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Mainstream, VOL LV No 31 New Delhi July 22, 2017

India-China Face-off

Saturday 22 July 2017


As we go to press, the result of the presidential contest has been announced. Ram Nath Kovind, the BJP candidate and NDA nominee, has predictably won with 65.65 per cent votes. He thus becomes the country’s second Dalit President after K.R. Narayanan. He has defeated the Congress candidate and UPA nominee, Meira Kumar, who too has secured an impressive number of votes. Put up by 18 Opposition parties, Kumar has asserted that the ideological fight in the presidential poll she had forecast would continue even after this election.

Meanwhile the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the armies of India and China at Doklam (this is the spelling that is being used now) on Bhutan border is persisting for over a month. The tension on the Indian side is mounting as reports of the Chinese side bringing in more troops and holding military exercises in Tibet continue to pour in. The situation is so serious that for the first time the NDA Government felt it necessary to brief the Opposition leaders on the latest situation. The Defence Minister, the Home Minister, the External Affairs Minister, the National Security Adviser and the Foreign Secretery attended the meet. What transpired at the meeting is not known but Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, who briefed the press, made a cryptic remark: “There is no question of India being pushed into armed action.”

The present situation is not of India’s making and whether India will be ‘pushed into’ armed action depends entirely on the Chinese. So far, India has refrained from taking any action that can be construed as ‘provocative’. It has refused even to allow itself to be provoked by the daily dose of threats issued by the state-controlled Chinese media, reminding India of the ‘history’ of the 1962 war when the Chinese inflicted a humiliating military defeat on India.

There are certain new elements in the present phase of Chinese intransigence against India. For the first time Beijing has questioned India’s right to speak on behalf of Bhutan or to defend Bhutanese territory. Again, for the first time, the Chinese have gone back on their stand recognising Sikkim as a part of India and threatened to unleash a ‘freedom movement’ in that State.

The face-off at Doklam has to be viewed in this larger context. From the point where the Chinese are trying to build a road through what is undoubtedly Bhutanese territory, the Siliguri corridor or the so-called ‘Chicken’s Neck’, the narrow strip of land that connects India’s North-East to the mainland, is just 50 kilometres away. A sudden push may well bring the Chinese Army right up to the Siliguri corridor. This will pose a far greater threat to India.

What India needs to do now is, apart from preparing itself for a sudden military offensive by China, to undertake a vigorous diplomatic offensive to expose Chinese intentions to the world community and impress upon the major powers the gravity of the situation. A military confrontation between two nuclear powers like India and China is fraught with a danger of unimaginable magnitude. All options should be explored to avoid such a denouement. The government should walk the extra mile to make the Opposition a part of the decision-making process as far as the present situation is concerned.

China’s ultimate aim is to become the sole hegemon of the world. It believes that by the middle of the present century the US will decline as the sole superpower and China will take that place. The first step in that direction is to establish China’s unchallengeable leadership in Asia. In China’s perception, India is the major obstacle in its path. She has to be militarily defeated, diplomatically isolated and made totally subservient to Beijing in the eyes of the world.

China’s policy-makers obviously do not realise that the international community cannot view with equanimity the prospect of India being destroyed or greatly devastated by China in a war, whether conventional or otherwise. That will create a vacuum, totally upset the international balance of power and make China virtually unchallengeable. China is already looked upon by the smaller Asian countries with fear and suspicion. Most of these countries look upto India with the hope that it will be a source of strength for them.

India has to stand firm in its resolve. While seeking every possible means of settling disputes with China peacefully and amicably, we cannot forswear our right to defend our own territory and the territory of any country we are committed to defend.

July 20 B.D.G.

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