ARTICLES FROM THE SUNDAY GUARDIAN
Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2018.
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am hopeful that a new chapter in India-China relations is about to take off — a chapter that firmly puts an end to six decades of empty rhetoric and ritual, and to the humiliation heaped upon us by Chinese pantomime diplomacy. It has followed a regular and repeated pattern to which we have meekly acquiesced — sugary words succeeded by aggressive border intrusions, followed again by diplomatic bonhomie and VIP visits, and then with another diplomatic or military sting.
Nehru's historical blunders are irreversible, for which our nation was subjected to the humiliation of diplomatic and military defeat, and deprived forever of our natural and established eastern Himalayan defence. But what is inexplicable is why India has persistently allowed itself to be tricked by China, has it learnt nothing from its costly historical blunders, and even today continues to be psyched and intimidated by it militarily, diplomatically and economically. Not just that, we also appear to be happy abettors of China's efforts to weaken and destabilise our country. How else do we explain a trade regime where our trade deficit with China stands at US $9 billion? We have allowed cheap Chinese goods to flood our markets and destroy our local manufacture, and are pampering them with hopes of greater entry without ensuring reciprocal exports.
Certain events give me confidence that this will change. Apart from Narendra Modi's categorical statement in Arunachal Pradesh during electioneering that China should abandon its "mindset of expansionism", while dealing with India, the world has noted the diplomatic significance of invitations to SAARC leaders for his investiture. So too was noticed his first and quick foreign visit to Bhutan. A friendly Bhutan, against whom China also nurses territorial claims, is of important strategic value for India in strengthening our buffers against China. The world has also noticed that the Minister for the North Eastern states is none other than the redoubtable General V.K. Singh, former Army chief, who also doubles up as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. The message cannot be lost. At the recent PSLV rocket launch at Sriharikota, the Prime Minister spoke of developing a SAARC-satellite as a gift for our neighbours to enable them access to applications for development and addressing poverty. He also spoke of enlarging "the footprint of our satellite-based navigation system to cover all of South Asia."
The messages are clear. India cannot remain a static South Asian second liner, but must reach the driver's seat, particularly in the context of China's fast growing lust for all its neighbours' land frontiers and international waters.
I recall a letter written by Sardar Patel to Jawaharlal Nehru on 7 November 1950 regarding the Chinese designs on Tibet. His words resonate with insight, a deep understanding of our national security imperatives, and a prescience, which is as relevant today as it was in 1950 — that the Chinese government had been perfidiously deluding India through pretensions of peaceful intent regarding Tibet, while all along planning an onslaught upon it, resulting in our betrayal of the people of Tibet who depended upon India. Patel was of the firm view that even though we regard ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as their friends, and use the specious excuse that India is an anti-China, Anglo-American crony. Patel warned that the "undefined state of the frontier and the existence on our side of a population with its affinities to the Tibetans or the Chinese have all the elements of the potential trouble between China and ourselves," and predicts that in addition to the our western and north-western threat to security, a new threat has developed from the north and north-east, forcing India's defence after centuries to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously. In these circumstances, Patel requested Nehru to review our military preparedness, internal security and long term defence needs, political and administrative policies, better connectivity and communication for the North Eastern territories, the future of our mission at Lhasa and trade posts in Tibet, and the policy regarding the McMahon Line.
Patel received no reply to his letter, and passed away on 15 December, five weeks after having written the letter. Nehru tilted towards friendship with China, and without holding his ground for India's national security, foisted an agreement on Tibet, accepting that the Indo-Tibetan border had become the de facto Indo-Chinese border. Nehru, in one stroke had undone the meticulous arrangement that the British had put in place for the defence of India.
Nehru writes that "there is far too much loose talk about China attacking and overrunning India. If we lose our sense of perspective and world strategy and give way to unreasoning fears, then any policy that we might have is likely to fail," and what "we should seek is some kind of understanding of China" adding that, "China desires this too for obvious reasons." Could anyone have been more naïve or wrong?
The sum and substance of Nehru's argument was that it was not important to save Tibet, because it would upset the Chinese and the fate of Tibet would be worse than it is now; that the Tibetan Appeal to the UN was not to be supported, because it would "not take us or Tibet very far. It will only hasten the downfall of Tibet." So to appease the Chinese, Nehru decided that Tibet was not to be saved. Ten months later, Chinese troops entered Lhasa. Did Nehru ever reflect after the doomed Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai affair ended, whether the loss of over one million Tibetans, destruction of monasteries and an ancient culture was a better fate for Tibet?
China swallowed Tibet, and India swallowed the Panchsheel tranquilizer. 1962 gave Nehru and his pro-China comrades the death blow, from which Nehru never recovered. My respect for the Sardar rose a hundred fold, as I saw before my eyes his prediction of 1950 completely validated. But ever since then, we have drifted under intimidation of the Chinese, whom we now face directly on our Eastern Himalayan borders. They are waging a multi-faceted campaign against us, military, strategic, diplomatic, economic and psychological, which we have still not learnt to counter. They surprise us with kind words, which we lap up, and then follow with hostile surprises. They ally with Pakistan, lay claims on Arunachal, have stapled visa regimes for areas that are integral parts of India, encroach into our borders, and then swear by eternal peace and friendship. Sometimes, on our own soil they brand us as aggressors. We remain on the back foot, passive and reactive, instead of being bold and proactive, swallow all insult and return to the futile negotiating tables that will go on for eternity, to solve a border dispute that the Chinese have no intentions of resolving.
Our diplomatic relations have appeared utterly imbalanced right from the start. Rajiv Gandhi went for an inexplicable Summit to China in 1988, without stating any pre-conditions on the main vexatious issues, namely, Chinese occupation of our territory, their non-acceptance of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh as part of India, and recognition of Kashmir as a separate region. Rajiv Gandhi was accorded fine hospitality, and was subjected to the strongest and cheapest weapon that China reserves for diplomacy with India, that of deceit and subterfuge, something we have unfailingly succumbed or submitted to.China also relishes hurling insulting and completely hostile surprises at us, particularly during diplomatic events. For example, Foreign Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to China in February 1979 was abruptly cut short, as China chose that exact occasion to militarily intervene in Vietnam. Very recently, Vice President Hamid Ansari was welcomed to China for celebration of the 60th anniversary of independent India's most failed treaty, the Panchsheel Treaty (which we should have been diplomatically ashamed to attend), by an incursion into Indian territory in Ladakh. Hamid Ansari was also honoured with a cartographic display of Chinese maps showing Arunachal Pradesh in China. This is the contempt that China has habitually treated us with. And we continue to show unlimited and passive tolerance of it, verging on to cowardice.
I am a great believer in the Constitution of India. Many of my readers, and perhaps even our Foreign Ministers, may not have been aware of the content of Article 51, which deals with promotion of international peace and security. It says "The State shall endeavour to: (a) promote international peace and security; (b) maintain just and honourable relations between nations; (c) foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised peoples with one another; and encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration."
I have always stated that if the border issue with China cannot be promptly settled by mutual give-and-take at the negotiating table, the dispute must be taken to the International Court of Justice. Both parties run equal risk of an adverse verdict, but this would defang China considerably and can bring about a transformational change in the geopolitics of South Asia.