Will China continue with its land-grab mode?

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The nail in the coffin was hit when China tried its best to alter the status quo in Galwan in eastern Ladakh in mid-2020…reports Asian Lite News

China’s new Foreign Minister Qin Gang, in an op-ed piece in the US-based magazine, The National Interest, has indicated that Beijing seeks to improve ties with Delhi.

Qin in an article titled “How China Sees the World”, referred to India-China border issues and said, “both sides are willing to ease the situation and jointly protect peace along their borders”.

India’s response came in the New Year with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, lambasting China for trying to unilaterally change the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Clearly, India is no longer willing to have a border with China, which is constantly being sought to be altered by military means.

The nail in the coffin was hit when China tried its best to alter the status quo in Galwan in eastern Ladakh in mid-2020.

More recently, the Chinese PLA tried to ingress in Arunachal Pradesh, at a point known as Yangstse, just north of Tawang thus clearly demonstrating its intent at land grab.

This trend is visible across its Himalayan frontiers not only with India, but also Nepal and Bhutan.

Both the Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh, have hosted flashpoints in recent years. This is important for China because access across the area will give them a connect to Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK), both to the Pakistan Army and to their own troops stationed in the Shaksgam Valley, a trans-Karakoram tract which Pakistan gifted to China by a boundary pact in 1963.

In Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang, the site of the latest scuffle and birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama, Newsweek reports that China has dual plans, of laying claim over Southern Tibet (Arunachal Pradesh) and to control key Buddhist holy sites whose control would strengthen China’s authority over Tibet and its next spiritual leader.

Soon after the Tawang clash (December 9, 2022), India and China held (December 20, 2022) the 17th Round of Corps Commander Level Meeting at the Chushul-Moldo border meeting point on the Chinese side and agreed to maintain security and stability on the ground in the Western Sector.

India’s MEA stated that the two sides had agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest.

While the MEA statement was couched in appropriate diplomatic language, India’s actual response to Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s article, came from External Affairs Minister Dr. Jaishankar, who in an interview (January 3, 2023) with the Austrian ZIB2 podcast, a daily news magazine of ORF television said, “We had an agreement not to unilaterally change the LAC, which they have tried to unilaterally do. So, there is, I think, an issue, a perception that we have which derives directly from our experiences.”

Speaking about China trying to change the status quo, he said that China may blame India for not following the agreements, however, the satellite pictures could clearly show who was at the fault.

In April 2020, two divisions of the PLA, having completed routine exercises, deployed in large numbers close to the LAC and carried out multiple transgressions which, India pointed out, violated the 1993 and 1996 agreements to maintain peace in the border areas.

Jaishankar went on to say: “I think there’s a larger concern based on our experiences. The concern is that we had agreements with China not to amass forces in our border areas, and they have not observed those agreements, which is why we have the currently tense situation that we do,” he said.

“Now, where else the status quo may change or not change? I would hesitate as a foreign minister to predict publicly. I may have my own views and assessments, but I certainly can share my experience. And my experience is that written agreements were not observed and that we have seen levels of military pressure, which, in our view, has no justification. China would say the opposite. They would say that India had not obeyed different agreements. But obviously, no, I think it’s difficult for China to say that. For this reason, the record is very clear, because today there’s a lot of transparency. You have satellite pictures. If you see who moved the forces to the border areas first, I think the record is very clear,” said Jaishankar.

It is, therefore, ironic that China should blame India for violating “border pacts” when the India-US military exercise YudhAbhyas was held (November 2022) in Uttarakhand.

Soon after a PLA official objected to the India-US military drills citing “violation of border pacts”, the MEA chose to amplify the message globally that China’s PLA, which has carried out several transgressions across the LAC in violation of border agreements over the last several years including the one in eastern Ladakh sector, was ridiculously citing the same pacts to object to the India-US joint exercises.

Essentially, China was trying to divert the international community’s attention from its own misdeeds along LAC. India reached out to US, several European countries, the United Nations and other significant forums with the message that highlights contradictions in China’s claims on border pacts.

The fifteenth edition of the “YudhAbhyas” joint exercise of India and US took place in a high-altitude area in Uttarakhand less than 100 km from the LAC, but in no way violated the existing agreements on the border with China.

Significantly, a recent study by the Northwestern University in the US shows that Chinese incursions across India’s west and central borders are not independent, random incidents that happen by mistake.

Instead, these incursions are part of a strategically planned, coordinated effort to gain permanent control of disputed border areas.

Chinese actions in the last decade or so, have clearly shown an increasing trend towards disregard for the agreements with India on the LAC and militarisation with the specific purpose of capturing territory that is geographically advantageous to the Chinese.

The authors of the study have compiled information about Chinese incursions into India from 2006 to 2020.

They have found that conflicts can be separated into two distinct sectors: West/Middle (the Aksai Chin region) and East (the Arunachal Pradesh region). Researchers concluded that the number of incursions have increased over time, and also noted that conflicts in the East and Middle sectors are part of a coordinated Chinese expansionist strategy.

In the 15-year dataset, the researchers noted an average of 7.8 incursions per year.

However, Indian government’s estimates, are much higher, at 300 per year.

The other finding of the study relating to China’s interest in taking full control of Aksai Chin.

This conclusion supports common knowledge says V.S. Subramanian, one of the lead authors of the Northwestern study.

He notes that, “Knowing there are more incursions in the western sector is not a surprise,” he said.

“Aksai Chin is a strategic area that China wants to develop, so it’s very critical to them. It’s a vital passageway between China and the Chinese autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.”

In sum then, China’s actions along its borders with India are a function of State policy to grab as much land as possible.

The objective is to gain a foothold in the Himalayan region so that China can fulfil its strategic plans of joining hands with Pakistan in Ladakh and take control of Buddhism in Arunachal Pradesh.

This long-term perspective needs to be kept in mind when planning for a settlement of the boundary question with China. In the interim, India will have to be prepared militarily to offset China’s geographical advantage by carrying out military operations in specific locations.

This is the key takeaway for India. The ways and means to achieve this exist, and China should be made aware of the potential risks if she continues with her land grab posture.

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