By Dr. D.K. Giri
Defying predictions by some observers and experts India is participating in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting (SCO) in Russia; at least, I wrote in this column that India should not. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was there, his second visit to the country in the last two months, and met his Chinese counterpart, apparently at latter’s behest. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar has followed to meet his counterpart.
New Delhi perhaps decided in favour of participation for two reasons. One, keep the Chinese engaged in dialogue until normalcy is restored on the LAC and secondly, to have the Russians on our side, even notionally. At any rate, bulk of our defence arsenals still come from Russia. India’s participation in SCO, however, gives mixed signals about our foreign policy. On the one hand, it is in keeping with realpolitik as India is still not ready for a successful military operation to push Chinese back from our side of the LAC. On the other, New Delhi seems to be mixing up dialogue diplomacy with deterrence and use of force, the language the Chinese understand.
Comparing our China approach with our dealing with Pakistan we have ruled out any dialogue as long as Pakistan abates cross-border terrorism. The same logic and principle should apply to China which occupies our territory. We go hammer and tongs on Pakistan as we have a decisive military edge. With China, reverse is the case. Our military and political leadership has been obsessed with Pakistan and has failed to keep track of the upward trajectory of PLA’s military capabilities. Such oversight and deficit could be rectified with renewed and fresh diplomacy.
Alas, on China we have not only fallen short in diplomacy but Ladakh crisis of 2020 has exposed the vacuity of India’s policy-making, whereas, driven by its economic and military power, China’s diplomacy rests on a show of strength and has not time for talks or tantrums. India seems to have no matching answer to this approach.
Coming back to SCO meetings, in Russia, the current meeting is called Exercise Kavkaz-20, where 13000 troops from around 20 countries including eight members of the SCO will participate in a joint military exercise from 15-20 September. It is a saving grace that India decided against sending the troops to this activity where Chinese and Pakistani troops are there.
To recall SCO itself is a Chinese initiative to extend its influence in Russia and Central Asia. It was set up on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai with six countries joining – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. It is broadly called an economy and security alliance. China wanted Pakistan included and Russia lobbied for India partly to counter Chinese domination. As a result, on 9 June 2017, India and Pakistan joined the group.
How ironical that members of a security alliance like SCO largely headed by China are under threat by the same country! SCO meeting is taking place when China and India are in an active military conflict. Again to draw the parallel, India boycotted and scuttled the 19th SAARC summit in the wake of Uri terrorist attack in 2016. India refused to participate accusing Pakistan of its involvement. Yet, India went ahead to SCO in our national interest. Is this approach authentic and practical?
Let us look at Defence Minister’s participation and its outcome so far. Rajnath Singh met Wei Fenghe, Chinese Defence Minister and the State Counsellor apparently on the request of the latter. What is not in public domain is the Russian hand in brokering such meetings on the sidelines of the SCO. But what is the outcome? While both sides profess to maintain the lines of communication both at military and diplomatic levels, the statements before and following the meeting reek of belligerence and obduracy. After the meeting, China said, “India is entirely responsible for the border stand-off in Ladakh and China will not lose an inch of its territory”. It called on India to earnestly implement important consensus reached by President Xi and Prime Minister Modi. They insist on resolving the issues through dialogue and consultation.
The Indian side came out with an equally terse statement, the action of the Chinese troops, amassing of troops, aggressive behaviour, attempts to unilaterally alter the status quo wherein violation of the bilateral agreements. It added, “There should be no doubt about our determination to protect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. As a part of diplomatic platitudes and New Delhi’s sincere wish to settle the dispute peacefully, it added, “the two sides should continue their discussion including through diplomatic and military channels for full restoration of peace and tranquillity along the LAC.
Foreign Minister Jaishankar has been consistently maintaining and urging that the two countries should resolve their issues diplomatically. In fact, should it happen, that is the best course. A bloody conflict is not good for either of the parties. But do we really comprehend Chinese diplomacy? Going by our historical experience we have either been betrayed or gulled by the Chinese.
Before we touch on the art of Chinese diplomacy what is the issue that challenges our strategic ingenuity at present. Talks between our forces have reached the fifth round. From the military sources de-escalation or pulling back – including tanks, artillery, air defence equipments and other weaponry will only happen once the Indian army reconciles to the PLA’s new position on the ground. New Delhi finds it hard. In the past four months, starting from May, China has moved LAC in to Indian territory from 4.5 km in places.
On Chinese diplomacy, they follow the legendary strategists Sun Tzu, the author of the Art of War. He has given a lot of clues to tackle the enemy. One that China seems to follows vis-a-vis India is, “the whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he cannot fathom our real intent”. We have Chanakya. Understanding Sun Tzu, will certainly stand in good stead for Indian diplomacy. So far, we have adhered to Indian ethos and principles, but not responded effectively to Chinese strategy. Are we short of China hand in South Block?
Chinese are known for salami slicing of others’ territory. They would nibble away land and offer to negotiate, that too, in a mode of two steps forward and one step backward. They are on a similar tactic in Eastern Ladakh. Sitting snug on Indian territory around Ladakh – covering the entire Arch from Depsang to Demchok – Beijng waits for a blink from Delhi. All these talks for them are facade. The Chinese Defence Minister wanted to meet our Rajnath Singh to tell the world that they are interested in dialogue. To sum up, Indian diplomacy must engage beyond bilateralism with China. Even in military option, Indian should not be one-to-one with China. New Delhi must draw the attention of the world and join others in calling China a threat to world security. It should, along with other countries play the Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong card, even talk about other territories like Yunnan and East Mongolia occupied by China. Like Hitler picked on Poland first in the Second World War, India should project itself as an innocent victim of Chinese aggression. If the world keeps quiet the bell will toll for them next. One wonders why India is reticent on globalising the Chinese nefarious aggression on our border?
The author is Prof, International Politics, JMI