Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Sino-Indian border talks have been roiling like a long-brewing ginger-tulsi kadha––becoming bitterer in taste with each passing moment. If only the potion seethes well, might India and China accrue long-term health benefits from it. The outcome of the sixth round of talks doesn’t indicate that; it is another case of the same old wine being served in a new bottle––still focussing on defusing tensions.

The bad broad nibs…

Talks, and more talks, are in the offing––uncertainty and unease on the border have been prolonged. Divining the prospect of peace by reading tea leaves might not be possible since, mutually piqued, Modi and Xi are less likely to meet over a cup of tea in the near future. Yet I have been overzealous about the future.

Would the Queen––whose representative caused this Sino-India border problem by using some bad broad nibs to draw the region’s map––help foresee the fate of the subcontinent? Out of curiosity I tossed a Victorian era silver coin hoping to get some answers––war or peace; withdrawal or long drawn standoff….? When judgement becomes difficult, I have started believing in the predictions guided by a coin with the British monarchy on its face for they (the Brits) are at the root of most of the world’s problems of today. And lo and behold, the coin I tossed, bounced off the road, missed a drain narrowly and ended up through a perforated concrete lid into a bottomless well meant for rainwater harvesting. Now sealed some fifty feet below the earth’s surface, is (the much sought knowledge of) the future of this great country.  

Wooing and claiming territory in Africa

Rankled, I had almost decided to take a break from this Sino-India affair for a while when I saw Champagne––the wretched stray I introduced to my worthy readers in an earlier post titled, China’s Champagne Moment.” Those familiar with that dog’s demeanour will recall that, like China he had been claiming territory that was not rightfully his until one day, when other dogs got together and taught him a lesson. Through Champagne I had projected Beijing’s doom.

My forecast has not come true yet; it has not been proved entirely false either. Several countries, with the US in the forefront, have been striving to settle their scores with China. The anti-China sentiment is simmering with greater intensity now than ever before. And ever since I wrote that piece, Champagne has been behaving even more like China. Rather than fighting with the dogs in the neighbourhood, he has been trying to travel far and wide and woo the dogs he sees sitting on any kind of resources. The other day I saw him wooing a black dog at a construction site. It felt as if China were wooing Africa.

An anthropomorphised Lisa

Then two strikingly strange and unusual things happened.

One, Lisa, another dog appeared on the scene. She became popular with all the dogs in the area. They aligned with her as much because of her friendly demeanour as for the reason that they wanted someone to stand for them against the aggressiveness of Champagne.

Learning to K-O-W-T-O-W

Two, around the time the last round of Sino-Indian border talks concluded, Champagne was seen practicing ‘kowtowing‘… yes, K-O-W-T-O-W-I-N-G.”

Reverting to China. Behind the façade, Beijing is succumbing to the pressures created by several countries going against it and this is evident in its slowly eroding belligerence. In the last few days, since the standoff at Pangong Tso, China has not reacted with use of force, instead it has spent time at the negotiating table with India. This doesn’t go with China’s past stance and responses to such issues. Reasons for its restraint are better known to Beijing; others can only hazard a guess.

Meanwhile, Indian leadership has not been resting on its oars. It is trying to find the best way to the dragon’s heart out of the so many routes available. One is direct––from Delhi to Beijing. The other is from Delhi to Beijing via one or more of––Washington, Ottawa, Paris, Berlin, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Canberra, Tokyo, Manila, the sea in the South of China (some people erroneously call it South China Sea), Malacca, Strait, Hong Kong, Taipei, Lhasa, Xinjiang, et al. Needless to say, in the present circumstances, Xi Jinping will be pleased to meet Modi’s emissary travelling direct from Delhi to Beijing rather than following a circuitous route.

In the present situation, either China has nothing to say (less likely), or it doesn’t have the words to say, what it wants to say. Therein lie the reasons for no tangible progress in the talks and no further escalation in hostilities. Therein also lies the reason why Xi Jinping, like Champagne, might as well go indoors and refresh his Kowtowing skill––one doesn’t know when he’d need to fall back on the benefits of the ancient Chinese practice.

