A Parliamentary panel that discussed bilateral ties after the Doklam crisis in 2017 had warned the Centre that it would always be better to have a sense of “healthy skepticism” while dealing with China, and had expressed discontent over the neighbouring country’s “deliberate encirclement policy of India”.
The remarks from the Standing Committee on External Affairs in the 16th Lok Sabha came despite assurances from the then government that there could be a bit of “action-reaction” as India built its border infrastructure on the border and Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
The panel, which pointed out that China keeps the border and LAC disputes alive in its interests to throw India off balance whenever it desires, advised that New Delhi requires a flexible approach with Beijing.
The committee, chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, also recommended that a comprehensive border engagement agreement be concluded between the Army and China’s PLA, subsuming all established mechanisms for confidence-building, including border personnel’s meetings, flag meetings, meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on border affairs (WMCC) and other diplomatic channels.
“In so many respects the track record of China does not inspire confidence in the Committee. The Committee would therefore strongly desire that India should prevail upon China to ensure that application of the principles arrived at are given due respect and adhered to and that sanctity of the process should be scrupulously maintained by China,” the panel stated in its report.
The report – Sino-India Relations Including Doklam, Border Situation and Cooperation in International Organisations – was submitted to Parliament in September 2018.
The panel had commended the then government – under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term – for its overall handling the Doklam crisis, but had expressed concern over the “Chinese infrastructure built uncomfortably close to the tri-junction” that had not been dismantled.
The face-off at the India-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, which began in June 2017 when the PLA entered Doklam in a bid to alter the status quo by violating an understanding with both India and Bhutan, was resolved with disengagement of border personnel.
Incidentally current Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, the then Foreign Secretary, had appeared before the panel, which had Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, NCP MP Supriya Sule along with BJP MPs such as Feroz Varun Gandhi, Raghav Lakhanpal and Swapan Dasgupta as members. Jaishankar briefed the panel on October 18 and October 30, 2017. His successor Vijay Gokhale appeared before the committee in February 2018.
Deposing before the panel, Jaishankar had said that there had been “constant activity in many sectors every year”, referring to the incidents in Ladakh sector. “In the case of Pangong Tso, this is a lake where our respective perceptions of each other’s Lines of Actual Control do not coincide. It is like a long lake. They believe the line is here; we believe the line is there. So, there is an overlapping area of dispute in terms of what each party says” he said.
But, Jaishankar said on October 30, 2017, he would not say transgressions had gone up, although there was some “action-reaction”. He said, “It is because as we build our border infrastructure, there will be a little bit of action-reaction where they are concerned.’’
In February 2018, Gokhale told the House panel that there is no commonly delineated LAC, and that India had repeatedly proposed China that both nations should strive to develop a common understanding of the alignment of LAC. “The Chinese side has not responded positively to these requests, nor has the Chinese side given any reason for not responding to these requests…” he said.
When the panel for a likely timeline for resolution, the Foreign Secretary pointed out that the problem has been there since the country’s independence. “I would credit each one of them with actually showing utmost seriousness and sincerity on this matter. I do not think that there is a lack of effort; I do not think that there is a lack of sincerity; I think it is part of the complexity of the issue,” he had said.
Editorial | Easier said
Another issue the lawmakers had alerted the government on was “significant inroads made by China in India’s neighborhood and their impact on India’s outreach activities in these countries”.
In a veiled criticism of the External Affairs Ministry’s stand on this, the report noted: “Despite the Ministry’s ambivalence on whether this reflects some sort of a deliberate encirclement policy of India by China, the Committee would be inclined to see it as nothing less than a veiled containment policy. Therefore, it is imperative that India should urgently take up the business of re-energizing its ties with our neighboring countries. It is clear that we now have to contend with the possibility of some of the countries in our neighborhood playing the China card as leverage in their relations with us.”
Pointing out that India had been a reliable and trustworthy partner visa-a-vis China, the panel wanted the government to bring into play adroit and pro-active diplomacy on the one hand while significantly augmenting the delivery and efficiency of its development assistance in the region on the other.
With the Defence Secretary arguing that Chinese soldiers were within their own territory, and that there was nothing unusual about their deployment, the committee cautioned that tt is always better to have a sense of ‘healthy skepticism’ while dealing with China. It also urged the government to evolve a broad national consensus to deal effectively with China.”
It stated: “It is difficult for the Committee to escape the perception that China sees it as being in its interests to keep the dispute alive indefinitely for the purpose of throwing India off-balance whenever it so desires.”
Noting that China’s track record “does not inspire confidence”, the panel said, “India should prevail upon China to ensure that application of the principles arrived at are given due respect and adhered to and that sanctity of the process should be scrupulously maintained by China. “