In recent weeks Defence Minister of India, State Minister of Defence, COAS and the Home Minister were on visits to Ladakh and the border line with China in Cheshul and Nyoma regions. Home Minister Shinde is on second jaunt to the State within a week. All of them have held high power meetings to review security scenario in the sensitive northern frontier of India. Obviously, Chinese factor stands at the centre of these extraordinary closed door deliberations.
Security concerns for India in this region escalated with stealthy movement of PLA into Gilgit-Baltistan region two years ago. That part of original Dogra State is illegally held by Pakistan in 1947. Sino-Pak camaraderie adds to nebulous security scenario between India and China in the region.
For the first time in history, two Asian giants stand with eyeball to eyeball stance along the 1080 kilometre long Sino–Indian border over the Himalayan line. With the emergence of PRC in 1949, two years after India won freedom, China and India both had the vision of a day for their countries assuming dominant position in the Asian Continent. This had prompted Chinese Premier Chou En Lai to endorse the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence (Panchsheel) that were talked about in Bandung Conference in April 1955.
It is pertinent to recollect that at Bandung, during the two days of preliminary sessions, voices were raised by many delegates against communist ideology and called it “neo-colonialism.” Embarrassed Chou Enlai got copies of his written statement distributed among the participant delegates and he delivered impromptu speech assuring the conference that “the Chinese Delegation has come here to seek unity and not to quarrel, to seek common ground and not to create divergences.” He added, “We should seek to understand each other and respect each other, sympathize with and support one another and the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence may completely serve as a basis for us to establish relations of friendship and cooperation and good neighbourliness.”
Apprehension about the real intentions of PRC expressed by some delegates to Bandung Conference, were not unfounded. Soon Chinese sources began laying new territorial claims on land and on sea, the old practice of the Chinese kingdoms in medieval times. This tendency was blatantly reflected in the annexation of Tibet, a region whose independence had been recognized by the British rulers of India. Sadly policy planners of independent India, novices in the diplomacy of frontier strategy as they were, meekly succumbed to China aggressively establishing sway over the Tibetan Plateau. In the process, she succeeded in extirpating the spiritual leader of Tibet along with his brood that ultimately sought asylum in India. Political resistance to Chinese occupation was bulldozed.
The ink on Panchsheel had hardly dried when China stirred squabble over the McMahon Line claiming that Chinese territories were illegally occupied by the British Indian rulers and India should revert these to Beijing now. She laid claim to entire Arunachal Pradesh comprising 90,000 square kilometres in area in the north-east of India. China justified its Indian aggression of 1962 by arguing that entire Arunachal was illegally occupied by the British, and since they had left it should be reverted to China. Chine threw into dustbin her Bandung cacophony.
With Chinese economy growing rapidly in recent years, and she gaining status in global economic structure, Beijing has adopted more intimidating posture against India in the north-eastern as well as north-western sectors of Indian northern frontier watershed. In February last Chinese foreign ministry spokesman strongly objected to Indian Defence Minister visiting Arunachal Pradesh claiming it was a disputed area. Dalai Lama’s visit to Twang, where there is a sizable strength of Buddhists, was a red rag to the bull. China sought to block Asian Development Bank loan to India arguing India has plans of utilising the funds in “disputed” Arunachal.
Adepts in the art of international diplomacy, both sides try to maintain deceptive modicum of restraint in border dispute. Exchange of visits by dignitaries and the rhetoric of trade talks are some of the features of counterfeit restraint. Beneath the mask is hidden the monstrous visage of military-nuclear build-up to the level that a small fraction of it, if unleashed, is good enough to portend destruction and decimation of both.
We can cull out a fraction of information on militarization of the watershed in the Great Himalayan Game now in progress. In 2012, China replaced oil liquid fuelled nuclear capable CSS-3 IRBM with CSS-5 MRBM. She deployed along the border with India ICBM DF-31, DF-31A at Delinga, north of Tibet. China has pressed into service 13 Border Defence Regiments totalling 300,000 troops. It has built airfields at Hoping, Pargata and Kong Ka in addition to six existing airfields in Tibetan Autonomous Region. China plans to deploy fifth generation fighter craft J-20, the radar-evading stealth air crafts by 2018. Six Divisions of China’s Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) are stationed at Changdu with the capability of lifting troops to Indo-China border within 24 hours. Over and above this massive build up, China has considerably improved and upgraded road, rail and air connectivity to the Sino-Indian border round the year. Lhasa already stands connected by railway.
On the Indian side also, significant preparations are witnessed to counter Chinese aggressive posturing. Notwithstanding physical difficulties in rapid lifting of troops over the high mountains, Indian Army’s IV Corps comprising 120,000 troop guard entry in Tezpur to the plains of Assam. In 2011, India decided to deploy 200 km strike Brahmos supersonic cruise missile in eastern sector. The Five Year Plan proposes induction of 90,000 troops beside contemplated four more Divisions in the eastern sector. The force in eastern sector is supported by 2 Sukhoi 30 MKI Squadrons from Tezpur in Assam and 2 more Squadrons are proposed to reinforce the support structure. Two bases have been set up for Medium Multi Role Fighter Aircraft (MMRFA) or what is called French Rafael, to be placed in Eastern Command at Panagarh. This will also have the advanced radar air defence system.
India is sandwiched between two adversaries who have jointly formed nexus against her. Given a vast coastline from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, India, naturally will take care of her naval defence also. Her perception of an Indian Ocean Naval Command based in Andaman-Nicobar Island may not be sufficient to match China’s naval presence in the China Sea and around the Straits of Malacca. To begin with, Indian Navy has launched Dhanush, the naval version of Prithvi short range ballistic missile of 350 km strike power. Navy has recently test-fired Brahmos supersonic cruise missile of 300 kg weight for INS Teg. Gorshkov, the Russian-built giant carrier will join Indian Navy next year.
This then is the arraying of battle lines between the two Asian giants. Undoubtedly, in terms of military power, India is not what she was in 1962 when China took her unawares and walked over her scantily equipped troops on eastern frontier. Things are different today. While China contemplates India’s vulnerability in Arunachal, India looks at China’s vulnerability in Tibet. China cannot get over the apprehension of India’s designs in Tibet.
Nevertheless, the two countries shoulder immense responsibility in the Asian Continent. Even a small mistake or mishap can trigger large scale confrontation with disastrous consequences. Unless China curbs it territorial covetousness, and restrains hawkish elements from embarking on confrontational policy towards India, tension on the border will remain in place. Any show of strength along the volcanic Himalayan frontier is bound to find reverberations in other parts of the Asian Continent and the world at large. From historical point of view, the two civilizations had been in a mode of compatibility for many millennia in the past and there is still vast scope of reviving and reinforcing the elements of that ethos and thereof bringing prosperity, peace and happiness to one half of the world population the two countries are supporting.