Changing Contours of India–China Border Tension

Satya Ray

Part I

Sometimes, it appears imperative for us to peep into the past as a knee jerk reaction. Brushing up our knowledge of history is not a wastage of time, rather it may be illuminating for our sense of the present if we avoid two things. Firstly, not to look through the prism set by clumsy and noisy & diversionary narrative churned by both the ruling and opposition parties and echoed by embedded media. Secondly, not to reach a foregone conclusion based on prejudices or dogmatic ideas.

Let us focus more on facts rather than fictions with regard to Indo China (Sino- Indian) relation since 1949.

In 1949 after fighting a long-drawn battle against the Japanese aggressors and Chiang ki shek led Quomintang rule the Chinese people liberated their country and named it People's Republic of China (PRC). 

India was the first country to recognise this newly born nation and subsequently advocated the representation of China in UN. India vowed to uphold the shared history of struggle in colonial past and cultural ties between two countries forged over many centuries and move forward with mutual cooperation.

Many had reservations and mainly the right-wing believers both within and outside Congress party were not comfortable with this view because of socialist ideology on which PRC was built. 

But Nehru's vision was different. Being aware of the tide of socialist upsurge all over the world and decimation of old imperial powers, he decided to strengthen industrial base and support indigenous capitalists and build a mixed economy.

Socialist transformation of economy in the line of China was not his agenda. Rather he was very agile and pragmatic to keep it at bay. With amicable diplomatic relation with both USSR and PRC, he wanted to balance his bargaining power with USA. That was precisely the reason why he championed the idea of non-aligned                                                                                                              
movement and forged unity with Tito of Yugoslavia, Sukarna of Indonesia, Naseer of Egypt etc to send out a message of maintaining equidistance from both USA and USSR.

Now, let us see how this strategy initially worked but faltered prior to 1962 war, and in the aftermath of this war, it was swept away in a vortex of events which was beyond the control of Nehruvian politics.

Tibet annexation and jolt in India - China relationship:  
Tibet was subjugated many times by the central Chinese authorities through the ages. It revolted against Qing dynasty in 1912. But the ruling elites supported the oppressive regime of Chiang ki Sek during the war of liberation. Dalai lama was anointed by Ma Bufang, a warlord who was sent by Chiang Ki Sek to bring Tibet under his control.

Dalai lama was enthroned at the age of 15. After the formation of PRC when CPC( Communist Party of China) decided to advance socialist transformation in the form of sizure of land from gentry and distribution of them among poor and middle peasants in eastern part of Tibet, the forces under the leadership of Dalai lama vehemently resisted and sought help from USA and other anti communist camps.
In the battle of Chamdo, PLA annexed Tibet and formed a automous Tibetan Region with a fair degree of freedom of internal administration. Such annexation was historically different because it has more to do with political and ideological understanding than with territorial occupation.

Though such annexation irked Nehru, he did not buy the theory that one day China will overrun India and change its political landscape. He was well aware of strained relationship between USSR and China. He knew that Mao's China will never invade any country unless it was forced to do so in self-defense. Nevertheless, to keep USA away from dominating in geo politics of North eastern frontier, his govt. accepted china's position on Tibet and Panch Seel agreement was signed. A new border was drawn between India and China.

But in 1959, Dalai lama staged a revolt aided by CIA and in the face of subsequent resistance by PLA, he fled to India. Nehru gave him asylum but refused to recognise his govt in exile. As early as in 2005, Dalai Lama lamented that "the CIA had supported Tibetan movement not because they cared about Tibetan independence, but as a part of their worldwide plot to destabilise all communist govts."

In 1954, USA plotted to whip up a frenzy of war between north and south Korea. Actual intention was to weaken the China by encroaching on socialistic North Korea. PRC called for a mass resistance. 

The then defense minister K P Krishna Menon convinced the international community and blocked US attempt to identify China as aggressor and under the mediation of India efforts were made to diffuse the crisis. Finally, the Korean war ended and India became the leader of International Control Commission. Under the aegis of this commission, soldiers of warring nations were repatriated. India got a luminous prominence in international arena.

But Nehru's policy of non alignment was put to a grueling test after the escape of Dalai lama into India. It was reported that CIA aided rebel camps were springing up in the border areas. It was followed by on and off skirmishes between Indian army and PLA. Nehru wittingly or unwittingly fell in the trap laid by USA. In order to foil the US attempt to surround her and undertake subversive actions, PLA launched a lighting attack on 20 October ,1962. Indian army retreated without putting any resistance. PLA captured 13 forward posts in the Galwan valley. A scare loomed large that PLA would overrun the plains of Assam. Nothing of this sort happened. PLA vindicated that occupying others’ territory was against their political ideology. Within 24 hours of incursion they went back with a clear message that Brig. Dalvi described in his resourceful book "The Himalayan Blunder" - “India and China have been friends for thousands of years and have never fought before. China does not want war. So, the Chinese counter attacked in self-defense and liberated all our territories in NEFA and Ladakh". This message was communicated to Brig. J P Dalvi during his captivity. He also penned his experiences of paranoid Indian govt subjecting him to test to know if he was brain washed by the Chinese.

This book looks interesting not just for revelations that the Indian govt was not willing to put in public domain but also for its grand narrative style. However, there would be many like me who cannot endorse the limited point of view put forth by the army officer.

He pointed to the ill-preparedness, inferior gadgets, logistic inadequacy, indecisive leaders and finally put the blame on K P Krishna Menon for the debacle. He missed out the vortex of political developments that forced the Nehru and co. to go down the most slippery path. 

There is another view expounded by Maxwell in his book ' India's China War'. He argued that under the pressure of jingoist groups, Nehru stubbornly refused to settle the borders with China on the very reasonable terms offered by China and provoked the Chinese to attack in self-defense.

Part II

I wish to begin with a remark of Brig. J. P. Dalvi that he had grudgingly made in his book - "The people of India want to know the truth but have been denied it on the dubious grounds of national security. The result has been an unhealthy amalgam of inuendo, mythology, conjecture, outright calumny, and sustained efforts to confuse and conceal the truth." The only factor that Mr Dalvi did not witness in his lifetime is that there could be a well oiled machinery to spread fake news, canards, disjointed and jumbled up historical anecdotes. Others remain unabated and unmitigated as ever before. 

In spite of status quo ante in our political milieu, much water has flown down the Galwan river. Many smaller skirmishes took place across the LAC since 1962. Significant among them were face-off in 1975 in which four Indian soldiers were killed and the Doklam standoff in 2017 under the shadow of which Xi Jinping was given warm welcome in India. The most tragic and gruesome killing of 20 unarmed Indian soldiers in the hand of Chinese army took place a few days back in the Galwan valley. Satellite pictures showed Chinese incursion and erection of military installations close to LAC, though official narrative did not confirm anything.

Almost a long span of six decades has brought about sea changes in national and international perspective that we cannot afford to overlook or bury our heads like the ostrich, wishing it not to be there.

It is not Mao's China built on socialist ideology and holding out the hand of friendship to Asian and African nations that were struggling to get rid of their colonial past. It is not the PLA that moved in with political ambitions and went back on their own. It is the PLA which is a war machine mobilised to further the imperial ambitions of Jinping - led, out and out capitalist China.

After the death of Mao, Deng Xiaoping sidelined the followers of socialist path, condemned the Cultural Revolution, undermined the socialist principles of equality, opened the market, restored capitalism in full fury under the rhetoric - ‘socialism with Chinese characters.'

Thus he captured all the top posts of the party, the govt and the army. The change of guard pleased US president Jimmy Carter who found a most trusted friend in Deng. Boeing, Coca cola were allowed to come in. The USA celebrated the emergence of capitalist China spreading the canard that freedom of market will ensure political freedom.

The extent and real face of political freedom were witnessed in the massacre of Tien un mein square. It was a mass movement launched against rampant corruption among the higher-ups of the party and the govt. It was Deng who gave order to roll out tanks to mow down the protesters.

The incumbent, Xi Jinping came to power projecting himself as a strongman of unquestionable authority. He is now the head of the party, the govt and the central military commission. He tweaked the constitutional laws in such a way that he will remain unchallenged in his power until he dies.

On the economic front, China is no less than an ambitious imperial power. Over the last decade, the economic reach of China in terms of overseas investment is poised to surpass USA. According to Mac Kinsey report, now China has become the biggest single investor in African continent. The mud slide tragedy of Mozambique was linked to rapacious mining activities of Chinese company Haiyu. The killing and persecution of Rohingyas are believed to be a ground clearance operation to facilitate the 7.3 billion us dollar Chinese infrastructure and deep-sea project in Rakhaine state of Myanmar.

Belt and road initiative (BRI) project is the most ambitious and expensive project ever known in human history, was undertaken by the Chinese government to lay out networks of roads across the whole Eurasia. Over last several years, China has been engaged in the construction of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistan's ruling dispensation stands to gain from these 62 billion projects. China is hell bent on carrying out this project because it will ensure its direct access to Indian Ocean, energy supply from middle East, and spread the trade routes along the network of 1100 km long high ways and railways. The historical vantage point that India boasts will be a thing of past.

The PLA that mounted the most brutal and primitive attack (not conceivable even during war time) signifies that unlike 1962 they will no longer fight on the political and ideological ground, on the contrary, they will fight as mercenaries for the imperial interests of capitalist China.

In India, the political landscape and economic direction have also undergone huge changes as well. It is no longer a planned economy with primary thrust on big state owned enterprises. The successors of Nehru have thrown his vision in wind, embraced Neo liberal economy, tied the fate of economy with giant global capitals and produced rising number of billionaires at the expense of public assets and national wealth. The present NDA govt has continued their vicious model with breck- neck speed and perilous ferocity. Even after 70 years of independence, India is largely dependent on USA, Russia, Israel etc. for military hardware. Indigenous enterprise like HAL were relegated to the oblivion.

Ghar me ghuske mara’ kind of hypernationalistic war mongering may reap benefits in vitiated electoral politics, but in the international geo- politics it has no teeth to challenge the adversaries. 

Now is the time to make informed opinion and raise the right noises when we are close to the brink of a new danger called Chinese imperialism.

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Juln 1, 2020

Satya Ray

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