The process of teaching India a lesson set in motion by China in 1962 continues unabated till today. If the original lesson was that India should not aspire to leadership in Asia, today the lesson is that India should not stand in the way of Chinese supremacy of the world by aligning itself with the US, Japan and Australia. India should also accept the global dispensation that China has designed and play second fiddle to it. Any sign of defiance will be resented and another lesson administered.
Back in 1962, India's "guilt" was that it had acquired a global status that had appeared formidable. India's independence was a matter of pride for the colonial people around the world and the decolonisation initiative taken by India in the United Nations led to rapid freedom for many of them. They thronged to a new movement, which defied both capitalism and communism. India's agenda for disarmament and equitable development was embraced by the developing world. Together with India's vision of Afro-Asian solidarity, the stature of India appeared to be a future threat to China's secret ambition to dominate the world.
China had its own grievances against India that its claims on the border were rejected by India and that the Dalai Lama was given refuge in India. But the Chinese aggression of 1962, the unilateral withdrawal and the subsequent formalisation of the claims on Indian territory were motivated more by Chinese global designs rather than by the desire to resolve the issues at hand. What we see today is nothing but an extension of a plan hatched by China in 1962 or even earlier.
China’s actions throughout half a century were malevolent to the extreme, without any silver lining. Pakistan was seen as the enemy’s enemy and adopted as an all-weather friend. Come dictatorship or democracy, Pakistan remained the focus of China’s policy in South Asia and beyond. Apart from serving China’s interests, Pakistan grew bold enough to challenge India at every forum and to launch terrorism and even war.
With the rapid progress that China achieved by opening up its market to capitalism and foreign investment, its ambitions grew higher and as it grew into the second most powerful economy and technological hub, it kept an eye on India’s own growth and did everything possible to counter Indian interests. Even on those issues in the multilateral fora, where Indian and Chinese interests coincided, like trade and environment, China did not hesitate to let us down and strike deals with others, as it happened in the case of climate change in Copenhagen in 2007 and Paris in 2015.
The strategy adopted by China was to keep India guessing on its intentions on the border, even after signing a treaty to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border, by moving Chinese troops deep into Indian territory beyond the Line of Actual Control. The timings of these moves were chosen to coincide with significant events involving China and India. The most unkindest cut of all was the Chinese intrusion at the very moment when President Xi Jin Ping was sitting on a swing with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his visit to Ahmedabad. Protests were made when the Indian Prime Minister visited Arunachal Pradesh and they reached a feverish pitch when the Dalai Lama visited Tawang. The introduction of staple visas for the residents of Kashmir was bad enough, but when it was applied to a General, who was posted to Jammu and Kashmir was a clear provocation. In their records, China even reduced the length of the border between India and China to exclude the border in the Kashmir sector.
More recently, China opposed India’s entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group even though it had agreed to the waiver of its provisions at the time of the negotiations on the India-US nuclear deal. Prime Minister’s fervent personal efforts to break the impasse were flatly rejected. China also vetoed the inclusion of an acknowledged terrorist on the UN list without any reason.
The Chinese initiative, the “One Belt One Road”(OBOR) is an open admission of its ambition to dominate the globe with an unparalleled communications network. When country after country fell prey to the Chinese machinations by joining the project, India saw it as a debt trap and imposition of Chinese priorities for development on others. Moreover, the Pakistan segment of the OBOR passed through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), challenging openly India’s sovereignty. Although hints were given that India might consider participating in the conference hosted by China if only the Pakistan segment was excluded from OBOR, China insisted on going ahead with the project as originally designed. India’s absence from the conference became a provocation for aggravating Chinese animosity.
The Doklam crisis may well have been the cumulative effect of the events of the last half a century. Unlike the previous intrusions, the event was staged at the India-Bhutan China tri-junction, the status of which was supposed to be safeguarded by both China and Bhutan till the three countries were ready to settle it. The Chinese argument that India had no locus standi on the issue is laughable because the India-Bhutan treaty specifically gives India the responsibility to assist Bhutan in its defence of its territorial integrity. A special feature of the stand-off in Doklam is the refusal of China to enter into any negotiations till the unconditional withdrawal of the Indian soldiers. Entering direct negotiations with Bhutan, securing the establishment of a Chinese embassy in Bhutan and gradually weaning it away from India are clear objectives of China. Bhutan is the last pearl that China is seeking to add to the string designed to choke India.
Regardless of the way the crisis ends, whether with a bang or a whimper, the Doklam crisis is likely to have grave consequences for India-China relations. China will move from the present phase of asserting itself on important issues to an open confrontation to browbeat India into accepting China’s dominance. India will face the Hobson’s Choice between openly confronting China or acquiescing in the Chinese world view and acting in consonance with it. By choosing the first option, which is most likely, India will find obstacles in the way, leading to demand from peaceniks in India and abroad to come to terms with China. If trump’s US turns a blind eye and Japan also begins to toe the Chinese line, India’s cup of woe will be filled to the brim.
Another conceivable scenario is for India to forge a coalition, which distances itself from China and the US and builds relations with both the US and China like what we did during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. But that is conditional upon an open rivalry between the US and China, leading both to seek friends. Whatever policy we may adopt, the challenge of China will be India’s preoccupation for another half a century.