After reading Bharat Dogra’s article “ For De-Escalation on India-China Border, Government Needs Wider Support of the Opposition”- February 14, 2021 in counter currents, I would like to share my views on this issue.
The 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and India in 2020 has proven to be a challenging time for the bilateral relationship. Signs of tension were surfacing early in the year, with the public opinion in India being increasingly moulded against China due to Covid-19 and the Indian government’s decision to tighten regulations against Chinese investment.
The violent clash at Galwan in mid-June caused military casualties for the first time since 1975. While the incident has been generally downplayed in China, it has received wide media coverage in India, contributing to the growing nationalist fervour within the country and complicating efforts to manage the situation.
Undoubtedly, the Galwan standoff will have serious repercussions on how the two countries perceive each other, creating more challenges for their bilateral relationship moving forward. However, despite the sensational debates and reports, it is important that one remains calm and rational in managing this latest crisis.
In such a situation, it is definitely a good and welcome news that a significant progress has been made on de-escalation of troops on India China border and certainly “both the involved governments, their advisers and commanders deserve praise for this.” as mentioned by Mr. Bharat Dogra.
A welcome news about India China stand-off:
“A programme for phased, coordinated, verified manner disengagement of north and south banks of the Pangong lake was announced. Any structure built by both sides since April 2020 will be dismantled. After disengagement, de-escalation of borders will be taken up” Mr. Rajnath Singh, the defence minister informed the Rajyasabha on 11th February.
While vast majority of civil society welcomed the move, Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader on this announcement of de- escalation made an irresponsible, baseless, rabid statement on 12th February, that “P.M. Modi is not able to stand up against China and so ceded (our)territory to China.”
The congress leaders should remember that it was Rajeev Gandhi who made “an ice breaking visit” to China in 1988, a visit by an Indian PM to China after 34 years gap and facilitated to an agreement for peace and tranquillity at the borders. It was Rajeev’s regime that swallowed false pride, gave up the false claims on Chumdorongchu valley after the longest standoff between India and China. It was another P.M. from Congress, Mr. P.V. Narasimharao’s regime that agreed for the line of Actual control (LAC) and signed the agreement for peace and tranquillity at the LAC. Do the present Congress leaders disown that legacy?
In India whenever a government takes a reconciliatory position on Indo-Pak or India -China disputes the opposition attacks the same with one up showmanship which is unwarranted, and chauvinistic. Such an attitude is detrimental to peaceful settlement of the dispute. This only seeks to outwit the other parties in jingoism. this be deplored with all the contempt. That is why Bharat Dogra rightly wrote “Government Needs Wider support of the Opposition.
Only Jingoists will be happy with what retd. Gen.V K Singh said “If China Has transgressed ten times, we must have done it at least fifty times”.
China’s Defence ministry reported on 10th February the latest agreement on de-escalation in a matter-of-fact fashion in the following words:
“The Chinese and Indian frontline troops at the southern and northern bank of the Pangong Tso lake start synchronised and organised disengagement from 10th February”.
A Spokesperson from Chinese Foreign ministry added on the same day, a day before our defence minister stated in the parliament.
“specific steps like the withdrawal of armoured elements from the friction points were discussed threadbare at the ninth round of high-level military talks on January 24 that lasted for around 16 hours. This move is in accordance with the consensus reached by both sides at the 9th round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting,” said the statement.
“we hope that Indian side will work with China to meet each other halfway, strictly implement the consensus reached between the two sides and ensure the smooth implementation of the disengagement process” the Chinese foreign ministry statement added.
The frontline troops of China and India started a “synchronised and organised” disengagement, which appears to be a step towards the overall process to defuse the prevailing border standoff between the two countries for more than 9 months. But we cannot remain satisfied with the present pullback of military on both sides, given the long history and perennial nature of the problem. The border conflict must be resolved to put an end to the hostility.
More over due to lack of fair information and half-truths being told, “there is an embedded mistrust of China in the Indian mind. Whenever there is a turn for the better in our relationship, our media and majority of China watchers, look for a hidden catch, before believing that the relations might actually start improving” (Premshankar Jha in wire on16-2-21)
What is the recent conflict?
The present conflict is widely believed to be a consequence of the changes made in Jammu and Kashmir, more so in Ladakh by Indian government. Moving a resolution for revoking Article 370 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019, on 5th December the home minister Amit Shah said “Kashmir is an integral part of India, there is no doubt about it. When I say Jammu and Kashmir, I include Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin, both are included in the territorial boundaries of Jammu and Kashmir,” and “we are ready to give our lives for it”. “Ladakh including Aksai Chin will be a Union Territory” he said.
