , and laying foundation stones for nine schemes worth Rs 1,060 crore in Manipur, indianexpress.com reported. Shah also said that the Modi government signed peace accords with the NLFT in Tripura, Bodo and Karbi Peace Accords in Assam, and Bru settlement accord in Tripura to ensure peace in the region.
War, peace, development, budgets ..everything is used for BJP’s expansion. Modi visited Manipur 51 times in eight years, Amit Shah said. Obviously they are political missions in north-east.
Huge expenditures for ‘development’ in northeast? Or strategic preparations?
BJP on December 21 accused Congress leader Sonia Gandhi of trying to help country’s “enemy” China by seeking an open debate on country’s preparations over tackling challenges at the border.Times of India (TNN / Dec 22, 2022) reported: “She wants to know in Parliament about what preparations India has made to handle the Chinese aggression. She should explain to the country that she intends to help the enemy nation,” parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi said.
Preparations India made were not discussed in parliament, but were known otherwise. They were part of Modi Govt’s “strategic policy shift,” Lt Gen (Retd) HS Panag, wrote in theprint.in on 19 Sep 2019, that “rattled both Pakistan and China.” “ They will force Beijing to open a second front anywhere along LAC.”
They were the cause for tensions along LAC. See below:
‘Eye on China, govt plans a ‘frontier highway’, Times of India reported…The government, in the next five years, will build a new highway in Arunachal Pradesh that will run close to the India-Tibet-China-Myanmar border. At some locations, the ‘frontier highway’ will be as close as 20km from the international border. The road designated as NH-913, will come as a big boost for seamless movement of defence forces and equipment to the border ..The 1,748-km long two-lane road, which has huge strategic significance, will be built by the road transport ministry. This is the longest NH that the Centre has notified in one go in recent times. China reportedly has been building infrastructure on its side of the LAC…
Long before Galwan clash, planning for the road was begun at least in 2016 by Modi regime. Later in July 2018, the home ministry gave input for providing connectivity to certain areas…There is also a proposal to develop inter-corridors in Arunachal Pradesh connecting the frontier highway,” a source said.
The government looks at these activities to give impetus to development of villages close to the international borders. “Such roads and development works will put a check on migration from these villages,” said an official.
We have noted in part-3 how 70 smart villages are being deveolped by US, its agencies and NGOs. Arunachal CM had underplayed it, but Alice Wells, the Trump administration’s Assistant Secretary of State in-charge of South Asia, tweeted Oct 30 : “.@USAmbIndia’s #Tawang visit highlights resolute U.S. support for Indian sovereignty and commitment to local partnerships.”(theprint.in, 31 October, 2019). All this in a sensitive border district, a disputed part of “South Tibet” as China calls it. It smacks of QUAD.
The highway will start from Bomdila and pass through Nafra, Huri and Monigong, which is the closest point on the India-Tibet border. The road will also pass through Jido and Chenquenty, which are closest to the China border, and will terminate at Vijaynagar, near India-Myanmar border.
“Nearly 800km of the corridor will be greenfield as there is no existing road on these stretches. There will be some bridges and tunnels as well. We have chalked out the plan to complete the sanctioning of all works in 2024-25 and usually it takes around two years to complete construction. Different packages will get completed as we progress while the entire project is expected for completion by 2026-27,” said a government official.
The entire stretch has been divided into nine packages. Road transport minister Nitin Gadkari had said the project would cost around Rs 27,000 crore.. ( Times of India, Dec 19, 2022).
All this strategic infrastructure, really aimed against China, is shown also as ‘development’ of Northeast neglected for decades by Congress, which merely said Look East. BJP acted east ; they are listed as areas inhabited by STs being developed.
Thus all these preparations were began long before Galwan. And it was linked to the new Forward Policy.
Citing this face-off as an alibi, US, two years ago, shifted 25000 plus troops, located in Germany etc, to Asia-Pacific “to guard against China” ( reported Japan’s Nikkie Asia 2020 July 5). And USA has been allowed to meddle in Arunachal Pradesh, as shown earlier. Hundreds of US troops set foot and joined military exercises, amid Chinese protests, in areas not far from LAC only recently. QUAD in action.
India US joint military exercise Yudh Abhyas. Courtesy: Graphic by Times of India, TNN, Dec 1, 2022.
Without going into the merits of the arguments, is it prudent to invite USA into a hot area of dispute? Would it not be provocative, and rouse suspicions about India’s desire to settle the dispute?
Project Zorawar, named after the ‘conquerer of Ladakh’
The purpose of the preparations are indicated by the name given.
The project has been named after Zorawar Singh Kahluria — a military general who served under Jammu’s Raja Gulab Singh (1792-1857) — known as the ‘conquerer of Ladakh’. (theprint.in, 22 December, 2022 )
Some efforts for peace in the western sector of LAC were made recently, as reported below:
“ During the 17th round of Corps Commander level talks – that took place after a gap of five months and lasted for nearly 10 hours on Dec 20 – both sides agreed to maintain the security and stability on the ground in the Western Sector. The meeting was held days after Chinese troops clashed with Indian soldiers in the tense Yangtse area of Arunachal Pradesh on 9 December.
“Building on the progress made after the last meeting on 17th July 2022, the two sides exchanged views on the resolution of the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western Sector in an open and constructive manner.
“They had a frank and in-depth discussion, keeping in line with the guidance provided by the State Leaders ( of both countries) to work for the resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest which would help in restoration of peace and tranquility along the LAC in the Western Sector and enable progress in bilateral relations,” a joint statement released by the two countries said.
It added that the two sides agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and “work out a mutually acceptable resolution” for the remaining issues at the earliest.
“China’s military suffers from peace disease”
Even while China is branded as aggressive, QUAD is in fact over-active, and the Western analysis curiously runs thus :
“ As reported earlier, Chinese soldiers are facing “nervousness, anxiety and fearful emotions” as they undertake unprecedented military activities amid tensions with India and with the US over South China Sea and Taiwan.
“ A few years back, Chinese President Xi Jinping had said that his military suffers from “peace disease”, which is basically lack of combat experience.” (theprint.in, 22 December, 2022). This lack of combat experience has been often stressed by many Indian military experts, if only to assert India’s invincibility.
It is a case of no war no peace, some analysts pointed out:
The sources said that while disengagement has taken place at all the friction points in Eastern Ladakh, where tensions had broken out in May 2020, the larger issue of de-escalation remains.
In fact, it is escalation that is going on.
See also India-China war at 60 : A Review, 01/12/2022
India-China conflict in the Global Context: Part-1 ( 25/12/2022)
and part- 2 on The Arunachal sector.
part- 3 : India China Border Dispute: Some Myths
Part-5 will focus on Communalizing the North East : A dangerous game by BJP, and other aspects of the conflict.
The author is a political observer who contributed to countercurrents.org.