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Sundarji defied political leaders in confrontation with Chinese troops

Chinese were surprised by this response leading to a change in Beijing's attitude towards New Delhi.

Written by Agencies | New Delhi |
August 30, 2012 8:51:16 pm

General K Sundarji,ignoring the political leadership,had in 1986 set up an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with Chinese troops who had taken up positions inside Indian territory,a move that paid off quite well.

The Chinese were surprised by this well-orchestrated response from Indian troops which subsequently led to a change in Beijing’s attitude towards New Delhi.

In the summer of 1986,India learnt “the Chinese had crossed the Thagla Ridge and occupied a feature called Le,built permanent barracks as well as a helipad,” former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran recalled the incident while delivering the second K Subrahmanyam lecture here.

He said he saw this in some way linked to the hardening of the Chinese position on the border and the new insistence on India making concessions in the eastern sector.

The previous year,he recalled,China had begun to signal it was unwilling to legitimise the ceasefire line arrived at after the 1962 war as a border.

“It was also conveyed to us that at a minimum Tawang would have to be transferred to the Chinese side,Saran recalled.

The Chinese were infuriated when Gen Sundarji airlifted troops to the Thagla ridge and made them take positions just 10 meters from a Chinese forward post,he said.

“I recall accompanying Ambassador K P S Menon to lodge a protest with the then Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister and being witness to a most undiplomatic,offensive and vituperative harangue by the latter,” recalled Saran,who was then posted in Beijing. “The Chinese were taken completely by surprise as perhaps were our own political leaders,” he said.

Saran said while India may not have planned it this way,the Chinese judged the actions through their own prism – that New Delhi had countered their unexpected move by a well – orchestrated counter move. “Subsequently,I am told,that the offensive and overbearing tone adopted by Chinese Foreign Ministry officials also changed to being more polite and civilized,” he said.

He said the next several years were spent in the two sides discussing disengagement leading to the end of the confrontation in 1992.

“The lesson to be drawn is not that we should be militarily provocative but that we should have enough capabilities deployed to convince the other side that aggressive moves would invite counter moves,” Saran said.

He said strong relations with global powers like the US and Russia are key to how India handles its ties with China in the coming years.

Saran also pitched for a better understanding of how Chinese think and view India and its role in the global order if they are to be engaged constructively in future.

“… How India manages its relations with other major powers,in particular,the US,would also be a factor. My own experience has been that the closer India-US relations are seen to be,the more amenable China has proved to be,” Saran said.

“I do not accept the argument that a closer India-US relationship leads China to adopt a more negative and aggressive posture towards India. The same is true of India’s relations with countries like Japan,Indonesia and Australia,who have convergent concerns about Chinese dominance of the East Asian theatre,” Saran said.

He said the stronger India’s links are with these major powers,the more room India would have in its relations with China.

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