“The abrogation of Art 370 and changing the status quo of Ladakh were viewed by Jinping as a breach of agreement by India and treachery by Modi. The personalised relation between the two might have looked to Jinping like a friend stabbing him in the back.” wrote Prabhakar Sinha on October 14, 2020 in CC. The Indian act of seeking to change, unilaterally, the status quo, going against the established norms could not be brushed away by china as internal matter of India as it amounts to questioning their authority and sovereignty. India officially still concedes that Aksai Chin is a disputed territory, yet to be settled through negotiation.
Starting from April 2020 large number of troops and armaments are amassed along the line of actual control leading to skirmishes at Galwan valley, Pangong Tso. A major clash occurred on May 5th which resulted in injuries to 70 Indian soldiers. Since May 9th several friction points emerged in eastern Ladakh, simultaneously diplomatic and military talks were initiated resulting in an agreement for phased disengagement from all friction points.
During this process, on June 15th a violent clash, notably without fire arms had occurred, killing 20 Indian soldiers and several causalities to PLA. Discussions and de-escalation measures were also going on side by side. Fresh tensions occurred at the end of August at Kailash range and lead to massive deployment of troops and tanks. On September 10th the foreign ministers of both countries (Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Wang Yi) met in Moscow and optimistically agreed to reduce tensions at the borders. A five-point agreement was arrived at, to carry out further talks and plan out de-escalation.
When Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh declared in parliament, that China is illegally occupying 38,000 sq. kms of land in Ladakh and eyeing further 90,000 sq. kms in Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls as South Tibet, China has deployed its 10,000 troops on the south bank of Pangong Tso and 50 battalions in Ladakh LAC, the total troops being 52,000 and similar has been the mirror-deployment from the India side,” reported The Economic Times on September 16, 2020.
Both sides rushed a large number of battle tanks, armoured vehicles and heavy equipment to the treacherous and high-altitude areas of the region. In spite of the deployment there was much restraint and a full-scale war was being avoided with compulsions from both sides.
The process of disengagement is reported to be going on at a higher-than-expected pace after the latest agreement. Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries is a potential hotbed of clashes owing to increased presence of military forces. The line of actual control extending over 3488 km is admittedly perceived differently by the two countries. As per India LAC lies at Finger 8 area and Chinese say it as at finger 4. Unless this dispute is solved no one knows who ingressed.
It is worth recalling Retd Gen. and Present Union minister of State for Transport and highways, VK Singh’s statement on different perceptions and transgressions. He said on 7th Feb. “India has transgressed more times than China along the line of actual control (LAC), but the government does not announce it.” he added “Let me assure you If China has transgressed ten times, we must have done it at least fifty times.” The former army chief also said “The border with China has never been demarcated”.
“China has transgressed many times over the years with its own perception of the LAC. Similarly, none of you come to know how many times we have transgressed as per our perception. Chinese media does not cover it” said the former army chief.
The same was echoed when our PM Modi categorically told all party leaders through his video conference on June 9thlast year that “neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured”.
If no body intruded into our land, then why every citizen is fed with a dubious information that Chinese have occupied our land. The death of 20 Indian soldiers and 43 Chinese as claimed by Indian military could have happened due to belligerent behaviour at ground level of Indian contingent, who were fed on chauvinism and were granted full powers to act at the borders.
This Galwan valley incident took place in a time when a mutual agreement to pull back the troops was taken and the process of withdrawal was in process. What could be the actual sequence is any one’s guess. The Chinese are consistent with their claims and their perception of LAC had been the same since 1959.
On the Origin of the conflict
When India and China became independent countries there was no clearly defined, marked, or mutually agreed border between the two countries. It was due to the colonial rule and unilateral decisions taken by them to suit the imperialist purposes. The independent China wanted to define its borders with mutual consent with India but it could not resolve the issue even after several rounds of negotiations due to Indian attitude.
India claimed the territory to it according to the McMahon Line in the northeast. Admittedly China never recognised McMahon Line because it was an agreement between British India and Tibetan representative, bypassing China. The Tibetan regime, soon after that disowned that so called Shimla agreement of 1914, British India too kept it in lockers for more than two decades. It was just a notional line drawn on a map by a British officer and was never an accepted border. But still Indian government sticks to that unaccepted line.
