‘Chinese troops are not geared to fight Indian troops who are battle hardened and acclimatised and are far more hardy.’
“China is in a Catch-22 situation. We are in turn facing an unprecedented challenge, our countrymen must stay united in this hour of crisis to face our enemies squarely and boldly,” says Lieutenant General Sanjay Kulkarni (retd), PVSM, AVSM, SC, SM, VSM (Retd).
The General commanded a brigade and a division on the Line of Actual Control and was decorated with the Shaurya Chakra for leading his platoon to unfurl the Tricolour in Bilafondla on the Siachen Glacier.
General Kulkarni discussed the origins of the India-China border dispute and why the Chinese have to be dealt from a position of strength with Rediff.com‘s Archana Masih.
There has been so much coverage of what is happening on LAC for the past 7 months, what is your understanding of the situation on LAC and how we have arrived at this stand-off?
There is a historical baggage to India-China relations. The problem manifested after 1949, but has its roots in the past.
The Chinese have constantly changed their goal post with the passage of time. They consider themselves as the centre of universe, and had at one time about 20% of the world’s GDP and are slowly inching towards that.
The Chinese have a long tradition of recording history, unlike many other countries where a lot of the past is passed down as memory or improperly recorded.
The Chinese past was handed down from one dynasty to another by the same people in the same language and context. Unlike India, where we have had different sets of rulers — the Mughals, the British and then the history after Independence.
Each period put its own stamp and influence on what history was recorded and how it was told.
The Chinese extended their empire by annexing Mongolia, Manchuria, Xinjiang, Yunan and Tibet. They want to show the world that ‘this is what we are.’
China is also a very populous State. The belief ‘might is right’ came from the fact that they had a huge Han population.
When did China’s interest start clashing with India’s?
India accepted territory that was handed over by the British at the time of Independence. In 1949, when Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China, they felt that the territory Indians had got from the British did not have their consent.
The Chinese felt they had a long history of humiliating treaties that they had been coerced to sign with the Japanese, British etc.
The British did not feel threatened by the Chinese, but the Russians. The Simla Convention between Great Britain, China and Tibet in 1914 about the status of Tibet was endorsed, but not confirmed by China.
The British then got occupied in the First and the Second World War and the Chinese revolution started in 1921. Nobody questioned and Survey of India published a map showing the McMahon Line as the official boundary in 1937.
Till India got independence in 1947, Tibet enjoyed almost sovereign status. The British were happy that their empire ended at the Himalayas on one side and the ocean on the other.
The problem started after India and China became nation States in 1947 and 1949. Mao believed that power flows from the barrel of the gun. The first thing China did was extend its empire to Xinjiang and then to Tibet.
As a result of the annexation of Tibet in 1950, China became India’s neighbour for the first time.
Historically, India and China had great relations as long as they were not neighbours. Fa Hien, Huen Tsang, trade through the Silk Route… The two countries had healthy trade and spiritual relationship while the Himalayas served as a natural barrier.
But when India accepted annexation of Tibet as part of China, the Chinese started laying claim to territories that were not theirs and disregarded the treaties.
The Chinese signed a number of treaties with the British, but did not honour any of those treaties after 1949.
The People’s Liberation Army and the Communist party have disregarded all treaties from 1949 up till the present time and have lost all goodwill of India earned since centuries.
After signing Panchsheel in 1954, Zhou Enlai laid claim to Ladakh and NEFA. 38,000 square kilometres of Indian territory is under China’s occupation in Ladakh and China claims another 90,000 sq km in Arunachal Pradesh. There are similarities between what happened before 1962 with the actions in 2020.
There is a point in the Karakoram Pass which has been accepted by the Chinese historically as a boundary between India and China (Tibet Autonomous Region). Aksai Chin is historically part of India.
The Chinese built a road in Aksai Chin to connect Xinjiang in 1956 when India could not patrol those difficult areas. The Chinese quietly built the 179 km long G 129 road passing through Aksai Chin connecting the western part of Tibet to Xinjiang.
