Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Chinese checkers in Arunachal and Ladakh: Good Cop Bad Cop?


News reports (April 26, 2013) indicate that the People’s Liberation Army(PLA), has established a temporary post of five tents with 50 soldiers, 19 miles inside the Line of Control (LAC) .  Though Chinese patrolling outside its 1960 claim line and inside our LAC are not unusual, the establishment of a tent camp so far inside Indian Territory is noteworthy.  What is China’s motivation and what if anything should India do about it?  In my view the Chinese move in Ladakh is reminiscent of its earlier maneuvers on Arunachal Pradesh.  Both were designed to extend its (1960) claim line beyond what it had established in 1962. 

Arunachal Pradesh

    An earlier note titled, ‘China’s Foreign Policy under New Leadership’  (http://dravirmani.blogspot.in/2012/12/chinas-foreign-policy-under-new-leaders.html), stated that, “ in 2006 there were indications of the emergence of differences within the Chinese leadership on policy towards India.  On the one hand President Hu Jintao’s visit to India in November 2006, seemed to go pretty well, with a fairly positive Joint Declaration at the end of the visit. On the other hand, just before the visit, the Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi gratuitously queered the pitch by bluntly claiming that the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh was entirely a part of China.  Wiki leaks later reported that both the Indian and Chinese leadership were surprised by this undiplomatic (in your face) statement prior to a goodwill visit of the Chinese Party Chief and President.  A number of other pinpricks to India followed, such as refusal of visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir.”
“ In May 2007 China refused to grant a visa to an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from Arunachal Pradesh, suggesting that there was a viewpoint within the leadership arguing for a tougher stance on the India-China border issue.  It is possible that the hardline viewpoint, generally associated (by scholars) with the PLA, were drawing negative implications for China from the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement signed in July 2005 and that this negative view took about a year to emerge and even longer to be heard and discussed in the Standing Committee.”
       Having laid down a clear marker of its changed claims in Arunachal Pradesh, China later reached a compromise with respect to multilateral loans to N E India, and also toned down its public professions of the same.  However, if the issue is ever raised again by anyone, expect to hear a loud and aggressive reiteration of the Arunachal Claims.


   It is highly likely that the recent incursion/provocation in Ladakh is an attempt to do on the Western sector what has already been accomplished in the Eastern sector in the second half of the 2000s.  The timing of the move is related both to the need for the Party General Secretary and Chairman of the Military Commission Xi Jingping to establish his hardline credentials vis-à-vis India and the forthcoming visit of the Prime Minister, Li Keqiang.  It needs to be recalled that, the PM belongs to the Hu Jintao faction of the party, both having spent a considerable part of their career in the Communist Youth League.  In my view Hu and therefore, probably Li have a relatively soft line view of India.  Thus it was necessary for the PLA, with the approval of the Military Commission Chairman, to lay down a clear marker for Li’s visit to India.  This is the Chinese version of the classic western “Bad cop, Good cop” routine of dealing with India.

Fore-Warned is Fore-Armed?

      The note of December 2012 said that, “In May 2012 China started issuing E passports , which it was later discovered (news broke only in November 2012)  contained  a map of China that included Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin and the South China Sea as part of China.  Analysts have made statements down playing the significance of this move, but to the author it is the culmination of a process of a five year debate within the party and a signal of China’s international aspirations/agenda for the next 5 years.”
“India is in a somewhat anomalous position.  On the one hand, India is the third largest economy in the world. Even though it is 40% of the Chinese economy, it was the same size as China as recently as 2003.  Viewed from China’s perspective it currently looks like a very chaotic place that is unlikely to close the gap with China.  On the other hand it is home to the Dalai Lama and borders the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, “a core national interest” of the Chinese leadership.  Thus policy has fluctuated between soft and hard line, depending on developments in Tibet and the international situation.  There is in our judgment a high probability that China’s approach to India will continue unchanged from one that has emerged since 2007, which is to lay down an extended claim (beyond what Premier Chou en Lai officially offered to settle in 1960), freeze the border discussions till such time as India concedes its bottom line demand and continue to develop relations on other fronts.”