On northwest front also India took a similar adamant stand based on similar unilateral British Indian maps and claims. In 1959, China put forward a package proposal that she was willing to give up her claim on Arunachal Pradesh (north east) in exchange for India giving up her claim on Aksai Chin in north west for the purpose of one-time settlement of border.
The proposal was put forward by Chinese government with an intention to settle the border permanently with mutual consent, respecting the historical claims, and on the basis of actual control existing on the land.
Nehru’s government, after some initial pondering, rejected the Chinese proposal; argued like the previous colonial rulers and followed in their footsteps and vainly sought to establish rights by manipulation of maps. Lack of political will to settle the issue lead to 1962 war with china. Nehru adopted a ‘forward policy’. He fought with China at the behest of the then big brother, America and a dubious stand of support by the then soviet leaders.
Even after that debacle the borders were not settled till now. Infrequent small-scale clashes occurred for several times since then, although increased in the last decade, such as Nathu La and Cho La clashes at Sikkim border in 1967, a long standoff at chumdorongchu valley region of Bhutan in 1986, the 21-day stand-off in the Daulat Beg Oldie sector in eastern Ladakh in 2013, 16-day stand-off in the Chumar sector of Ladakh in 2014, and 73-day tense stand-off in the Doklam region of Bhutan in2017. It is not surprising that conflicts between the two countries, which share the world’s longest unmarked border of several thousand kilometres, occur now and then.
Is India-China border defined?
“The two countries have no agreed border.” As is reiterated by retd general VK Singh. Strong claims by both on certain areas are unresolved. War or clashes too did not solve the problem. In addition, they created a feeling of mistrust, betrayal and deceit between the two countries, in spite of good people to people’s relation and centuries long cultural coherence. Several rounds of talks later failed as India was not ready for settlement, and declared that the borders are not negotiable.
One Mr. Hyder Abbas on September 17th 2020 wrote very objectively in counter currents “Just as we claim that China is in illegal occupation of 38,000 Sq. Km of our territory including Aksai Chin, China also claims a territory in our occupation including part of Ladakh. The two countries have conflicting claims, which have not yet been settled.” Thus, we claim Aksai Chin under China as our territory, and China also claims a territory in Ladakh as their territory.
He added “To stave off an armed conflict, the two countries have agreed to retain the territory under their occupation, but not to move further. In short, both sides have agreed to remain wherever they are till the dispute is settled”
Thus, India and China have the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which both had agreed not to cross. But the fact remains that even the LAC is debated in several areas. Several skirmishes occurred there. But still an agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquillity was signed in 1993.
Rajnath Singh, in one statement accused that “China is not honouring customary alignment of boundary with India”. He said “the alignment has not only been defined by treaties, but has been maintained historically. However, China believes that the border is not defined, he added and warned that any serious situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is bound to impact bilateral ties”. Thus, he presents the facts mended to suit his position.
If we just go into the details of the present area of conflict ,the area between finger 8 and finger 4, is under Chinese custodianship since decades. Good infrastructure and roads were developed by them at least from 1999.The Indian soldiers were allowed to go through those roads for inspection and now it is claimed as territory of India. One Mr Sunny Shikhar, a person with field experience tweeted that “China (whose version of the LAC runs through Finger 4) has had a road till F4 since 1999 and a naval Radar base on F6 since 2006. “We patrolled till F8,” he points out, “on the road made by China because they let us, not because we controlled it. Now (under the terms of the disengagement) China cannot even patrol on its own road between F8-F4”. [as quoted by PremshankarJha in opinion column, The Wire.in on 16-2-21].Such claims by India concealing facts are deterrants for a reasonable agreement.
“Thus, independent India inherited the dispute from the British government without its military power, launched an attack on the Chinese occupying our territory according to McMahon line and was defeated.” Mr. Prabhakar Sinha wrote on October 14th 2020 in CC. “The government has not told the people the cause of the conflict. Strangely, the media has also not asked the crucial question” says he. It was done neither in the past nor now but media carries the stories handed over by MEA or Defence ministry adding its own spice of patriotism.
India’s rising “jingoistic nationalism” and increased efforts to exert greater regional control, its mischievous attitude of achieving the regional hegemony in Asia by acting as a junior partner to the strategic designs of US imperialism, India’s foreign policy coupled with the USA’s China containment policy motivated India to take a stand of rivalry towards China. The QUAD, (A forum consisting of the USA, India, Japan and Australia to act as a group against China) and several bilateral defence agreements of India with the USA in 2016 and 2020 including the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement are to be specially noted here.
