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India/China: Time to take a Stand

By Rakesh Ahuja

On 8 October, Brahma Chellaney, one of the most intuitive analysts of Indian foreign policy, focusing on China, tweeted that " India 17 years ago formally recognised Tibet as part of PRC. This allowed China to advance its salami-slicing strategy against India, including labelling Arunachal Pradesh as "South Tibet." Its incursions increased. My 2003 piece warned of this scenario."

On 28 June 2003. Brahma’s WSJ article, “India’s Betrayal of Tibet”, observed that Vajpayee had neither learned from Nehru’s mistakes nor was willing to play India’s biggest card against China – Tibet. In essence, India then formally recognised China's annexation of Tibet. The import of that article that is uncontestable.

I am posting this little piece because I now realise that I was on the same page as Brahma at the time. I was then a Contributing Writer to Asian Analysis, a foundling at the Australian National University. My 2003 article is attached. I do so not from an egoic motivation, but to stress agreement with Brahma's views on the Chinese salami tactics - a term first used by Kissinger in his memoirs. Both Nehru and Vajpayee failed to recognise the elementary, Millenium-long  Chinese manoeuvre to keep talking with an adversary while invoking and asserting its growing might and advantage inch by inch. It has always been a classic Chinese negotiating technique of two steps forward and one step backwards, of cutting the salami as thinly as possible.

When will western and Indian strategists learn that the Confucian dictum, popularised by Mao for the Long March, "Every journey starts with a small step" governs Chinese strategic approach to its international relations? This is in contrast to the western linear approach to seek concrete outcomes as quickly as possible – and making unnecessary concessions to do so.

India must reconsider its approach to its toxic adversary in the new geopolitical environment. So far, the Indian bias has been to play footsy under the table with China and not bring bilateral border disputes upfront on the table. While bold words about Indian defence capabilities are broadcast ad nauseum, the fact is that the wound of the 1962 defeat remains embedded in the Indian foreign policy establishment's psyche. It is a lasting fount of an inferiority complex and fears of Chinese oft-repeated threats to “teach India a lesson”, the last time no less than by Xi Jinping in 2017.

Thanks to its obsequiousness, India has lost Tibet as a buffer to Chinese imperialism. Still, Tibet remains a crucial and softly-side-stepped issue - along with Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Taiwan and Hong Kong - not only for India but for the Indian Ocean and Pacific Rim countries. 

India should now internationalise the border issue with China, draw attention to Chinese behaviour at international fora. China delves into history to justify its actions. India only needs to go back to 1947 onwards to recall its support for the PRC as a member of the community of nations, including advocating China’s membership of the UN Security Council (jettisoning Formosa/Taiwan) and supporting it consistently in international fora.  China has never paid a dividend to India.

The Quad is an opportune forum for India. But its inevitable internal constraints – at the recent meeting, members were careful not to mention China by name – is not enough.

If the Philippines can take China to the Hague, why does India not do so? India should broadcast China’s aggressive behaviour from the Himalayan heights.