G Parthasarathy

A game of Chinese checkers

G. PARTHASARATHY | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on November 15, 2013

Matching China, step for step.

With an assertive China stepping on our toes, New Delhi can’t merely sit back and watch.

Rarely in history has a country moved from rags to riches and from relative isolation to a power either feared or respected, as rapidly as China.

The process began after Deng Xiao Ping assumed the reins of power. Bent on overturning a Communist system which had perpetuated poverty, and all but throwing the slogans of Marx, Lenin and Mao into the wastepaper basket, Deng proclaimed: “Poverty is not socialism. To be rich is glorious”.

What followed were policies that produced a sustained, near double-digit annual growth rate for over two decades. Recognising that an economically backward and militarily weak China should bide its time before asserting itself internationally, Deng proclaimed: “Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile. Never take the lead — but aim to do something big.”


China’s rise over the past quarter of a century has been remarkable. But, historic traits of chauvinism and the dynamics of socio-economic transformation are inevitably having an impact on China’s behaviour.

The contradictions between an increasingly open economy in an era of expanding global communications, on the one hand, and corruption and venality that characterise the behaviour of dictatorial elites on the other, are producing social and economic tensions. These tensions can get out of hand if not addressed deftly. Like all other dictatorships facing such challenges, China’s leadership is increasingly resorting to jingoism to divert the attention of its people.

The message to the people of China is that, with its growing military might and economic power, China is set to share global pre-eminence with the US and will overtake the latter soon in economic power. This has been coupled with bullying and coercion of neighbours to enforce claims for territorial expansion.

China seeks to enforce its outrageous territorial claims on its maritime boundaries with countries such as Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam through coercion and intimidation, while showing scant regard for the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). Regionally, it uses its economic clout in Asean, to divide its members, on its maritime boundary claims.


It refuses to behave transparently or equitably with its lower riparian neighbours, on its upstream utilisation of the waters of the Mekong River. It suddenly upped the ante on its border dispute with India by laying claim to the whole State of Arunachal Pradesh, just after Prime Minister Wen Jiabao inked an agreement with New Delhi in 2005, in which it was agreed that: “The India-China boundary should be along well defined and easily identifiable natural geographic features”.

The “well defined and easily identifiable natural geographic features” in the Ladakh sector lie along the Karakoram Mountains up to the Indus River Watershed. Areas which China brazenly intruded into in April like Depsang and Chumar clearly lie on the Indian side of this boundary.

It is here that India has walked into a diplomatic quagmire, as Agreements on Peace and Tranquillity along the “Line of Actual Control” allude to a “Line” whose delineation China refuses to spell out clearly, by exchanging maps. This enables China to lay unsubstantiated claims to territories it intrudes into, disregarding past agreements. Prominent Indians like Stopden from Ladakh and former IB Special Director Ravi, have spelt out details of how such Chinese intrusions have changed the situation on the ground in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, to India’s disadvantage. In future border negotiations, India should forcefully refer to the 2005 “Guiding Principles” as the fundamental basis for addressing and resolving the border issue.

The Agreement on Border Cooperation recently signed on October 23, only puts India in a more disadvantageous position. Its Article VI prohibits India from “following or tailing” Chinese patrols after they intrude into areas India asserts as being on its side of the Line of Control. Technically, the Chinese can now intrude into the Tawang Area which they have long claimed, or choose to move across the Karakoram Range, and then could well demand that our patrols do not follow them.

The Agreement moreover requires us to provide advance intimation of aircraft flights. We are building air bases in Daulat Beg Oldi and elsewhere along the LoC to improve logistics. Are we going to provide advance intimation to the Chinese every time our aircraft fly to these airbases?


Nine so called “agreements” were signed on October 23, most of which have only symbolic value. The only agreement showing some movement forward was on river waters, where the two sides have agreed to enhance exchange of information on river water flows, while acknowledging that “cooperation on trans-border Rivers” will “strengthen the strategic and cooperative partnership”.

Whether this will entail Chinese restraint on diverting the waters of the Brahmaputra is questionable, given their behaviour with lower riparian States on the Mekong Basin. The harsh reality appears to be that we appear to have persuaded ourselves that discretion is the better part of valour, in the face of Chinese intrusions.

India is hamstrung by China’s vastly superior communications along the borders and its present inability to mount offensive operations, because of the delays in acquisitions.

India inked an agreement on “Equipment Service Centres” for Chinese power equipment. The real strategic challenge we face today is, however, Chinese dominance of our power and electronics sectors. Import of electronic equipment today amount to $32 billion. Energy and cyber security cannot be guaranteed by facilitating Chinese imports, but by devising policies to enhance domestic manufacturing capabilities and giving Indian industry due tariff protection.

It’s a pity that the recent Summit was not used to make our concerns known to the Chinese on how their supply of plutonium reactors and reprocessing facilities to Pakistan has endangered nuclear security in South Asia. On the positive side, however, the Prime Minister, while speaking earlier at the East Asia Summit, welcomed the establishment of an expanded Asean Maritime Forum for “developing maritime norms that would reinforce existing international law relating to maritime security”. He thereafter pledged to enhance strategic cooperation with Indonesia.

Prime Minister Li Keqiang followed his visit to India by visiting Pakistan. Manmohan Singh could perhaps have reciprocated by stopovers in Tokyo and Hanoi, after his visit to China.

(The author is former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

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Published on November 15, 2013
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