Economic and military strength go together. Without economic prosperity, there can be no military strength and without military strength, there can be no economic prosperity.
That was, in short, the theme of the observations of President Mr Hu Jintao on China's defence policy in the report presented by him, in his capacity as the Party Secretary, to the recently-concluded 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). He described the responsibility of the armed forces as to obey the party and serve the people. He called for national defence with Chinese characteristics and the continued implementation of the concept of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) with Chinese characteristics. However, he did not explain what those Chinese characteristics are or should be.
He called for an integrated attempt to make the Armed Forces more revolutionary, modernised and standardised. He also called for the acceleration of the mechanisation and computerisation of the Armed Forces and said they should be made capable of winning IT-based warfare.
Mr Hu said : " We are determined to safeguard China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and help maintain world peace." No one can object to this formulation provided the term territorial integrity means the integrity of the territory which constitutes China today. The problem which India faces in its relations with China arises from the fact that the Chinese speak of territorial integrity in the historical and not contemporary sense. Their concept of defence of territorial integrity includes not only the territory which is part of China today, but also which was, according to them, part of China historically and had been taken away from China by colonial powers. Under this category come India's Arunachal Pradesh and certain other territory in the Western sector of the Indian border.
While there was no reference to the not-forward-moving Sino-Indian border talks during and in the margins of the Party Congress, Indian media reported just before the Congress, recurring instances of innumerable border intrusions by the Chinese troops. Two of these incidents are of worrisome significance. The first was an intrusion into Bhutan and the second was about the Chinese raising a pro forma objection to the Indian construction of two military bunkers inside Indian territory in Sikkim.
Apparently in its ill-advised anxiety to avoid any public airing of concerns before the visit of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the President of the Congress (I), to China and the expected visit of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to China later this year, the Government of India has sought to play down the implications of these intrusions and to project them as unintended consequences of the differing perceptions about the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
One lesson which India learnt from its experience of dealing with China before the Sino-Indian war of 1962 was the folly of treating Chinese transgressions as unintended. There has always been a method in China's transgressions, which are meant to assert periodically its territorial claims and exercise pressure on India to make territorial concessions.
Despite the positive spins put out by the Govt. of India from time to time about the progress supposedly being made in the border talks between the two countries, it is clear that the Chinese are determined to get satisfaction on their claims to what they project as southern Tibetan territory in Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, they look upon the entire Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet.
Their troops objecting to our Army constructing two bunkers in our territory in Sikkim cannot be dismissed as a minor incident of no consequence. The Chinese have de facto conceded Sikkim as a part of India by saying in 2005 that "Sikkim no longer constitutes a problem between the two countries". A de jure formalisation of this position will come only when the border talks lead to a settlement. Their renewed activism -- even if verbal-- on the border in the Sikkim area is an indicator that they might reverse their de facto concession on the status of Sikkim, if India does not transfer at least the Tawang Tract in Arunachal Pradesh to them. The Government of India will be repeating the pre-1962 follies if it relapses into the pre-1962 practice of playing down Chinese transgressions and volunteering to provide to the Chinese rationalisations of their transgressions.
In my previous articles, I had referred to the projected good behaviour of the Chinese in the months running up to the Olympics, but this has not prevented them from maintaining their campaign against the Dalai Lama and continuing with their policy of calculated border incursions to assert their claims. This underlines the need for our pressing ahead with our policy of military modernisation, improving our infrastructure in the border areas and revamping our intelligence apparatus so that it recovers the China-dedicated capabilities imparted to it after 1962, which have been allowed to rust since 2000.
One does not wish for a military confrontation with China. It will not be in the interest of either country. However, if a confrontation comes about, it will be on the land and in the air across the land border and not in the seas. In our eagerness to give a power projection capability to our Navy in the seas to the East of India, the Government should not be remiss in the exercise of its responsibility for giving the Army, the Air Force and the intelligence agencies the required capability for the protection of our territorial integrity.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.