India would do well to prepare the ESCAPE HATCH for the dragon’s graceful exit.

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

[This follows from an earlier post: “Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface”]

News from India-China border isn’t very encouraging. Last month end situation became volatile in eastern Ladakh after India thwarted a Chinese attempt to occupy Indian territory near Pangong Tso. As it stands, India has occupied a number of strategic heights on the southern bank of the lake and strengthened its presence in other areas in the region. India has also rushed in additional troops and military hardware to the region.

The diplomatic and military level talks to ease tensions have failed. Also, nothing worthwhile emerged from the interaction between the Defence Ministers on the sidelines of the SCO Defence Ministers Meeting in Moscow on September 4, 2020. The probability of the success of a similarly planned meeting between the External Affairs Ministers scheduled on September 10, 2020 hovers closer to zero than 1. The reasons are understandable. India, having occupied positions of tactical advantage in Ladakh will be approaching the dialogue with a little more bargaining power than it usually does. China might want this status to change before discussing contentious border issues. Besides, unlike the Indian representatives who are empowered to take decisions, the Chinese representatives at such meetings are not authorised to take decisions.

Meanwhile, following reports of Chinese troops firing warning shots in Ladakh, troops on either side are on the razor’s edge. There are ominous signs that after having made relentless vain attempts at negotiating peace, the political leadership on both sides might pass on the baton to the military to ‘handle’ the issue.

‘War-mongering’? May be. Or, is it ‘wisdom’? Wisdom wrung out of the experience of 1962, which points at the dire need of military preparedness of a high order and readiness to deal with a belligerent neighbour.

Among others, one dimension of military preparedness is existence of support infrastructure along the border. Several projects related to new construction (and development of old ones) of roads, runways, helipads, ammunition dumps, logistics nodes, transit camps and military hospitals etc are under way. These projects are unprecedented and are to Beijing’s chagrin. Once ready, they will bolster India’s war fighting ability considerably. This will force China to invent alternate ways to breach India’s defences. That, in turn, might give rise to the need for India of developing more new infrastructure.

The dire need to create infrastructure in times of crisis is a recurring issue. In 1947, service personnel and the refugees led by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh built a 600-yard runway at Poonch in six days. In another case, tonnes of barbed wire were airdropped to barricade the advancing Chinese (Sino-India War 1962), even as troops were engaged in fighting. Whether it served the intended purpose, is doubtful. During the Berlin Airlift, building from a scratch 17,000 Berliners––men, women and children­­––worked in 8-hourly shifts to construct a runway at Tegel. Those (Poonch and Berlin) were cases of people rising to the occasion.

US Navy’s Construction Battalions (CBs) better known as Seabees have institutionalised speedy creation of infrastructure in times of crisis––a desideratum for fighting forces. Formed following the attack on Pearl Harbour when the task of turning imminent defeat into victory seemed almost insurmountable, the Seabees are very well equipped teams renowned for building bases, bulldozing and paving thousands of miles of roadway and airstrips, and accomplishing numerous other construction projects in different war zones since World War II. They constructed six 8500+ feet runways at the rate of one runway per 53 days; over 18 kms of taxiways; hard-standing to accommodate over 400 bombers, and accommodation for 50,000 personnel and office complexes, on the islands of Tinian and Saipan in a record time of less than a year during World War II. Seabees have been deployed around the globe supporting a variety of humanitarian missions and contingency operations. They were among the first forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks to upgrade and repair airfields.

To sum up, it is humanly impossible to make the long borders physically secure. While creation of border infrastructure does go a long way in securing the borders, it is also an endless process. There’s a case for creating teams of experts that can undertake rapid construction work of any type, anywhere, anytime: during wartime or during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic has rendered a large number of ‘experts’ jobless. It should be possible to enrol volunteers to be employed and paid to serve ‘when the need arises’.

The need could be round the corner.

Other posts in the series:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?