G Parthasarathy

Why China doesn’t clearly define its borders

G Parthasarathy | Updated on July 13, 2020 Published on July 13, 2020

Ground reality: China is acting aggressively against virtually all its neighbours   -  REUTERS

This gives it the flexibility to move into areas it doesn’t control and lay claim to them. India must insist on clarity on frontiers

Barely three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s’ visit to Ladakh on July 3, China’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minster, Wang Yi, called India’s National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, for detailed discussions on measures to de-escalate tensions in Ladakh. India’s official spokesman announced that Doval and Wang Yi had agreed to complete the ongoing disengagement of troops, along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). They also agreed to ensure de-escalation of tensions across the entire India-China border.

This agreement will reduce current tensions in Ladakh. But will it end the repeated violations of the Line of Actual Control, whose contours the Chinese refuse to define or delineate? It would require further negotiations to get China to pull out from the Pangong Tso and other areas occupied by it. This effort would have to be complemented by active international diplomacy by India, which focusses on the dangers of China’s assertiveness, territorial expansionism and intransigence.

One of the major reasons why no progress has been made on removing differences on the border issue is that China refuses to define where, in its view, the Line of Actual Control (LAC) lies, not just in Ladakh, but across the entire Sino-Indian border. This makes exchange of maps on the subject impossible. That, in turn, gives China the flexibility to violate the LAC at a time and place of its own choosing, thereby expanding its frontiers. We should insist that little movement forward would be possible if we do not know the contours of China’s claim lines.

China presently extends its frontiers to areas it never controlled, by surreptitiously moving into such areas. It then lays claim to the land it occupies. This should be brought to the notice of countries across the world, as it provides a clear indication of China’s intentions, of expanding its frontiers, without clearly defining them.

Bi-lateral trade

While continuing talks on the border issue, India will also have to go ahead with implementing measures to make bilateral trade and economic relations with China more equitable. Moreover, given the evident clash of security interests, we cannot have China getting unchecked access to the details of financial markets in India. While we have acted to shut down Chinese apps in the country, there appears to be little or no monitoring of Chinese companies that finance start-ups and other businesses in India. At the very least, the finance deals of even joint ventures of Chinese companies will need careful and regular scrutiny. We would, otherwise, be opening the doors for Chinese financing of activities that may well not be desirable.

Companies from the US, Japan and Europe progressively develop indigenous knowledge and knowhow, by giving Indians a growing role in joint ventures. China, however, has no such inclination. When China’s Ambassador pontificates about the so-called “win, win” projects, he refers to projects that “win” primarily, or exclusively, for China.

The Chinese should be left in no doubt that we expect them to have projects in all areas ranging from road transport to solar energy, with not less than an 80 per cent Indian content. The second generation of higher executives and leaders of such projects should be totally indigenised. India should not accept a predominantly Chinese management presence continuously on its soil, for all China’s business, industrial and financial projects.

India now appears to have decided to adopt a more proactive policy in its Indian Ocean neighbourhood, to counter China’s quest for dominating the region. China backs and even encourages the Oli Government’s moves to redraw Nepal’s borders with India. China also supports Pakistan’s territorial claims on Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi, in turn, should continue supporting the maritime boundary claims of China’s neighbours like Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Leaders of the ten Asean member-states recently demanded that territorial and other differences on the South China Sea should be settled in accordance with the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). China has refused to do so. India will hopefully extend strong backing to the maritime boundary claims of not just Asean members, but also Japan.

Military cooperation

The stage has also been set for closer military collaboration in the Indo-Pacific region. There are clear indications that despite Chinese objections, India will substantially enhance its cooperation with Taiwan, including in key areas like communications and electronics, while keeping its distance from any significant agreement on 5G technology with China’s Huawei.

But India can significantly change the balance of power in its eastern neighbourhood, only if it sheds its earlier reservations in supplying equipment like Brahmos cruise missiles to countries like Vietnam and Indonesia, whose maritime boundaries are being routinely violated by China. Such timidity and diffidence manifested by India is astonishing, given the continuing transfer of nuclear and missile technology by China to Pakistan.

China’s aggressive behaviour has met with a strong response from the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken to his counterparts in France and Germany about threats posed by China to India, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia. The US, has at the same time, deployed two nuclear powered aircraft-carriers in the Indo-Pacific region. While India is expanding politico-military ties and coordination within the Quad, comprising, besides itself, Australia, Japan, and the US, it would be useful if Vietnam and Indonesia are invited for military exercises by the Quad in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, across the Straits of Malacca. Such a cooperation is imperative in the area, which is crucial for China’s vital energy imports.

After the statesmanship shown by Deng Xiao Ping, unquestionably China’s greatest leader in the past century, we are now witnessing a period of prolonged rule by Xi Jinping, who appears determined to make his name in history, by extending China’s maritime and land boundaries through the use of force. One cannot think of any other instance in recent history, when China has acted so aggressively against virtually all its neighbours.

China is losing its lustre globally, from the remarkably rapid economic growth it achieved, thanks to the reforms and vision of Deng Xiao Ping. India will have to fashion its foreign and security policies and is economic priorities, bearing in mind these realities, on the emergence of an expansionist and aggressive China.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

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Published on July 13, 2020
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