China worried at India's moves
Border incursion in Sikkim is a part of Beijing’s strategy.
It is the same old story. Media reports Chinese incursion across Indian border; some videos have also been shown. The Indian army denies that any incursion took place. As on previous occasions, China 'warns' India to withdraw its troops from the territory which the Chinese claim to be theirs. New Delhi plays it cool. Even the exact date and time of the face-off are not given. It all creates a feeling of déjà vu. It happened so many times during the UPA regime; it is now happening again during the NDA rule.
But something did happen recently at the Sikkim border. The media did not invent it. And it happened at a time when Prime Minister Modi was meeting President Donald Trump, and there was an expectation that India would strike a big deal with Washington in the defence field. Already, an agreement has been reached with Lockheed Martin to make the deadly F-15 fighter aircraft in India, in collaboration with the Tatas. It is a highly manoeuvrable supersonic plane. It will be added to the fleet of Russian Sukhoi 30 MKI of the IAF. China cannot but feel uneasy.
It may not also be entirely fortuitous that China has, at the same time, taken strong exception to India establishing a dedicated freight air corridor with Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. Islamabad so far has not reacted but Beijing has. The organ of the Chinese Communist Party, The Global Times, has said that the air corridor shows "India's stubborn geopolitical thinking" It has questioned India's intention: does India intend to bypass Pakistan to develop trade with Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries? But the CCP organ has not explained what is there in the Indian move that impinges adversely on Beijing's interests.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has come out emphatically in support of India vis-à-vis Pakistan sponsored terrorism. It has called the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jamat-ud-Dawa as terrorist outfits, and named Nazir Ahmed Chaudhry and Muhammad Hussein Gill as 'specially designated global terrorists". Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen leader Salahuddin has also been declared a global terrorist.
Surely, this is a marked departure from Washington's past policy towards Pakistan, which was one of giving indulgence to a spoilt child. Pakistan can hardly expect any indulgence any longer from the Trump administration as far as terrorism is concerned. No doubt, this is a diplomatic victory for India.
But China has other reasons, too, for getting worried. By now several of its neighbours have got wise to Beijing's policy of economic domination and settling Chinese population in other countries. In Pakistan, for example, China has bought huge tracts of land along the CPEC where Chinese labourers are working. There is a fear that eventually these people will be settled there, adversely affecting the place's demographic balance. Last December, The Nation of Pakistan reported that "Given the current rate of influx of Chinese nationals into Balochistan and after completion of the CPEC, the native population of the area will be outnumbered by 2048." This is old Chinese tactics.
The Chinese are building big projects in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Unable to repay the capital cost to the Chinese, Colombo has been forced to sell huge stakes of the Hambantota port project to the Chinese to lighten the debt burden. Myanmar is another country which finds itself in China's debt-trap. It could not pay back the cost of several big projects built by China, like a deep-sea port in the Bay of Bengal. It has now no alternative other than to sell majority stakes of these projects to Chinese companies.
Thailand also has a problem with China. A multibillion-dollar railway project has been all but stalled. The Chinese and Thai authorities have sharp differences over its funding and feasibility. Thailand is insisting on technology transfer by China, which Beijing is in no mood to agree to. Through all these, the contours of a Chinese brand of neo-colonialism are becoming sharper. Beijing fears that the alienation of these countries from China may draw them closer to India.
China is trying its best to build up a huge navy that can dominate the Indian Ocean Region and the Asia-Pacific Region. This is a strong challenge to India, which has a coastline of 7,500 kms. It has to protect the commercial sea-lanes passing through the Indian Ocean. India was aware of the Chinese challenge early and an ambitious naval project code named 'Project Seabird' was conceived. It was set up at Karwar in Karnataka on the western seaboard. After the completion of phase IIB of the project, the base will be able to harbour 50 frontline warships and will be the biggest naval base east of the Suez Canal.
More recently, India has entered into an agreement with Seychelles to set up its first overseas military base. It will be a naval base developed jointly by India and Seychelles, an island country in the Indian Ocean comprising 115 big and small islands. The Indian naval base will be in the tiny (4.5 sq. miles) Assumption island in Outer Seychelles, north of Madagascar. A powerful radar system will also be set up. It will gather vital intelligence and assist in surveillance operations.
Modi and Trump have announced that India, US, and Japan will hold the 'largest maritime exercise ever conducted in the Indian Ocean' next month. China has reasons to worry. India should anticipate more incursions, big and small, like the recent one in Sikkim, anywhere in the long Sino-Indian border. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)