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Indian tourists can keep the Chinese away from LAC. Govt must open borders

Power differential with China doesn’t allow us to take back the usurped areas, but habitat across LAC will safeguard India against further loss of territory.

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The formal response of the Indian and Chinese governments to the “discovery” of a newly constructed Chinese village 4.5 km inside Indian territory on Tsari Chu river, Upper Subansiri district, reflects on the current power equation in the high Himalayas. Even our media, barring a few who ran sensational headlines, soberly analysed the historical background, and resigned to the fact that the area had been under Chinese occupation for nearly 62 years since the 25 August 1959 Longju incident — the first physical confrontation between the People’s Liberation Army or the PLA and Indian forces. Our post at Longju was attacked and four Assam Rifles personnel were taken prisoners of war. What followed was an exchange of protest notes, temporary withdrawal by the PLA and reoccupation soon thereafter.

I analyse the implications of contrasting approaches of India and China towards border management and development, and the way forward.

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Chinas response

On 21 November 2020, Ji Rong, spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in India, tweeted  the statement of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing: “China’s position on Zangnan (southern part of China’s Tibet) is consistent & clear. We have never recognised so-called ‘Arunachal’ Pradesh’ illegally established on Chinese territory. China’s normal construction on its own territory is entirely a matter of sovereignty.” No ifs and buts, not even lip service to the 80-year-old dispute and absolute clarity with respect the right to do what it wants to on disputed “claimed sovereign territory”.

Global Times, the Chinese mouthpiece, analysed Indian media reports quoting experts. Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, said that “China and India haven’t demarcated the border line of this area yet. So they cannot accuse China of building a village on the Indian side.” The report also quoted Zhang Yongpan, a research fellow at the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), as saying that “It’s absurd for the Indian government to use this line (McMahon Line) to determine the territory administered by China and India. Indian media should not bring about the issue when the country is still plagued by the serious situation of a COVID-19 pandemic.” This, in my view, also reflects the official line that until the boundary is demarcated, it is China’s right to do whatever it wants in the disputed territory. And it is also clear that since even the maps have not been exchanged, the demarcation is unlikely in the foreseeable future.

In fact, Chinese actions are part of its policy all along its borders. Professor M Taylor Fravel, eminent China scholar at MIT, explained that the village’s construction was part of a Chinese plan of rural revitalisation, put in place in 2017 with a budget of $4.6 billion, and is due for completion in 2020. A total of 624 model Xiaokang (which literally means ‘well-off’) villages have been constructed in Tibet on/near the borders. As per China scholar Claude Arpi, 965 such villages have been constructed since 2015.

The Chinese aim is clear — to ensure border control/consolidation while promoting economic development and tourism. As per Jayadeva Ranade, former RAW additional secretary, the Xiaokang “border defence villages” are also intended to create a buffer along the border (inhabited by people loyal to the Chinese Communist Party and the nation). President Xi Jinping has himself spelt out the theory for defence of border areas: “Governing border areas is the key for governing a country, and stabilising Tibet”. These modern villages are easy to be kept under surveillance via WiFi-enabled devices. And they will provide a secure base for military operations in areas where Tibetan population may turn hostile. In this context, the newly constructed village is significant because it lies, according to Arpi, on the route of the “12-yearly circumambulation of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims around the mountain known as the Rongkor Chenmo.” This pilgrimage had the character of a State ritual for the erstwhile Tibetan government.

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Indias response

In sharp contrast to China’s assertive advocation of the legitimacy of its actions, India’s response was nothing more than acceptance of fait accompli. The Ministry of External Affairs said, “China has undertaken such infrastructure construction activity in the past several years. In response, our government too has stepped up construction of border infrastructure. Government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India’s security and takes all the necessary measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Formally, not a word a word was said to condemn or confirm Chinese occupation of our territory across the McMahon Line. It was a typical weak-kneed response of a weaker power. It was left to the media to dig out the historical facts. Off the record, the details were confirmed by “official sources”. “The Chinese have been holding the area since 1959 and it is not a new development….There were some temporary constructions few years back. They have now done permanent construction there.”

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Intrusions across the McMahon Line/ LAC?

The Narendra Modi government’s failure to acknowledge the Chinese intrusions and occupation of our territory in Eastern Ladakh since May 2020 is inexplicable. More so, when open source satellite imagery confirms the same. Even more intriguing is its failure to even acknowledge the historical occupation of our territory post 1962 by China. When the government does acknowledge, it is to humiliate the beleaguered Congress by broadly referring to the loss of 38,000 square kilometres till November, 1962.

It is time the government formally told the people in detail about our territory under illegal occupation of China. The government must put in public domain maps and satellite imagery showing the International Boundary, Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the nibbling intrusions that have taken place since 1962. Failure to do so will put a question mark on the government’s commitment to safeguard our territorial integrity.

