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As Chinese State Councilor and Special Representative Yang Jiechi arrives in Delhi to discuss the boundary question with his Indian counterpart, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon (it will be the 17th round of talks since 2003), China declared that it hoped to make its common border with India ‘a bridge and bond’.
It may take many more years to settle the border issue between India and China; there is one historic reason: the 4,000 km frontier has for thousands of years been the border with Tibet and not with China. It is only after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 that China and India acquired a common border.
Another reason why it will take time to find a mutually acceptable solution is that Beijing could live with the status quo and the ‘moving’ LAC for a few decades more.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei may say: “An early settlement serves the interests of both China and India, and it is a strategic objective set by the two governments,” but in the past the facts have spoken otherwise. For example, in the Depsang plane in April 2013 or more recently in Chumur in South Ladakh, China’s interests are clearly to keep India on tenterhooks.
In the meantime, Beijing can have a good laugh. They have only to read the Indian (and foreign) press about the sorry state of affairs in the Indian defence sector.
The Government has postponed until the next financial year the plan to purchase 126 fighter planes from France's Dassault Aviation. Why? The national coffers are empty. It is what Defence Minister AK Antony affirmed while inaugurating the DefExpo, the biennial defence mela at Pragati Maidan: “Major procurement can only be possible in the next financial year. There is no money left.”
The Rafales, the French combat aircraft was selected for ‘exclusive negotiations’ in January 2012. The talks were to buy 18 planes off-the-shelf and build the balance in India (under license with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited). Admitting that his ministry has already spent 92 percent of its defence capital budget for the financial year, AK Antony said that the talks “will stretch into the following fiscal year”.
At the end of 2012, the defence ministry had announced that it had prioritized its expenditure for the remaining months of the financial year 2012-2013.
Though the longest-serving defence minister then spoke of 'new ground realities' and 'changing security scenario', the finance ministry nevertheless slashed crore the defence budget by Rs 10,000. It was said to be the provision for the Rafales whose deal could not be finalized by March 31, 2013. An entire financial year has passed and India is today ‘broke’.
A year ago, The Times of India had commented: "the IAF had been assured an additional Rs 10,000 crore to cater for the first installment of the [Rafale] project under which final commercial negotiations are underway for French Rafale fighters, if inked within this fiscal."
Now, the Finance ministry has conveniently forgotten its promise.
In these circumstances, the Chinese can indeed remain ‘cool’ and speak of ‘the border as a bridge’.
Mr. Antony also asserted that arms procurement has been delayed “as he tried to clean up the process …it was important to send a message that India would tolerate no wrong- doing in these deals”.
Well, who takes the bribes? It can only be somebody in the Government who can influence the decision, otherwise why would ‘foreigners’ just pay bribes? To help some needy bureaucrats or politicians?
It explains the ‘slump’ in the exhibitors at the DefExpo this year. As many exhibitors did not turn up, 3 sections of Hall 7 and an entire floor in Hall 18 remained unoccupied; The Asian Age explained: “the mood among those who have come, is downbeat.”
Capt. Bharat Verma, editor of Indian Defence Review told The Asian Age: “You cannot blacklist 27 global companies and kick them out of DefExpo, and then expect it to be a roaring success.”
La Tribune, the French daily financial website pointed to 5 factors which triggered the depression: the forthcoming legislative elections in May which make it difficult for the present government to take decisions, (it mentioned the not so successful visit of Shivshankar Menon to Paris last week); the falling rate of the rupee which increases the cost of importing military equipment; the pervasive corruption (the newspaper quotes amongst others the Bofors deal, the cancellation of the 197 choppers to be supplied by Eurocopter and the latest VVIP helicopter scam); the extremely complicated procurement procedure and finally the legendary slow speed of the Indian administration. This makes the list too long for many suppliers.
It is not that India does not need to counter China by buying armament abroad (or signing joint venture deals with foreign firms). In the meantime indeed, China is progressing at giant strides.
Associated Press quoted James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, saying that “China had pursued a very impressive military modernisation that was designed to address what it saw as America's military strengths.”
Speaking at a House Intelligence Committee hearing about China's attitude in the East and South China Seas, Clapper affirmed: “They've been quite aggressive about asserting what they believe is their manifest destiny in that part of the world."
On January 27 in The Study Times, a publication of the Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, explained how China’s dream relates to a stronger army: “Up until now, China’s basic military strategy has been self-defense, to defend China’s mainland. …As China rises, China’s military strategy should be more and more outgoing. …We should not only be effective in deterring and defeating any aggression against our native mainland; we should also be effective in deterring and stopping any country that is against our vital interests abroad and deterring and stopping any neighboring countries that play with fire and intensify conflicts.”
Of course, the US, a ‘Big Power’ is first targeted; India is not considered as a match for China (for Beijing at least).
Another official Chinese publication The International Herald Leader (IHL) commented on China’s hypersonic missile tested in early January. While US officials said that the test of new weapon marks “an important advance for the Chinese new strategic nuclear and conventional missile development program”, the IHL article accused the US to continuously hyping China’s weapons and spacecraft tests, “to create a sense of urgency for the United States mission and arouse a sense of crisis among US allies”.
The article concluded that the US “does not, by any means, have an exclusive patent on hypersonic aircraft. …Only when China becomes really strong will the ‘China military threat’ noise eventually disappear.”
Today, Beijing can speak of Sino-Indian as a ‘bridge’ because the Communist Government has given itself the means to offer peace (on its terms), to Delhi at least. China has understood that to speak about peace, one has to be powerful; it is unfortunately not India’s case.