After constructing that road, they conveyed to India that the territory of Aksai Chin belonged to them. The Chinese have since then improved their infrastructure in Tibet but would not allow us to do the same.
The dispute became more complex and the trust deficit started from thereon?
The real problem between India and China actually started from there, Pandit Nehru probably aware kept to himself hoping he would be able to resolve it with China.
The last letter of Sardar Patel in November 1950, before he breathed his last to Nehru highlighted that China has now become a neighbour and its language is not that of a friend, but that of an enemy.
The first time Nehru informed Parliament was in 1959 when he told the members that the Chinese had occupied a part of India and that there was a dispute in Ladakh and along the McMahon Line.
The first clash with the Chinese happened in 1959 in Longju and then, of course, the full-scale India-China war of 1962.
Subsequently, Deng Xiaoping opened the Chinese economy to foreign investment and realised India was a huge market.
The Chinese wanted to improve relations with India to enable it to grow economically and keep the border dispute unresolved, the Peace and Tranquillity agreements were signed between the two countries after Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China.
Deng believed there was no shame in being rich which lead to establishing autocratic capitalism in China.
Pakistan uses terrorism as an instrument of State policy while China resorts to wealth earned from autocratic capitalism to encourage Pakistan to do so.
Pakistan and neighbours of India are being cultivated by China as proxies of China to keep India boxed in South Asia. India, a democratic country is surrounded by hostile nations.
China’s one point agenda is to keep India under check and not let it grow and use democracy to create internal and external troubles by using its deep pockets.
When Zhou En Lai visited Pakistan in 1963 he told Ayub Khan that Pakistan would never be able to match India, but it can keep India tied down by proxy war.
The advice was executed by Pakistan and it preferred to cede the Shaksgam Valley to China to build a sweeter than honey relationship with it and they built the Karakoram highway for an access to the Indian Ocean.
It has been an extended standoff on LAC. How do you see the next few months ahead as far as the two armies are concerned?
The two armies will remain in eye ball to eye ball until there is a change of mindset in CCP. The very fact that they have changed the status quo unilaterally shows that the Chinese mindset will not change and that they have an hidden agenda and are looking for an opportunity.
They have done it before with the explicit approval of Xi through the transgressions in Demchok, Depsang, Chumar , Doklam  , Eastern Ladakh and in Naku La in Sikkim .
This was a long time coming. The Chinese were pressurising India slowly and steadily to give in to their expansionist design.
China can only be dealt from a position of strength.
Sun Tzu has said the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without a fight. This is what the Chinese are doing. They have positioned 60,000 troops along the LAC with artillery, armour, air defence, aircraft/choppers, UAVS, missiles etc.
Why would they do this against a country like India that was not going to attack China and with which it had a robust trade touching 100 billion dollars?
But now that China has been belligerent, India has to show a credible military deterrence. We need skilful diplomacy and economic strength. We need to lower our dependence on other countries for the security of our country.
Therefore, the policy of atma nirbhar is very important. India needs to be self sufficient in terms of security, technology, food, health etc, especially given the scenario that China is competing with the USA for global leadership.
A war between the US and China will be a long distance war fought with missiles and aircraft, but a war with India will be fought between troops on both sides the the LAC. That is where China is in a disadvantageous position.
Chinese troops are not geared to fight Indian troops who are battle hardened and acclimatised and are far more hardy.
The PLA soldier fights for the party, he is a conscript who serves for 2-3 years and the situation is further compounded by his being the only child of his parents.
- Standoff in Ladakh
For the Indian soldier it is a profession. he is more determined to defend the territorial integrity of the nation.
China needs all the technology to help, sustain and motivate their soldiers.
China is in a Catch-22 situation. We are in turn facing an unprecedented challenge, our countrymen must stay united in this hour of crisis to face our enemies squarely and boldly. China cannot be trusted.
- Part 2: ‘Chinese are looking for a moment of weakness to teach us a lesson’
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com
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