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Open up the borders

It is empirical wisdom that territorial integrity is best safeguarded by infrastructure, settlements and footfall of tourists. This is one reason why China has not secured the 1959 Claim Line in Demchok area. India has a Border Area Development Programme since 1986-87 for security and well-being of the border population. At present, it runs on a meagre budget. Under the project, the government had allocated Rs 783.71 crore in budget 2020-21 for the development of border villages and towns, out of which Rs 190 crore ($2.5 million) were allotted for India-China border. Compare this with China’s $4.6 billion — $1.53 billion per annum for three years for 624 villages in Tibet.

The India-China Border Roads project has been given impetus by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, but it continues to suffer from lack of vision, adequate budget and tardy execution. One only has to compare the open source videos of China Pakistan Economic Corridor roads with our roads to know the difference. Same is true for a number of hydel projects approved for Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

There is also the need to open up the borders for tourism. There is no justifiable reason to hide our borders, other than our poor state of infrastructure getting exposed. No visit to South Korea is complete without going to the 38th parallel, the border with North Korea. The infrastructure and defences are awe-inspiring and a source of confidence for the domestic population. Our people and tourism industry are no less innovative. India can impose entry/environmental taxes on visitors to earn revenue for infrastructure. In addition, the government can also open up the area for mountaineering expeditions and trekking.

We should not take counsel of our fear with respect to China’s reaction. China can do nothing more than what it has already done. We have the capability to stalemate it, which for a bigger power is a defeat.

The power differential with China does not allow us to take back the usurped territories by force. However, keeping the public informed of exact details of International Border, LAC and historically nibbled territories, development of infrastructure, construction of habitat and tourist footfall will certainly help safeguard India against further loss of territory.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. A very good article! India must develop infrastructure and make it suitable for tourism. India has a very good advantage in this respect as LAC is much nearer to the Indian public compared to that of the Chinese. Also China has to pay to its citizens to stay near LAC whereas the Indians don’t have those issues.

  2. Gen Panag should take SONIA ,RAHUL AND PRIYANKA TO this area as tourists so that Rahul does not have to repeat Nehru’s folly that KISANS,MAZDOORS can defend the border better and there is no need for Indian Military to fight the Chinese.

    THE DYNASTY has created so many problems for us that it is difficult to get out of all this. Dynasty kept its interest above India’s. Being corrupt to the core, it deliberately kept the Military weak as it was scared of coups. How China which was behind us in 1950 has become a SUPERPOWER and DYNASTY is still clamouring GARBI HATAO -GARIBI HATAO-GARIBI HATAO to garner votes and regain power by PROTESTS,GHERAOS,AGITATIONS,RASTA ROKO,BANDHS,CHAKKA JAM and even Riots like SHAHEEN BAGH and Hathras and now Farmers protests.

  3. If I may ask how the public will be benefitted if we shout at the top of our voice that China has transgressed in our area. What will the common man can do; Go to border and fight the Chinese .I think Gen is toeing RaGa’s line just to malign Modi as Indians know too well about Himalayan Blunder of 1962. THE DYNASTY’s GIFTS for which India will keep on paying for decades:

    j&k. Stopped advancing Army to occupy whole of J&K. Like an idiot ,went to UNO.

    TIBET.-Surrendered to China and accepted lakhs of refugees and Dalai Lama in India.

    U.N.O .Refused Permanent Membership to Security COUNCIL and gave away to China.HINDI CHINI BHAI BHAI.
    HIMALAYAN BLUNDER OF 1962.Surrendered 40000 SQ KMS to China .Indian army suffered casualties: 1,383 killed, 1,047 wounded, 1,696 missing, and 3,968 jawans captured. .And DYNASTY did not make any effort to retrieve even a millimeter of it. Instead, DYNAST signs a TREATY with CHINA for what, only God knows.
    ‘अक्साई चिन’ : 1962 में चीन ने कब्जा किया.
    ‘काराकोरम पास’ : 1963 में चीन ने कब्जा किया.
    ‘तीया पंगनक’ : 2008 में चीन ने कब्जा किया.
    ‘चाबजी घाटी’ : 2008 में चीन ने कब्जा किया.
    ‘डूम चेली’ : 2009 में चीन ने कब्जा किया.
    ‘डेमजोक’ : 2012 में चीन ने कब्जा किया.
    ‘राकी नूला’ : 2013 में चीन ने कब्जा किया.

    Chori chori embassy mein jata hai koi
    Chori chori trust mein paise mangata hai koi
    Chori chori secret pact sign kr aata hai koi
    Ghar tera paison se laal ho gaya
    Aisa lagta hai tujhe china se pyaar ho gaya

  4. No doubt mighty China threat to even super power but our foreign policy is flip flop to counter Chinese influence over Asian region. Russia always behaves like cat on the wall due to our clout with unreliable USA.

  5. For once, I do not see anything adverse to the present government except the fact that the Government has hidden from us the extent of occupation by China (as have all the past governments done), and also shows a tinge of sympathy for congress. That the borders with china are not demarcated, or that the approach to the border is poor is no State secret.

  6. Wonderful article Let. Gen. Panag. I agree that the best way to counter the Chinese is not by shouting our lungs out in our TV studios but rather by building roads and opening up our border areas to tourists and the rest of the country. We need more such articles where we critically analyze our position as a country rather than mindlessly bashing or praising the government of the day.

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