By Barun Das Gupta
The face-off between India and China is not limited to the two armies at Doko La in the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction. After a long period of hibernation, India is waking up to the challenge of China on all fronts – military, strategic, diplomatic and economic – and trying to make up for the time-lag in quick time.
Efforts are already on to have the heads of state or governments of all the ten ASEAN nations at the Republic Day parade on January 26 next year. All of them will be treated as chief guests. It is a clear signal to China that India is trying to forge closer relations with south-east Asian nations all of which are afraid of China’s aggressive muscle-flexing. The presence of the heads of state will be part of India’s diplomatic effort to counter China’s policy of isolating India from her neighbours.
India has already taken some steps to neutralize China’s growing threat to Indian interests. It has taken up the development of Iran’s Chabahar port to neutralize the impact of China’s taking over of the Gwadar port in Pakistan. If the Gwadar port will ensure China’s footprint in the Arabian Sea on India’s western flank, the Chabahar port will open up for India a direct route to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.
Chabahar is situated on the shore of Oman Sea in Iran’s Baluch-Sistan province. India intends to invest around $20 billion not only to develop the port but also to set up a chain of industries in the vicinity of the port as well.
Mongolia usually does not figure in any discussion centering round Sino-Indian relations. But it is rewarding to look at the way China has treated her northern neighbour. Mongolia is a huge country (15.64 lakh sq. kms.) with a tiny population of just over three million. This is not surprising when it is borne in mind that 12.95 million sq. kms. Of its land area is desert. It is a land-locked country sandwiched between China and Russia and is totally dependent on China. Last November, Dalai Lama went to Mongolia on a four-day visit to address Buddhist worshippers. This raised Beijing’s hackles. When threats and intimidations failed to dissuade Mongolia from cancelling the Buddhist religious leader’s visit, China resorted to outright blackmail.
Mongolia was negotiating with Beijing for an economic assistance of $4.2 billion which it desperately needed to pull its economy out of a deep recession. As a reprisal for Dalai Lama’s visit, Beijing announced a unilateral ‘suspension’ of the aid. Mongolia then turned to India for help. It approached the EXIM Bank of India for a credit of $1 billion to build an oil refinery and pipeline. Ulan Bator estimated that when completed, the refinery project will shore up Mongolia’s GDP by as much as 10 per cent. India responded positively to Mongolia’s request.
Democratic Myanmar is another country with which the Chinese do not feel comfortable. It had excellent relations with the military junta that ruled Myanmar for nearly five decades from 1962 to 2011. But the end of the army rule and the transition to democracy was a development that China was not happy with. Beijing’s closeness to the junta has not made it popular with the Myanmar people. China also does not like Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularly elected government trying to reach out to countries it had earlier no relations with, in order to reduce its over-dependence on China. Incidentally, China is Myanmar’s biggest investor. The overbearing attitude of the Chinese managers in China-aided projects is resented by the Myanmar people.
Against constant Chinese bullying and China’s dual policy of dangling the carrot of economic aid and the stick of stopping the aid flow if any country incurred Beijing’s displeasure, the smaller countries of South Asia are more and more looking up to India.
This Monday, India, Japan and the United States navies began the ‘largest maritime exercise ever’ in the Indian Ocean off the Malabar coast. The exercises will be held for ten days. China is obviously worried. It has said that it hopes the exercise will not be against a ‘third country’. Chinese navy has sent more than a dozen warships including submarines and spy ships. These have been prowling in the waters of the Indian Ocean for the last two months.
The invitation to the ASEAN heads of State for the Republic Day function has to be viewed in this larger perspective.
The face-off between Indian and Chinese armies at Doko La for nearly a month now has underlined one fact – this time India is not going to budge from its resolve of defending its territory and not allow the Chinese any more nibbling. That the Chinese has not tried to push back the Indian troops by force indicates that they are hesitating to risk a military confrontation with India at least for the present. They know that the terrain at the India-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction gives logistical advantage to India and an armed adventure may be risky.
China’s game plan, however, seems far more sinister than merely constructing a road at Doko La. China’s official news agency Xinhua has rejected India’s right to speak or make any claims on behalf of Bhutan. The agency has gone on to call for Sikkim’s independence and separation from India. It has called on Chinese citizens to fuel a pro-independence movement in Sikkim. India should be prepared to face any eventuality and sudden developments in that region. (IPA Service)