Friday, September 1, 2017
The Middle Kingdom’s strategic miscalculation
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Though one can only rejoice about the disengagement in Doklam, one should not forget issues that are extremely disturbing: It is China's non-respect of agreements and international rules
On August 28, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued a statement: The Doklam confrontation was over, both the Indian and Chinese troops had agreed to withdraw. Later in the afternoon, the MEA clarified further: “India has always maintained that it is only through diplomatic channels that differences on such matters can be addressed. Our principled position is that agreements and understandings reached on boundary issues must be scrupulously respected.”
This was a reference to the 2012 agreement between India and China to not change the status quo. Delhi explained once more its position: “India’s policy remains guided by the belief that peace and tranquility in the border areas is an essential pre-requisite for further development of our bilateral relationship.”
Despite the agreement, Beijing’s propaganda continued. Answering a question fromPTI, on whether the disengagement is mutual, Hua Chunying, the Chinese spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, affirmed: “China will make adjustments based on actual situation.”
On whether the issue had amicably been settled, she answered: “The settlement of issue shows sincerity and attitude of China as major country; will continue develop friendly relations with India.” She, however, urged “India to earnestly abide by historical conventions and international law. … China will continue to uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with historical conventions.”
Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, had told off Mao Zedong in 1959, “China can’t ever be wrong.” Nearly 60 years later, this has not changed. Many observers, however, feel that the important outcome is that the tension has been diffused. Though the shadow of a war has receded, there is no doubt that Bhutan is at the heart of China’s strategic miscalculation.
Beijing has never admitted (or accepted) that Thimphu could have a special relation with Delhi. This is not new. Soon after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Lhasa in September 1951, Beijing started threatening the Land of the Dragon. A recently declassified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report dating from February 1953 describes in detail how the Chinese tried to frighten the peaceful Buddhist kingdom. The CIA noted: “(during) the latter part of November 1952, the Chinese communists stationed some two thousand Sino-Tibetan troops along the northern border of Bhutan.”
The CIA continued: “These troops were stationed in groups, numbering approximately 200 each, in the various passes between Bhutan and Tibet, from the pass lying between the Haa Valley and Yatung as far east as the pass between Punakha and Tibet.”
A footnote explained the geographical position of the Chinese troops: “According to available maps, a route extends from Haa Dzong to Chumbi. (It) shows two routes from Punakha to Tibet, the more direct via Gasa Dzong, and a longer routevia Wangdu Phodrang and Byakar Dzong.”
Hardly a year after the PLA’s entry in Lhasa, the Chinese troops were already positioned to bully Bhutan; communist China could not accept the special relation India had with the Kingdom. The information received by the CIA is usually quite accurate; the latitude and longitude of the passes are even given: “Detachments were stationed in the passes between the Paro Valley (and Chumbi)” It speaks of roads from Paro Dzong extending west to Haa Dzong and thence to Chumbi, and east to Tashi Chho Dzong and Phari Dzong, and between Tashi Chho Dzong and the Dochen Plateau (north of Phari), as well as at intermediate passes.”
Note that Beijing was not as yet aware of the tri-junction where the present confrontation took place. The CIA noted that in the opinion of Bhutanese circles, “the disposition of these troops on the border was for the purpose of intimidating Bhutan, and not a preparation for the invasion of that country.”
The Royal Government reacted by sending a letter of protest to the Chinese while accelerating the training of Bhutanese soldiers.
As a result of the Chinese bullying, Bhutan became “actively engaged in training Bhutanese citizens in the art of modern warfare. Recruits are taught to handle and fire the British Lee-Enfield caliber .303 rifle and the British .45-caliber Sten gun. …By so trainings large percentage of the population, the Bhutanese hope eventually to have an Army modeled after the one in Switzerland.”
Another aspect of the Chinese ‘calculation’ in 1952/53, is provided by the CIA analysts: “It may also be anticipated by the Communists in Tibet that the presence of these troops along the border may influence the Bhutanese to export to Tibet more rice, butter, meat and other foodstuffs.” During the first months of Tibet’s occupation, the PLA was starving and Beijing badly needed India …and Bhutan to supply foodstuff (mainly rice) to the occupying forces.
One could say that it is a miracle that despite the tremendous pressure from the north, Bhutan has remained an independent nation, still striving for ‘happiness’. Sixty five years later, seeing that intimidation did not work, China stepped onto Bhutan’s territory while trying to make the world believe that it is India which ‘miscalculated’. Hopefully today, the Bhutanese are grateful to India to have come to their rescue.
Another issue remains extremely disturbing, it is China’s non-respect of agreements, international rules and normal behaviour, whether it is for the supply of data for the Sutlej or the Yarlung Tsangpo, the Kailash Yatra, the implementations of border agreements or in the South China Sea (SCS): For years, China vociferously screamed that from time immemorial the sea belonged to the Middle Kingdom. When the issue was examined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, it ruled differently.
The court said that China had no legal basis to claim any historic right to the natural resources in most of the areas of the SCS. It also ruled that such rights must not exceed what’s permitted by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Further, there was no evidence China had historically controlled the waters or its resources exclusively. The court maintained it had jurisdiction to consider historic rights and maritime entitlements.
The ruling was a terrible blow for the land (and sea) grabbing Middle Kingdom. Of course, this did not stop Beijing to continue with its claims and the reclamation of several islands.
An Indian scholar, Namrata Goswami, pointed out in The Diplomat: “China has strategically preferred to act in ways that go contrary to its signed commitments in the framework agreements. …why does China sign ‘guiding principles’ and ‘framework agreements’ with countries with which it has territorial disputes and then violates the commitment to the status quo enshrined therein? …the pattern in these three cases reflects China’s inability to meet its ‘framework agreement’ commitments, thereby throwing in doubt its seriousness as a reliable negotiator.”
Though one can only rejoice about the disengagement in Doklham, one should not forget these issues which remain alive. More than ever, India should be on its guard.