With a number issues bedevilling India-China relations, Beijing seems to have decided to go for India’s jugular to intimidate it into submission, so that a weakened India tones down its opposition to China’s plans in the South Asian region.
China is constructing a road in a disputed (or more correctly, unsettled) part of the boundary in the tri-junction between Bhutan, Sikkim (an Indian state) and Tibet (a Chinese province). It is threatening to wage war to achieve its objective; and it is challenging India’s status vis-à-vis Bhutan and Sikkim.
By questioning India’s status vis-à-vis Bhutan and Sikkim, China has wilfully drawn India into a conflict in which India’s position in South Asia is challenged. Clearly, the attempt is to change the pecking order in this region.
The bid to alienate Bhutan and Sikkim from India challenges the sovereignty of India over Sikkim, and breaks India’s 2007 treaty-based relations with Bhutan which give it power over the latter’s foreign policy and responsibility for its defence.
The Bhutan and Sikkim issue was suddenly raised by the Chinese Communist Party’s organ Global Times on Thursday. Though an editorial, it called upon the Bhutanese and Sikkimese to revolt against Indian over lordship.
“India has startling control and oppression over Bhutan, and as a result, Bhutan has not established diplomatic ties with its neighbour China or any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. Through unequal treaties, India has severely jeopardised Bhutan’s diplomatic sovereignty and controls its national defence,” the editorial said.
“India imposed a similar coercive policy on Sikkim before. The small neighbour’s revolts over sovereignty in the 1960s and 1970s were brutally cracked down on by the Indian military. New Delhi deposed the king of Sikkim in 1975 and manipulated the country’s parliament into a referendum to make Sikkim a state of India.
“The annexation of Sikkim is like a nightmare haunting Bhutan, and the small kingdom is forced to be submissive to India’s bullying. After independence, New Delhi inherited the brutal colonial policies of Britain and pursues regional hegemony at the sacrifice of tiny Himalayan nations.
“New Delhi’s regional hegemony is swelling to a tipping point. The country has to pay for its provocations,” it declared.
Then in an appeal to the international community it says: “The world should pay attention to New Delhi’s bullying of tiny Himalayan countries. The international community must be aware of Bhutan’s dilemma and prevent India from oppressing this small kingdom.”
On China’s role in this endeavour, it said: “China should lead the international community in restoring Bhutan’s diplomatic and defence sovereignty. Unfair treaties between India and Bhutan that severely violate the will of the Bhutanese people should be abolished. China needs to put more efforts into establishing diplomatic ties with Bhutan at an earlier date as well.”
Hitting where it hurts most
This is hitting India where it hurts most. The India-China border issue has now metamorphosed into something much bigger because it is attempting to bring into India’s “troubled neighbourhood category”, two new entities, namely, Bhutan and Sikkim. Beijing hopes that Bhutan and Sikkim will soon join Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in resisting India, with overt and covert Chinese help.
In the immediate term, Bhutanese and Sikkimese may not respond to Beijing’s call for a revolt, since there are no objective reasons for doing so. But it is conceivable that in the coming years, nationalistic feelings, lying dormant in any distinct ethnic, linguistic, cultural and geographical group, may come out aided and abetted by a powerful China which is in the immediate neighbourhood.
Some misguided Indian policies could alienate sections of India’s own people. An ultra-nationalistic regime driven by the exclusivist Hindutva ideology could attempt to impose Hindu culture on the tribal people of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh and alienate them. The need of the hour, therefore, is the building of unity based on tolerance of diversity and not enforced uniformity.
Meeting with Modi cancelled
On the day Global Times came out with an editorial, Beijing cancelled an upcoming bilateral meeting of President Xi Jinping with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg Germany on 7 July. The “atmosphere” was “not right” for a bilateral meeting between the two leaders, Chinese officials said.
Foreign Military spokesperson Geng Shuang said that India should “immediately withdraw the border troops to the Indian side of the boundary to uphold the pace and tranquillity of the China and India border areas.” Geng also made it clear that withdrawal is “the pre-condition for any meaningful peace talks between the two sides”.
Mao’s Doctrine of Force
This issue, as similar issues before, can be settled by talks or put on the backburner for the time being. But China believes that show of power from a position of strength will help settle issues in its favour. As per Mao’s doctrine, told to Nehru at a meeting in the 1950s, wars have brought desired changes in China and elsewhere.
China has also said that the war it might wage now will be one in which India will meet the same fate as it did in the 1962 conflict, that is, get a drubbing.
While a military confrontation is certainly on the cards, it is likely to be limited in nature as the 1962 war was. Both countries are now nuclear weapon states, which acts as a constraint.
Roots of Beijing’s ire
The ongoing confrontation has more to do with issues other than a road in a disputed area. China’s President Xi Jinping is hell bent on pursuing his trade mark inter-continental roads and ports dream, the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project, and had invited India to join the venture. But India has not only spurned the invitation but has been highlighting loopholes in it to damage China’s international credibility and Xi’s personal credibility.
More specifically, India tried to put a spoke in the wheel by objecting to a road linking China and Pakistan going through what it calls “Pakistan occupied Kashmir” and therefore an affront to India’s sovereignty.
Xi considers India’s campaign against the OBOR as a personal affront because he is hoping write himself into the history of the Chinese Communist Party as the man who took China to new heights after Mao and Deng. Xi is hoping to do get plaudits for the OBOR at the next party Congress which is round the corner. To China’s chagrin, India has placed itself firmly in the orbit around the US, which has stepped up arms supplies to Taiwan in a renewed challenge to China’s claims over the island nation.
Further, India is keeping the pot boiling in regard to Tibet by encouraging the Dalai Lama, who is opposed to Tibet’s absorption into China, to do things which will irritate Beijing. The Dalai Lama visited Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh state, which China claims is part of the Tibet autonomous region of China. And on top of all that, New Delhi allowed American Ambassador Richard Verma to make a well-publicised visit Arunachal Pradesh.
India too has its grievances against China. Beijing is blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and its bid to get Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar banned globally.