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Why do we need to ‘soothe’ friction with China?

Risk avoidance in India-China relations is a two way street

Written by Ashok Parthasarathi | Published: May 31, 2013 3:49:51 am

Risk avoidance in India-China relations is a two way street

This is in response to Robert M. Hathway’s article,‘How to soothe the friction with China’ (The Indian Express,May 28). My first objection is to the use of the word “soothe” in the article’s title. To do so is demeaning to us. The title and subtitle of this article should make the rationale of my objection clear.

The history of Chinese incursions along the 4,000-km long Line of Actual Control has been,and continues to be,one of incursions leading to mutual recrimination and vice versa. Both of these,and China’s approach to foreign relations as a whole,are based on and rooted in deviousness and deception. This has been properly elaborated on by the chairman of our National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and former foreign secretary’s second K. Subramanyam Memorial Lecture a month ago.

Some examples follow. After many years of negotiation,China finally accepted that Sikkim was an integral part of this country. This occurred during the visit of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Beijing in 2003. The “corrected” Chinese map showing Sikkim inside India was held up with much fanfare at the press conference addressed by the two leaders at the end of Vajpayee’s visit.

However,barely six months later,there was a major attempted incursion by Chinese soldiers into the “finger” of Sikkim,which “sticks into” Tibet. Of course,they were thrashed and removed by our troops. But the key thing was that when our foreign office asked its Chinese counterpart how the large incursion was allowed to occur by the Chinese government,the Chinese totally denied it had taken place at all. They even dismissed photographs taken by our local commanders,as also our high resolution aerial and satellite imagery,which enabled one to count that some 500 Chinese troops had taken part in the incursion.

The above case,which is only one of many,cannot lead to any conclusion other than the fact that while Chinese leaders repeatedly assert that they are committed to maintaining — as agreed by former PM P.V. Narasimha Rao and his Chinese counterpart as far back as 1993 — “peace and tranquility” on the LAC,the Chinese flout that commitment repeatedly,with impunity.

So,what should our strategy and policy be? Let the special representatives on “settling the border” continue to meet and talk. Meanwhile,we must go all out across the border to massively strengthen our road network,our advance landing grounds and our airbases,so that our front-line fighter bomber,the Sukhoi-30 MKI,can be based in the western sector,develop kutcha and grassy runways,where the giant C-17 heavy-lift transport,10 of which we have ordered from Boeing,can land and take off after disgorging the 145 ultra-lightweight artillery and an equal number of tanks we have ordered from the US.

Concurrently,in the eastern sector,we need to realise in the projected five-year time frame from now the new strike corps headquartered at Gopalpur,and a substantial number of artillery and tanks,with more Sukhoi-30 MKI’s providing air cover to strike from the Sikkim plains deep in Tibet’s southeast with the specific aim of acquiring and holding territory there.

Increase the number and range of cruises and patrols by our navy through the Malacca strait into the South China Sea and speedily upgrade our current naval “facility” at Da Nang,on Vietnam’s eastern coast,into a full-fledged naval base where the P-8I long range reconnaissance,surveillance and anti-submarine jet aircraft are also located.

It is the above kinds of actions alone that the Chinese will understand— indeed respect,and maybe even fear. There will then be a sea-change in the “friction” on the LAC that Hathaway talks about.

The writer is a former science and technology advisor to Indira Gandhi

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