Indian threat perception irks Chinese army - GulfToday

Indian threat perception irks Chinese army

China-India standoff

India and China have been locked in a face-off since May last year. File/AFP

Even as Indian and Chinese soldiers on the disputed Himalayan border were digging in to spend the winter in high-altitude camps, the People’s Liberation Army said it had lodged a “solemn representations” with India expressing its “firm opposition” to Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat’s observation that China is India’s biggest security threat.

Gen Rawat had made the observation earlier in the month.

He had also said that mutual suspicion between the two sides was on the rise.

That PLA had objected to Gen Rawat’s observations was revealed by the Chinese Defence Ministry’s spokesperson, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, at the ministry’s monthly press conference.

Col Wu said Gen Rawat’s comments were “irresponsible and dangerous”.

As CDS, Gen Rawat is the highest ranking military official who evaluates the country’s threat perceptions. The PLA said his remarks were a violation of the principle of strategic guidance to which the leadership of the two countries is committed.

There is a short history behind the evolution of this principle.

In October 2013, when Dr Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister, India had signed an agreement with China on border defence cooperation. Its objective was to build mutual confidence and maintain peace along the line of actual control.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an informal summit meeting with President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in 2018.

The joint statement issued at the end of the meeting said they had issued strategic guidance to their respective militaries to strengthen communication in order to build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs.

They also directed their militaries to earnestly implement confidence building measures based on the principles of mutual and equal security.

The strategic guidance principle emerged in the wake of an agreed assessment by Modi and Xi that “the simultaneous emergence of India and China as two large economies and major powers with strategic and decisional autonomy has implications of regional and global significance”.

The two leaders shared the view that peaceful, stable and balanced relations between the two countries will be a positive factor for stability amidst global uncertainties.

They also agreed that proper management of the bilateral relationship will be conducive for the development and prosperity of the region and will create the conditions for the Asian Century.

The vision of the Asian century that the two leaders conjured up faded soon.

In 2020, there were skirmishes between Chinese and Indian soldiers at several points along the LAC in Ladakh and Sikkim. The immediate provocation in most cases was attempts by one side to prevent the other from building new roads and other infrastructure. The PLA had begun construction activity before the Indian army did, and the latter was trying to catch up.

There were forward movements by troops, and these had led to skirmishes and casualties on both sides.

Later, talks were held at military, diplomatic and official levels, and the two sides agreed to withdraw to earlier positions. The pull-back began but has not been completed so far.

India and China are ancient civilisations which saw the rise and fall of several empires. No Indian or Chinese empire set its eyes on the other’s territory.

A dispute arose shortly after India emerged as a free nation and China came under Communist rule, with Beijing refusing to accept the border settlements the British had made. Beijing said the colonial power had imposed them on Tibet when Chinese central authority was weak. It also refused to recognise the British-created North-East Frontier Agency as part of India. NEFA has since been renamed Arunachal Pradesh and given the status of a state.

It came to light later that China’s new regime had built a road from Tibet to Xinjiang through Aksai Chin, a part of the Ladakh region of the former princely state of Jannu and Kashmir.

Hopes of a new era rose when Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, on a visit to India, signed an agreement with Jawaharlal Nehru laying down five principles of peacehul co-existence. But China was not pleased with India’s grant of asylum to the head of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama. The issue which could have been settled through talks soon went out of control and led to a war, which, though brief, proved disastrous for India, which was thoroughly unprepared.

Thereafter it took two decades for the two countries to begin talks on the border issue. The talks are progressing so slowly that four more decades later there is nothing to show. China clearly does not see border settlement a priority issue.

His background that the PLA’s protest against Gen Rawat’s professional evaluation of India’s threat perception has to be viewed. If his observation involves violation of strategic guidance, so does PLA’s response to it.

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