Opinion Columnists 19 Aug 2017 Doklam: Lessons from ...
Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari

Doklam: Lessons from 1962

Published Aug 19, 2017, 12:24 am IST
Updated Aug 19, 2017, 12:24 am IST
Unlike India, born out of a pacifist freedom struggle, the Communist state in China was created by a civil war.
Representational image
 Representational image

On August 11, at 1659 IST, that corresponds to 7.29 am Eastern Standard Time, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path”. He followed it up by retweeting the US Pacific Command that said its B-1B Lancer bombers armed with nuclear arms are ready  The tweet was in response to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s rhetoric threatening to launch four IRBMs into waters near Guam to teach President Trump a lesson. He was in turn responding to Mr Trump’s promise to release “fire and fury” against North Korea if it persisted in threatening the US. Guam is a US territory in the Pacific. Guess who blinked first in this war of words? Not Trump and not Kim Jong Un, but Xi Jingpin, China’s President. In a phone call the very next day to President Trump, he counselled patience. Now contrast this with Chinese behaviour in Doklam. Ever since the Chinese intruded into Bhutanese territory on the pretext of building a road, and Indian troops prevented them from doing so, the Chinese have been belligerent towards India.  The Indian government's response has been studied silence. Suddenly, all the bluster that is the trademark of this government seems to have disappeared. Sample some Chinese statements. In response to India’s Army Chief saying India was ready to take on China, Pakistan and internal security challenges concurrently, China said: “Such rhetoric is irresponsible. We hope (the) particular person in the Indian Army could learn from historical lessons.” 

Then the Chinese upped the ante further and called the Indian external affairs minister a liar. An editorial in China’s state-controlled Global Times said: “Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj told Parliament on Thursday that “all countries are in India's support”, and said India is alert to the need to protect its security... She was lying to Parliament... First, India’s invasion of Chinese territory is a plain fact... Second, India’s strength is far behind that of China.” On India's Independence Day, Chinese and Indian forces clashed in Ladakh, north of Pangong Tso (lake). The armies pelted stones at each other. Late last month, 10-15 PLA soldiers “transgressed” almost 1 km into a disputed pocket — a mutually agreed “demilitarized zone” — at Barahoti in the Chamoli district of Uttrakhand twice.  Where is this government erring in its engagement with China? While it is true the Chinese beat us in 1962, it is equally correct India gave China a bloody nose in 1967 at Nathu-La. Again, in 1986, by executing Operation Falcon, India outsmarted the Chinese by taking up aggressive positions on Hathung La ridge overlooking Sumdorong Chu, along with other key mountain features beyond Twang in Arunachal. India also deployed T-72 tanks and infantry combat vehicles in the Demchok area of Ladakh and northern Sikkim, forcing the Chinese to back off from the aggressive claims they had started making in the eastern sector.

 

In 1962, India was let down by its friends, specially the Soviet Union, that virtually allowed the Chinese to go ahead with the aggression against India in return for solidarity during the Cuban missile crisis. It was the United States that came to India’s aid in 1962. The USSR, though, more than made up in the 1971 war. The Soviet Eastern Fleet slipped anchor in Murmansk as the US Seventh Fleet steamed into the Bay of Bengal. Writing for the Cold War International History Project, Bulletin 251, on the basis of archival material made available after the collapse of the Soviet Union, M.Y. Prozumenschikov explains the situation in 1962 leading to the Sino-Indian conflict: “The situation changed on October 22, when the speech of US President John F. Kennedy effectively put a tough choice before Khrushchev: conflict, with likely use of nuclear weapons, or retreat. The first scenario threatened the world with catastrophe; the second was acutely painful for the USSR and its leader. Searching for a way out, Moscow turned its attention to Beijing. The experience of recent years made it possible for Khrushchev to hope that, at this critical moment in the battle with imperialism, China would at least momentarily ‘close its eyes’ and support Soviet action. That occurred (at least on the surface) in 1956 during the crises in Hungary and Poland, and in 1961 during the Berlin crisis. For his part, Khrushchev was ready to compromise with Mao on a whole series of issues, including the Sino-Indian conflict.”

 

On October 25, 1962, with war with the US imminent, the Soviet newspaper Pravda published a front-page article approved by the CPSU’s central committee rejecting the position that Moscow had maintained in the course of the Sino-Indian border conflict. The article called the McMahon Line, which New Delhi accepted, “the result of British imperialism”, and legally invalid. Pravda also accused India of being incited by imperialists and said the CPI was sliding toward chauvinism. Moscow’s unexpected reversal was clearly intended as a gesture to shore up the moribund Sino-Soviet alliance in the event of war with the West. The Chinese had a cast-iron assurance from the Soviets that their backs were covered when they decided to open a front with India in 1962. The situation is somewhat similar in 2017. While there is no Soviet Union today and no Cuban missile crisis, there is escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula. The Indian media reports about a strategic partnership between India and the US, with China as the mark, may be nothing more than hot air. Anyone familiar with Washington D.C. knows how distracted the US administration is. The possibility of a deal where China leans on North Korea (its other client state, the first being Pakistan) to roll back its strategic programme in return for the US looking away on the Sino-Indian border, is always within probability. Unlike India, born out of a pacifist freedom struggle, the Communist state in China was created by a civil war. China only understands raw power. Given global power dynamics that India hasn't been able to finesse, if push comes to shove, India may have to fight alone.

 

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