How to anticipate China

How to anticipate China

The timing of the Chinese incursion may have been related to Xi Jinping’s need to establish his hardline credentials and Li Keqiang’s forthcoming visit

The timing of the Chinese incursion may have been related to Xi Jinping’s need to establish his hardline credentials and Li Keqiang’s forthcoming visit

Reports indicated that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had established a temporary post of five tents with 50 soldiers,19 km inside the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Though Chinese patrolling outside its 1960 claim line and inside the LAC on our side is 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 just resolved Chinese move in Ladakh is reminiscent of China’s earlier manoeuvres on Arunachal Pradesh. Both were designed to extend its (1960) claim line beyond what it had established in 1962.

An earlier paper of mine titled,“China’s Foreign Policy Under New Leaders” (December 2012) 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… 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.”

Having laid down a clear marker of its changed claims in Arunachal,China later reached a compromise with respect to multilateral loans to Northeast India and also toned down its public professions of the same. However,if the issue is raised again with the Chinese government by anyone,expect to hear a loud and aggressive reiteration of the Arunachal claims.


It is likely that the recent incursion in Ladakh was an attempt to stake out a revised claim in the western sector as has already been done in the eastern sector. The timing of the move is related to both the need for CPC General Secretary and Chairman of the Military Commission Xi Jinping to establish his hardline credentials vis-a-vis India and the forthcoming visit of Premier Li Keqiang. Both Li and former General Secretary Hu Jintao rose through the Communist Youth League and probably share a relatively softer 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.

In December 2012,we noted 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 downplaying 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.”

China’s “policy has fluctuated between soft and hard line,depending on developments in Tibet and the international situation. There is,in our judgement,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 had pointed out,the harsh winter would in any case force the PLA troops to withdraw to their permanent camps within the Chinese area of the LAC in Ladakh (outcome B). Given India’s firm but softly worded response,they seem to have wisely chosen to withdraw before the winter (outcome A). Whether they will return next summer (outcome C) is still uncertain. The army should prepare (or dust off) an appropriate contingency plan for the possibility that they will return again next summer and be authorised to act on it. It is possible that growth and fiscal deficit concerns and the resultant cut in the defence budget have given a wrong signal to China. India should therefore raise defence FDI limits to 74 per cent and promote private Indo-US (/Europe/Japan) JVs. At the same time,we should lay out the red carpet for Premier Li’s visit to India.

The two-pronged approach we suggested in December 2012 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 defences and diplomacy to effectively deter an attack,by raising the cost and risk to the attacker.”

The writer is president,,and former chief economic advisor,Government of India