     As analysts have pointed out the harsh Winter will in any case force the PLA troops to withdraw to their permanent camps within the Chinese area of the LAC in Ladakh (outcome B).  Whether they will do so well before the Winter (outcome A) or whether they will return next summer (outcome C) is still uncertain.  The army should prepare (or dust off) an appropriate contingency plan for both adverse possibilities (B & C) and be authorized to act on it.   It is likely that growth & fiscal deficit concerns and resultant cut in Defense budget have given a wrong signal to China.  India should therefor raise defense FDI limits to 74% and promote joint venture between Indian and USA, European and Japanese private sectors.  At the same time, we should not cancel the visit of premier Li to India.
      The two pronged approach outlined in the December 2012 note remains valid: “India must  continue to pursue greater economic and diplomatic interaction and co-operation with China so that those elements in China who still believe in “peaceful rise” are in a position to make a convincing case for a resolution of the border issue.” In the medium term it is also, “imperative for India to strengthen its defenses and diplomacy to effectively deter an attack, by raising the cost and risk to the attacker.”

Post Script

    Since this  article was written about ten days ago, the issue of China's incursion into the ODB area of Ladakh has been resolved, with the PLA dismantling their tents inside the LAC and returning to their earlier claim line(outcome B).  However, just as in the case of Arunachal, it should not be assumed that the issue is resolved permanently. Outcome C is still possible.  India must learn to pursue its relations with other countries such as Japan, USA (and even Taiwan) without obsessively worrying about what China will think. The new Japanese government provides a golden opportunity for co-ordinating our diplomatic, defense production and R&D co-operation with Japan.    On the other hand it is very clear that the policy of "Speaking softly but carrying a big(ger) stick" is the right one in dealing with China. In this context I am not convinced about the suggestion made by many analysts in the past month, to take a publicly aggressive stance on Tibet.

Post Script 2

     The good cop routine towards India started on May 8 with the release by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) of the Blue Book.  This was followed on May 10, with a commentary in Xinhua[i] about achieving “win-win results.” On May 13th Qin Gang, the Chief of the Information Department of the Foreign Ministry unfroze the issue of negotiating the “Framework Agreement” on the Sino-Indian boundary (that China had apparently frozen a couple of years back).  Though PM Li Keqiang will formally act as the Good cop during his forthcoming visit to India (May 19-21), it should not be forgotten that any proposals made by China have the approval of the Party Secretary, Xi Jingping, just as the PLA incursion had the approval of the Chairman of the Military Commission Xi.[ii]  It is therefore likely that the Chinese version of the “Good cop, Bad cop” approach for testing Indian intentions and resolve, was proposed and discussed in Beijing, in early 2013. 
    The objective of this whole strategy was to probe Indian weakness, resolve and determination and use it to determine the balance between a hardline and soft line approach. In other words to fine tune the balance between economic demands and political concessions.  The media has played an important role in warning the government that the public would hold the government accountable for its foreign policy towards China.  At the same, by not losing its cool under media pressure, the Foreign Minister and the Government have demonstrated that they will not be swayed by emotions, but are as firm on protecting (core) national interest as China.  A final judgment must however await a detailed examination of the agreements signed during Premier Li’s visit.

[ii] Chairman Xi outlined his five principles of Sino-Indian relations around March 20 (http://globalgeopolitics.net/wordpress/2013/03/28/xi-jinping-on-sino-indian-relations/ ), while the PLA incursion into Indian side of the LAC occurred on April 15 ( http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/chinese-incursion-into-ladakh/specialcoverage/19857577.cms ).

An earlier version of this note appeared in the Indian Express op ed page on May 8, 2013, under the banner, "How to anticipate China". See, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/how-to-anticipate-china/1112731/

No comments: