Time for India to play Tibet and Taiwan cards against China – Minhaz Merchant

Taiwan & Tibet Flags

Minhaz MerchantChina for decades hid its real intentions with India, lulling Indian negotiators with over 22 rounds of fruitless boundary talks. China has now dropped the pretence of peaceful negotiations. It is time India dropped its 60-year-old policy of appeasing China. – Minhaz Merchant

India and China did not share a land border until 1950. China’s military invasion of Tibet that year changed the geopolitical equation with India forever.

Tibet remains a festering sore between India and China. After India granted the Dalai Lama refuge in 1959, that sore has become an open wound. Every action China has subsequently taken, including the 1962 war and illegal annexation of Aksai Chin, has its roots in Beijing’s simmering anger over the Dalai Lama’s presence in India which constantly draws attention to China’s brutal occupation of Tibet.

Bitter history

Since 1962, Indian policymakers have been paralysed with the fear of alienating Beijing. The Dalai Lama is not allowed to make political statements as a condition for staying in India. Emboldened by Indian timidity, China issues periodic statements discrediting the Dalai Lama. Maintaining a diplomatic silence on Tibet hasn’t appeased the Chinese. It has encouraged them to claim Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet. China routinely objects to the Dalai Lama travelling to Arunachal.

Just as India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru misread China in the 1950s, Prime Minister Narendra Modi misread China in his first term. China respects strength. It treats weakness with contempt. India’s appeasement diplomacy is seen as a weakness that Beijing exploits ruthlessly.

Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are part of Beijing’s strategy to test India’s resolve. In the past, successive Indian governments have quietly accepted China’s salami-slicing of India’s border areas so as to not risk a confrontation with Beijing. That is exactly the reaction China expected.

Galwan on June 15, 2020, changed the India-China dynamic forever. The fierce battle on narrow ridges between Indian troops and soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), resulting in fatalities on both sides, made Beijing reassess India’s intent. India’s current build-up along the LAC of over 40,000 troops, attack helicopters, air defence systems, battle tanks and fighter jets is the first time New Delhi has telegraphed a warning to China: India is prepared for war.

China has absorbed the message but is not entirely convinced whether, when push comes to shove, India will fight. And yet, the Chinese are pragmatists. They have withdrawn from the Galwan Valley, Hot Springs, Gogra and the mountain spur Finger 4 but retain troops on the ridgelines of Finger 4. Semi-permanent structures from Fingers 5-8 remain intact. Beijing hasn’t finished testing the resolve of Indian policymakers. The strategy is to keep talks going every fortnight between the corps commanders while a troop buildup by the PLA in Depsang and Arunachal Pradesh continues.

China is a toxic power. Its closest allies are rogue nations: Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. It does not obey global rules and has refused to abide by the 2016 verdict against it by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) that found in favour of the Philippines on Beijing’s transgressions in the South China Sea.

Blindsiding tactics

China for decades hid its real intentions with India, lulling Indian negotiators with over 22 rounds of fruitless boundary talks. China has now dropped the pretence of peaceful negotiations. It is time India dropped its 60-year-old policy of appeasing China.

Start with Tibet. End the defensive approach to the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala. Encourage it to oppose the harsh regime China has put in place in in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) which in practice enjoys no autonomy.

Tibet is China’s second-most sensitive issue. Taiwan is the first. China has bullied India into silence over the One-China policy which accepts Taiwan as an inseparable part of China. Does China reciprocate by accepting the One-India policy—including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin? It does the exact opposite.

Taiwan’s importance

At every forum and at every opportunity, China condones and protects Pakistan’s state sponsorship of terrorism in J&K. For India to remain ambivalent on the One-China policy is no longer tenable. It never was but if Modi wants to safeguard India’s long-term national interest, he must bite the bullet on both Tibet and Taiwan. They are China’s two blind spots.

India needs to urgently increase trade with Taiwan. Three of the largest contractors for Apple iPhones—Foxconn, Winstron and Pegatron—are expanding their production facilities for iPhones in India. All three are Taiwanese. The imperative for trade and investment with Taiwan has never been greater.

As the world unites against Beijing over the draconian security law it has imposed on Hong Kong, India has two potent diplomatic weapons in Tibet and Taiwan. If deployed without needless paranoia over Chinese reprisals, they can be a powerful tool in conjunction with the offensive military posture India has rightly adopted along the LAC.

That posture has given China reason to pause. It has withdrawn partially along the friction points along the LAC while it assesses India’s intent. In a limited conflict on mountainous terrain, the PLA holds no fear for India’s armed forces. The paranoia resides only in the minds of India’s policymakers, embedded there since 1962. – Daily-O, 24 July 2020

› Minhaz Merchant is an author, editor and publisher in Mumbai.

Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) between the armies of China and India held in Ladakh.


One Response

  1. Narendra Modi

    India’s appeasement policy toward China unravels – Brahma Chellaney – The Japan Times – 8 June 2020

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is “not in a good mood,” U.S. President Donald Trump recently declared, as he offered to mediate India’s resurgent border conflict with China. After years of bending over backward to appease China, Modi has received yet another Chinese encroachment on Indian territory. Will this be enough to persuade him to change his approach?

    While India was preoccupied with the COVID-19 crisis, China was apparently planning its next attempt to change the region’s territorial status quo by force. Last month’s swift and well-coordinated incursions by People’s Liberation Army troops into the icy borderlands of India’s Ladakh region were likely the product of months of preparation. The PLA has now established heavily fortified camps in the areas it infiltrated, in addition to deploying weapons on its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), within striking distance of Indian deployments.

    China’s “unexpected” maneuver should not have been unexpected at all. Last August, China’s government vigorously condemned India’s establishment of Ladakh — including the Chinese-held Aksai Chin Plateau — as a new federal territory. (China seized Aksai Chin in the 1950s, after gobbling up Tibet, which had previously served as a buffer with India.) And the PLA had been conducting regular combat exercises near the Indian border this year.

    Deception, concealment and surprise often accompany China’s use of force, with Chinese leaders repeatedly claiming that military preemption was a defensive measure. Its latest assault on India — which China claims is the actual aggressor — was taken straight from this playbook.

    Yet Modi did not see the Chinese incursions coming. His vision seems to have been clouded by the naive hope that, by appeasing China, he could reset the bilateral relationship and weaken China’s ties with Pakistan, another revisionist state that lays claims to sizable swaths of Indian territory.

    The China-Pakistan axis has long generated high security costs for India and raised the specter of a two-front war. That is why some Indian leaders have pursued a “defensive wedge strategy,” in which the status quo power seeks to drive a wedge between two allied revisionist states, so that it can focus its capabilities on the more threatening challenger.

    In 1999, the first prime minister from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, sought to win over Pakistan by visiting the country on the inaugural trip of a new bus service from Delhi to Lahore. Vajpayee was rewarded for his “bus diplomacy” with a stealth invasion by Pakistan’s powerful military of the Indian border zone of Kargil. This triggered a localized war, in which both sides lost several hundred soldiers before the status quo ante was restored.

    Unlike Vajpayee, Modi has focused his attention on China — with similarly disastrous results. In fact, soon after becoming prime minister in 2014 — and just hours before hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping for a summit meeting — he learned that PLA troops had elbowed their way into southern Ladakh’s Chumar area, which lies along the LAC and built a temporary road there.

    The summit was portrayed as a success, even though the Chinese did not withdraw until weeks later, after India agreed to demolish local defensive fortifications. This was the beginning of a policy not of reconciliation, but of appeasement, the costs of which continue to mount.

    On a trip to Beijing the next year, Modi surprised his own administration by announcing a decision to issue electronic tourist visas to Chinese nationals upon their arrival in India. He also delisted China as a “country of concern,” in an effort to court Chinese investment. Instead, the move opened India up to even more dumping by Chinese firms. On Modi’s watch, China has more than doubled its trade surplus with India to $60 billion per year — nearly equal to India’s annual defense spending.

    Meanwhile, the PLA has continued to encroach on disputed territories. In mid-2017, Indian troops were pushed into another standoff with the PLA — this time, at Doklam, a small and desolate Himalayan plateau where Chinese-ruled Tibet meets the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim and the Kingdom of Bhutan. Indian troops stood up to the Chinese, as the PLA attempted to build a road to the India border through the uninhabited plateau that Bhutan, an Indian ally, regards as its own territory. The standoff lasted 73 days, before China and India agreed to disengage.

    India declared the Doklam disengagement a tactical victory. But over the next several months, China steadily expanded its troop deployments by building permanent military structures, thereby gaining control of much of Doklam. Despite being the de facto guarantor of Bhutan’s security, India failed to defend the tiny country’s territorial sovereignty.

    Yet Modi maintained India’s appeasement policy. In 2018, his government backed away from official contact with the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile. At the same time, as Xi later revealed, Modi proposed an annual “informal” bilateral summit — a proposal Xi gladly accepted, because high-level meetings aid China’s “engagement with containment” strategy toward India. Two such summits have now been held, as well as 14 other meetings between the two leaders.

    And what has Modi gotten for his troubles? China has stepped up its territorial revisionism, while raking in growing profits from the bilateral economic relationship (though, to be sure, India did recently tighten its policy on foreign direct investment, so that any flows from China must be pre-approved).

    Modi has himself to blame for this state of affairs. With his excessive personalization of policy and stubborn strategic naivete, he has shown himself not as the diplomatically deft strongman he purports to be, but as a kind of Indian Neville Chamberlain. Unless he learns from his mistakes and changes his policy toward China, India’s people — and territorial sovereignty — will pay the price.

    > Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. He is the author of nine books.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: