India's weak-kneed response to Beijing's bullying sets a bad example for neighbours

We need to learn a lot from China’s foreign policy; and when our own response to China is weak-kneed, how do we expect Sri Lanka to take up cudgels with Beijing?

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh meeting the Chinese Defence Minister, General Fenghe in Moscow, Russia, September 2020 (Photo: Twitter)

During a ceremony for the unveiling of the statue of Marwari warrior Veer Durgadas Rathore at Jodhpur on August 13, 2022, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said India did not let China enter its territory and appealed to political parties not to politicize issues related to the country’s security. Whatever the comments and beliefs, India did not let anybody trespass on its territory, he added. 

This is not the first time Rajnath Singh has said so. His famous cliché of "not even one inch of territory lost" with reference to the Chinese intrusions in Eastern Ladakh during 2020 has been the butt of jokes for some time. Such an attitude is hardly politicizing security issues when national security itself has been turned into a joke. Morality and shame are not in the lexicon of politicians globally but on the eve of the 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence Day, repeating the same dud joke would be ‘amrit’ (nectar) to China.   

There is a view in circulation that the Indian armed forces have bartered away territory in Eastern Ladakh to China in exchange for Beijing not initiating conflict. Nothing can be more absurd. The Indian military follows what the government dictates. At the same time, decisions taken by the government, including those pertaining to national security, are in the backdrop of the bureaucracy retaining the principal position. 

Notably, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has made no comments over the past two years with regard to the intrusions made by China in Ladakh. 

Political barter with China?

Another view is that the India-China standoff should not be viewed as a match between two boxers. This appears an effort to deflect from the government’s pusillanimous response to the Chinese aggression on the plank that war has been avoided. China merrily occupied territory that was not held in 2020, for which some heads should have rolled given the fact that PLA motorized divisions exercising in Aksai China was enough warning. Being the Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh was equally responsible. As for the Galwan clash, neither the political nor the military hierarchy can take credit for our response because the reaction of our troops on the ground was spontaneous with higher headquarters out of communications that night. 

The rhapsody of Rajnath Singh may get some claps at public functions, especially from his own political buddies and the uninformed, but he would do well to explain to the nation what exactly the political barter worked out with China and with what excellence, even though it reduces Home Minister Amit Shah to a minion, banging the table in Parliament and thundering we will take back Aksai Chin?  

Is it that China will cease further mischief in the areas of Patrol Points 4 and 5, and more importantly will not undertake any offensive action however minor till the general elections in 2024 are over?   

Few lessons learnt

Has China given an undertaking by any chance that they will not occupy the Kailash Range or in the event that they do establish border village(s) on that territory or Wuhan-style wet markets, Rajnath Singh will be invited for their inauguration? The important question is how do we believe Chinese assurances even though Rajnath Singh has not been personally stabbed in the back by them? 

It was reported in these columns earlier that China is to construct a second highway (G695 national expressway) through Aksai Chin along the border with India by 2035, which according to one source, will likely run near the Depsang Plains, Galwan Valley and Hot Springs on the Line of Actual Control. Considering that China will want depth for this new highway, Rajnath Singh could perhaps throw some light on what is the next phase of 'atmasamarpan’ (surrender) being planned? Would we cede Depsang Plains (up to DBO?), Demchok, entire Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso as a gesture of goodwill, brotherhood and on the plank of avoiding war?   

Unfortunately, we fail to take any lessons from how the bluff of China was called off in our own country earlier and how small countries like Vietnam have dealt with China in the past – not through rhetoric but by standing up to the bully. 

Mishandling Sri Lanka incident

Will we learn anything from the recent incident of Sri Lanka allowing the Chinese ship Yuan Wang 5 (ballistic missile, satellite tracking ship which also sweeps the ocean floor for submarine movement) to dock at Hambantota Port? We had genuine concerns which could have been conveyed to Colombo without fanfare. But we cried aloud and made a song and dance about Sri Lanka having deferred movement of the Chinese spy ship. 

Sri Lanka actually had no option with Hambatota on lease to China for 99 years, Chinese investments in Sri Lanka and the debt Colombo owes to Beijing. Now we are sheepishly saying that Sri Lanka is a sovereign country – did we not know this? 

We need to learn a lot from China’s foreign policy; and when our own response to China is weak-kneed, how do we expect Sri Lanka to take up cudgels with Beijing? 

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views are personal.)   

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