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Antony’s China Visit and India-China Security Deficit

Paper No. 5524                                        Dated 09-Jul-2013

By Dr. B. R Deepak

In order to strengthen the fragile defense ties and improve the security environment between India and China, the Indian Defense Minister Mr. A. K Antony headed a defense delegation to China between July 4th and 6th.

He held talks with his counterpart Chang Wanquan, Special Representative on the boundary question Mr. Yang Jiechi on various defense and security related issues including the confidence-building measures (CBMs) along the border; military to military relations; and the forthcoming joint military exercises to be conducted in October later this year. He also met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and paid visit to some of the Chinese defense establishments. Antony’s visit was a return visit to General Liang Guanglies’s 2011 China visit and as an Indian Defense Minister after a gap of 7 years.

Liang Guanglie’s India visit had broken some ice, and given an incremental push to the security ties that had deteriorated in 2010 when China denied visa to Lt. General B. S. Jaswal, General Officer Commanding Chief, Northern Area Command of the Indian Army. Chinese Premier Li Keqian’s India visit restored some of the trust and continued the momentum of the ties in the wake of Depsang border transgression stalemate that had continued for three weeks and almost jeopardized the visits of Indian Foreign Minister to China and that of Chinese Premier’s visit to India. Antony’s visit could have consolidated the fruits of these visits, but Major General LuoYuan’s remarks made during his interaction with the All China Journalists Association a few hours before Antony’s landing in China overshadowed the visit and reminded us yet again the nature of perpetual security and trust deficit between India and China.

General Luo who is known for his hawkish and anti-India rhetoric is well known in the strategic circles, but the timing of his remarks is unfortunate and abominable, especially when both sides are reiterating that the media should not be given ammunition to stir and flare up the hypersensitive issue. He had told the journalists that ‘there is still the problem of 90,000 sq. km. of territory that is occupied by the Indian side. I think these are problems left over by from history and we should look at these problems with a cool head. Particularly, the Indian side should not provoke new problems and increase military deployment at the border area.”

Analysts believe that the Depsang transgressions is the making of generals like Luo Yuan, and also an indication that the PLA does not give a damn to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) in China.   This is also demonstrated by the fact that the stalemate took such a long time to resolve, for India’s channels of communication for negotiations were primarily with the MoFA. It is also believed that the Chinese transgression is in response to India’s infrastructure development and security measures along our borders.

It is precisely owing to these concerns that China has pushed forward for a freeze in such measures and infrastructure development along the border through the mechanism of Border Defense Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), and rightly rejected by the Indian side. BDCA, therefore would be another mechanism in the line of various other mechanisms on border, and would be inconclusive like others as far as the final resolution of the border is concerned, though these mechanisms have prevented incidents like Depsang from snowballing into an armed conflict and have effectively contributed to the peace and tranquility along the border.   

Even though the security environment owing to JWG on border, the 1991 and 1996 CBMs, the mechanism of Special Representatives in 2003, and Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, Mechanism on Coordination and Consultation on Border Affairs etc. have contributed to the incremental improvement in the security environment, but as long as India and China are not able to address the core issue of border and the spin offs of the issue, the environment cannot register considerable improvement, and would continue to be held hostage to statements like General Luo Yuan or those emanating from his Indian counterparts from time to time.  

The unresolved boundary issue is the fundamental cause for mistrust at every level, owing to which there was a war between the two, the wounds of which are still festering at least in the minds of the Indians. The spin off has been the huge security deficit, which has led the other side to believe that they have been ganging up with the third parties to contain them.

Secondly, China’s ‘all weather friendship’ with Pakistan and supplying the latter with sophisticated military weaponry including the missiles and nuclear technology, has posed a threat to India’s national security. Even if India and China doesn’t fight another war, but the image China has created in the minds of every Indian is that of a rogue who has been destabilizing Indian state through a third party for decades. The hosting of Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif during Antony’s China visit is said to be part of this calculus from China, and Luo Yuan’s statements could also be seen in this context as well. And, will it improve the environment when China signs 8 agreements with Pakistan, some of which would involve the disputed territory of POK?  See for example the $44 million Xinjiang-Rawalpindi fiber optic link or the $18 billion economic corridor between Xinjiang and Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. It may be noted that administrative control of Gwadar has been taken over by China recently. The military exercises, even though these are termed as related to counter terrorism, their approaches towards terrorism are totally different. China sees terrorism in the region from Pakistani prism, notwithstanding the fact that some of its own ‘terrorists’ are trained in Af-Pak region.

It is for the same reasons that India fails to understand why China should be concerned about India’s presence in the South China Sea, when China itself is indifferent to India’s sensitivities in its disputed areas with Pakistan.  It is for the same reasons that India fails to understand why China should be weary of its cooperation with the US, Japan, Vietnam and other countries in the region, when China itself has been engaging with many of India’s neighbors at various levels.

Some analysts would say that Antony should have called off the visit in the same manner as Vajpayee did in 1979 when China invaded Vietnam and cited teaching Vietnam a lesson similar to what  it was supposed to have taught  India.

 India, instead of its myopic thinking over issues needs to take a futuristic and long term view. Here Indian policy makers could take a cue from China’s policy makers who have drawn a roadmap for China’s development by 2049. The roadmap would make China a developed country, and goals so far have been achieved ahead of schedule by China’s planners. It is here, why many of Indian and foreign strategic thinkers deem India as a dysfunctional state with inherent policy paralysis. While the momentum of the high level political visits as well exchanges between the two countries at all levels need to be maintained, strengthened and deepened, India must learn to wrest the initiatives at the same time, else we would end up in a similar situation as it happened during Antony’s China visit. 

(Dr. B. R Deepak is Professor of Chinese and China studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)

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