Why India Must Counter China’s High-Altitude Land Grab?

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Countering China's High-Altitude Land Grab
Indian PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Twitter
  • China has been effectively using its civilians and consequently army troops to further its expansion into the Indian soil
  • India has failed to deter China and it is crucial for the Indian government to adopt a new stance so as to counter the aggression
  • Strengthening the border police exploring the vast number of economic opportunities will send a powerful message to China

June 17, 2017:

This article is influenced by Brahma Chellaney’s article “Countering China’s High-Altitude Land Grab” published in Project Syndicate. Mr. Chellaney is the Professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. He has also authored nine books. 

The Sino-Indian War of 1962 resulted in India’s loss and China extending its territory inside the Indian border. There may have been no war between the two countries since then, however, the relationship has not improved either.

China and India compete for regional hegemony, aside from China’s regular aggression in the sea and land which makes the South Asian region under constant threat and insecurity. The smaller nations in the region worry as the two largest nations compete.

“For decades, Asia’s two giants have fought a bulletless war for territory along their high-altitude border,” says Chellaney. In his detailed article, the author also says that China is continuing its dream of expansion and “eating away” India’s Himalayan Borderland.

Mr. Chellaney estimates that on an average, China launches one stealth incursion in India in 24 hours. The People’s Liberation Army, the armed forces of the Communist Party of China, is highly active at the border. They seek ways to intrude into the vacant Indian territory with the intention of occupation.

A former official with the Indian Intelligence Bureau said that over the last decade, China has successfully gained an estimated 2,000 square kilometers.

In his article, the author has also elaborated China’s strategy that has been so advantageous. China uses civilian resources at sea in the form of fishermen. Chinese naval forces then push into the ocean and claim the part of the sea. Similarly, on land, Chinese civilians in the form of herders, farmers, and grazers are taken advantage of. Once these civilians have settled in the vacant land, the troops enter the area and establish their encampments. It is indeed remarkable how without firing a bullet China is meeting its objectives.

Although Chinese aggression in the South China Sea has garnered criticism and warnings both from the United States and International Court while the same cannot be said for its aggression on the land. China’s land expansion has gone unnoticed. There is no fuss about it even from the Indian leaders. It seems that Indian ministers are satisfied as long as there are no shots fired from either side.

Chellaney illustrates two worthy examples of this. First, current PM Narendra Modi, recently stated in Russia that even though the two countries have border issues, it is remarkable that not a single bullet has been fired. The foreign ministry of China acknowledges Modi’s “positive comments”.

Secondly, former PM Manmohan Singh has also used this rhetoric when he claimed that the 1962 war with China was the only war the two countries have fought since their 5,000-year history. “What this rose-tinted history failed to acknowledge was that China and India became neighbors only after China annexed the buffer Tibet in 1951,” writes Chellaney.

What the author suggests in his article is for India to adopt a different strategy, having been on the defensive stance for so many years. PM Modi’s narrative of border peace is not as strong to deter the plans of PLA or China.

Bilateral Ties
Bilateral Ties between India and China. Twitter

In Modi’s tenure alone, China has experienced fast-growing trade surplus with India. In fact, it has doubled to almost $60 billion. This boosted China’s confidence, and unfortunately, their assertiveness. Since there is no clear distinction between the Indian territory and the Chinese territory, any incursion by Chinese troops into India is justified by the Chinese as PLA operating on their land. The promise to exchange maps with India in 2001 but that promise was never met.

India’s reluctant yet agreed bilateral ties have furthered PLA’s objectives of functioning in Indian territory.

The rising China is not only assertive on the land and sea but in the financial sphere a well. Chellaney notes how over the decade the country has become the largest trading and investment partner for almost all Asian economies. China is also trusted by the neighbors for “regional security and transport connectivity”. However, as PM Modi has emphasized on multiple occasions, India has a wide scope full of opportunities for India to delve into financial matters of the region.

Also Read: China emerges as one of the fastest-growing sources of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into India

India’s priority should also strengthen its border security to counter PLA incursions. The country’s Indo-Tibetan Border Police commanded by the Home Ministry is under-resourced. It is “a little more than a doorman”. It is essential to train and equip these units under the command of the army to signal China that India is changing its stance. China is more than capable of responding to that with more than just words, while the Indian border police don’t even carry weapons. “With such a docile response, China has been able to do as it pleases along India’s northern frontier,” points out Chellaney. He cites the example of Chinese support to Pakistani military in Kashmir area.

Thus, it is safe to criticize India’s soft tone and accommodating nature. Ending these incursions should be of prime importance to India if it wants Himalayan Peace. Self-praising that there have been no bullets from either side does not amount to India’s borders being secured. We need strengthened security and not what may be sincere words.

By Saksham Narula of NewsGram. Twitter: @Saksham2394