Recent Indo-US diplomatic moves regarding India China relations, after Biden took over the charge, show that the Anti-China policy, America’s Asia Pacific strategy adopted by Trump’s administration will be followed in future too.
These developments also compel China to deter them for its planned progression and regional and global strategies. Given the above, possibility of further conflicts still exists.
The conflicts between the two countries regarding borders is inherited by Indian rulers from British colonial rule and subsequently perpetuated by them for selfish motives of the comprador bourgeoise of the independent India. Other reasons include promotion of ultra-nationalism, China’s assertive means of socialistic progression, rising geo-political competition between the two Asian powers and China’s leading role in opposing imperialism of some countries including the USA to establish a community with shared future for mankind that leads to global progress and peace.
China day after day is progressing as an economic giant and a stalwart in opposing hegemonic forces and mustering support from many poor and developing nations. It has noticeably enhanced its role during the COVID-19 pandemic and became the friend of several deprived countries and materializing its national and international goals in economic, political and other terms. The help and assistance extended by China to the smaller countries for their needs of equipment, technology, drugs and vaccines in combating the Covid19, is a fine example of its philosophy of common destiny for mankind and a healthy universe.
All this is an eye sore to the exploiting capitalist leaders who are indulged in denigrating the role of China and distracting it from the path of development. Trade wars, cultural wars, science wars and political wars are thrust on china, seeking to encircle it in all fronts by the Quad group leading the Anti- China tirade. But China stands as a strong rock with its strength of scientific socialism that gains support of several crores of people in the world. We cannot underestimate the influence of this class war in geopolitics which reflects in India- China conflicts too.
In this back ground, it can easily be understood why the Indian rulers from Nehru to Modi are standing against China and follow similar policies with certain changes of nuances here and there. Their policies are mainly dictated by their subservience to the powerful imperial lords internationally and their compradors domestically. This imperial bond of India reflects in India China relations.
Presently the relations between the two countries are hostile but at the same time there are many deterrents, which are powerful enough to prevent a war between the two countries. Most important of all, enormous economic constraints on India and also the deep deleterious impact of the pandemic on economy.
Both countries have a bilateral trade of more than 90 billion US dollars yearly. This is vital for both. The recent steps by India like the prohibition of Chinese apps, electronics, stalling imports from China and inhibiting Chinese capital investments, in a word “boycott china” has a major negative effect on India, more than on China.
“India has always emphasised on maintaining bilateral ties, along with peace and tranquillity,” today says Rajnath Singh. Several rounds of talks between commanders of both sides were held to diffuse the situation. “During the talks, we told China that we want solution of the issue, based on three principles. First, both parties must agree on the LAC and respect it. Secondly, there should not be an attempt to change the status unilaterally, by any party. Thirdly, all the compromises should be completely agreed upon by both parties” Rajnath Singh the defence minister told in his address to parliament.
These precepts are good to hear but the field picture is entirely different. And before asking someone to follow, should not we introspect and evaluate how far we are following them? The hostile and belligerent attitude of India is visible in VK Singh’s statement.
He says “Today China is under pressure, since we are sitting at (strategic)places where china does not like us to be” “China has realised that it was not easy to hit back India any more”, “China is not allowed to places which it thought was part of its perception of the border”
Minister Singh said India has hit Beijing economically by boycotting its goods and apps, “All these affect them”. This was a wishful thinking and did not give their expected results.
Very high sounding, catchy slogans chanted daily like “Atmanirbhar Bharat” obviously does not apply to USA and European countries whose MNCs are known for plunder. They are invited with lucrative offers. And only China will be barred. How can this attitude be helpful to our nation and economy?
India was specifically insisting on the withdrawal of the troops of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from Finger 4 to Finger 8 on the north bank of Pangong Lake. On its part, the Chinese side was insisting on the withdrawal of Indian troops from several strategic peaks on the southern bank of the lake.
The 9th round of talks was held on 24th January with a specific agenda of exploring ways to implement the five-point agreement reached between external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. “Based on this understanding, China will now move its soldiers to Finger 8 and India will move towards Finger 3 to the administrative camp to restore the status quo”
Indian troops occupied a number of strategic heights in the Mukhpari, Rechin La and Magar hill areas around the southern bank of the Pangong lake. five months ago, only, as is widely publicised. This shows the real picture of new forward policy being followed by Modi’s regime at the borders, irrespective of what was being circulated.
