India-China war of words – Daily Excelsior

Harsha Kakar
India- China war of words has witnessed an increase in tempo in March. It commenced with PM Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh to inaugurate the Sela Tunnel, which enhances India’s military capability to counter Chinese aggressive designs. The tunnel, constructed at a cost of Rs 825 crores, at an altitude of 3500 meters will ensure all-weather connectivity for troops deployed in the Tawang sector, negating any advantage the PLA possesses. This construction rattled China as it implied India catching up on its infrastructure advantage. The tunnel was inaugurated from Itanagar due to inclement weather.
The Chinese spokesperson commenting on PM’s visit, mentioned, ‘China strongly deplores and firmly opposes the Indian leader’s visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary. We have made solemn representations to India.’ India responded by debunking Chinese objections, stating ‘Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India.’
The Chinese military spokesperson joined the war of words by commenting, ‘(China) never acknowledges and firmly opposes the so-called Arunachal Pradesh illegally established by India.’ This was again rejected by the Indian Government. This proves that China was rattled by the Sela Tunnel. Objecting to Arunachal visits by any dignitary remains a standard Chinese exercise.
What impacted the Chinese more was sanctioning of Rs 6620 crores for the frontier highway construction in Arunachal, which could alter dynamics of the region. The Chinese spokesperson objected, ‘Before the border problem is solved, we hope the Indian side will not take any action that could further complicate the relevant issue, so as to preserve the current situation of peace and stability in the border area.’ India, as is customary, retaliated.
Dr S Jaishankar, speaking in Singapore, debunked Chinese claims on Arunachal. In response to a question he mentioned, ‘The claims (on Arunachal) are ludicrous to begin with and remain ludicrous today.’ The Chinese spokesperson in Beijing was compelled to respond, ‘Zangnan (the Chinese name for Arunachal Pradesh) in the eastern sector has always been China’s territory.’ What further irritated China was the US Department of State backing India’s claims.
China, increasing its anti-India tirade commented on the Pannun case, backing its arch-rival, the US, on the purported assassination of Khalistan supporter Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Its spokesperson tweeted that India must observe international laws and norms governing international relations. India debunked the Chinese mentioning it is an Indo-US subject. India is aware of China surreptitiously backing the movement by providing it funds.
India took the war of words to the next level in the Philippines, where Dr Jaishankar, backed it in its dispute with China. He stated, ‘I take this opportunity to firmly reiterate India’s support to the Philippines for upholding its national sovereignty.’ The Chinese spokesperson was compelled to retaliate, ‘Maritime disputes are issues between the parties involved, and any third party has no rights to interfere.’
The Global Times, Beijing’s mouthpiece, added to the ongoing conflict of words by stating in an opinion piece, ‘it (Jaishankar’s statement backing the Philippines) was a deliberate attempt by the Indian Government to confuse public opinion, garner sympathy and attention both domestically and internationally, while seizing the opportunity to suppress China and enhance India’s international influence.’
This was quid pro quo for the Pannun comment. The ongoing war of words between the two nations indicates that diplomatic differences are currently here to stay.
China tends to miss the fact that no nation, including its so-called allies, have ever backed China in any of its claims, whether in the South or East China Sea’s, Exclusive Economic Zone delineation with Vietnam or border disputes with India in Arunachal or Ladakh. On the contrary, nations back those whom the Chinese threaten and seek to suppress. This highlights Chinese claims as fictitious. China rejecting the decision of the tribunal on the South China Sea despite it being based on facts and history, claiming it to be biased, further isolated itself.
In Arunachal, Chinese demands have never been consistent. Till 1980, it only sought Tawang claiming it to be a part of Tibet. It expanded its claims subsequently as also began amending its maps accordingly. It disputes the McMohan line with India but accepted the same to resolve its borders with Myanmar in 1960. It rejects the watershed principal adhered to by the McMohan line with India but adopted the same principle in its delineation of Mount Everest with Nepal.
What China adopted as a common strategy in all its claims was resorting to cartographic warfare by renaming areas under dispute with all its neighbours, which have all been rejected. Thus, while India develops Arunachal and legally controls it, China claims it with no logical backing.
Simultaneously, India is closing the military capability as also infrastructure gaps with China. Its induction of technology intensive weaponry, both local and imported, as also alliances with the west have added to capability enhancement. The recent testing of the MIRV capable Agni 5 implies that complete China is within India’s nuclear retaliatory range.
With long-range nuclear weapons held by both nations an all-out classic war between the two is unlikely in the near future. Operations, if any, would need to be restricted in time and space. This is to India’s advantage.
The standoff in Ladakh, entering its fifth year, with no resolution in sight, despite umpteen rounds of military and diplomatic talks, has pushed relations between the two nations onto a downward spiral. India is targeting Chinese companies which have broken Indian laws for the first time. The two Asian giants are currently at loggerheads seeking to gain an advantage in countries close to the other, China in Maldives and Sri Lanka and India in Philippines and Vietnam. India is willing to challenge the Chinese risking a threat of war, aware of realities.
It is in this scenario that India moves into election mode. The Indian Government is aware that any embarrassing incident with the Chinese on the borders could impact election results. It would be exploited by the opposition. Hence, while the Government ensures that it will not permit China to gain a diplomatic advantage, the armed forces must ensure all-round vigilance and force preparedness to prevent any Chinese misadventure from succeeding.
The author is Major General (Retd)

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