Reaching the mountain peaks was projected as a great victory of ruling party and its sternness in dealing with China. Today as these places are being vacated the opposition is taking advantage of and lamenting that Modi has surrendered to China. It is clear that both instances are morphed for political advantage and there is no objective evaluation or genuine national interest.
Coming to the immediate issues of de-escalation: Both will benefit from de-escalation, this fact as understood by government of India, should also be understood by the opposition leaders. This needs to be stated because some of them have been voicing criticism regarding loss of territory etc.,” as has been rightly pointed out by Mr. Bharat Dogra.
It is also true that “the opposition parties should not voice any unduly discordant notes which will disturb the process of de-escalation, or put undue pressure on the government regarding its ability to respond adequately, to any proposals or negotiations for de-escalation or peace.”
Here it sounds as if the governing party is all bent for peace whole heartedly and opposition parties are acting as hindrance in this peace process. This view is not objective. It was the legacy of forward policy being followed by the Indian rulers the first deterrent to the peace between the two countries. Some leaders unobjectively ranted that P.M. Modi exhibited cowardice throughout this episode.
It should be understood that It is not the valour or timidness that must be allowed in dealing with neighbours but only a good sense must prevail in resolving the stalemate situations. The present blame game with in the country, must be said, is the result of the pseudo nationalistic feelings raked in the people, time and again, by the ruling parties and every leader is playing to the gallery to appear that he is more patriotic and nationalistic than the other. Only the truth becomes a scapegoat.
Whether a party is in power or in opposition, most of them subserve the stronger imperialist authority of the times. They all speak of welfarism, even when serving the imperialists and big business houses. They are anti- China too, with different hues and colours. Many of the so-called communist parties in India by and large support the ruling classes in all significant foreign affairs in the name of nationalism. They are blind to the facts of history and international goals. They too are puppets in the hands of an abstract patriotic sentiment created in their minds and also in people by the ruling classes.
Nationalism and patriotism are now designed and executed to the advantage of the highest brat in the society and is a mere shade to hide the shabby deeds of the exploiting class. This is thrown over people to engulf them in an unquestioning loyalty to rulers and equating them with the motherland.
Nationalism today is a stick to beat any dissent, and to beef up fascist tendencies in polity and state.
Similarly, there is a persistent jingoistic propaganda in Indian media painting China as if it is a notorious aggressor. But the reality is different “China has borders with 14 nations, excepting with India, it has resolved its disputes with all, including Russia. India has borders with six countries, and excluding Bhutan it has disputes with all five” says Subramanyan swamy BJP. MP (see Sino Indian Relations Through the Tibet Prism—2Sep2000, Frontline)
Time and again it is observed that desires and deeds of the ruling class diagonally contradict the welfare and progress of vast majority of the commons of the country. So is the need to nurture true nationalism which abodes and impregnates the common good of the country.
Forget the past and look to future:
Let me recapitulate what was expressed by Mr. Sumantha Banerjee (on 10 June 2020 in CC– “ZhouEn- lai in the past and Again in 1980 Deng Xiaoping were reported to have proposed to India a deal of exchange over the border: with China recognising Arunachal pradesh in the east as part of India in lieu of India accepting the Aksai chin plateau in the north as Chinese territory”. Expressing a view shared by many genuine nationalists Banerjee added on “instead of shouting every now and then that it will take back Aksai Chin -the latest being defence minister Rajnath Singh’s chest thumping; it could have legitimised what is for all practical purposes a de-facto situation. It is practical to pursue this suggestion and explore modalities for a lasting peaceful solution of the dispute.
Neither military nor economic hostility towards China can help India’s genuine interests. They only hurt and harmful to India and its people, and perpetuate the interests of imperialist vultures and war mongers.
Let me conclude by appealing all to the sense that “A war between India and China is undesired by its potential catastrophic impacts. It not only effects the region but the tremors radiate beyond. Under such a context, both India and China have to play a very responsible role to curb the possibility of war. Let bilateral problems be resolved on the basis of negotiations with “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation”
21st century should be a century of peace and development. It should belong to third world, to Asia, to India and to China. To achieve this genuine national cause, it calls for peace and friendship with china, and to give up subservience to imperialists.