M.L. Sondhi

Organiser, January 15, 1989

The lack of any tangible progress in resolving the border question at the Beijing Summit must come as a severe shock to Indian public opinion which had pinned high hopes on a break through as a result of publicity in the official media.  It is now clear that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his advisers have gravely miscalculated and India has suffered loss of prestige and setback in its negotiating position.  The Chinese have once again shown their prudent determination to pursue their hegemonic aims while Rajiv Gandhi’s appraisal of our Himalayan security prospects is full of ambiguities and unanswered questions.

The unfortunate tenor and contents of Rajiv Gandhi’s remarks on Tibet amount to an official endorsement of the Chinese actions for making Tibet a formidable military base against South Asia.  By his ominous silence it would appear that he has given his approval to the Chinese deployment of nuclear weapons in Tibet, and his threatened curbs on the political activity in favour of Tibetan rights can only be perceived as his abetment of the repressive and dictatorial system that Beijing has imposed on the Tibetans.

Instead of evolving a general consensus on India’s China Policy, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi has made a number of gratuitous and flippant remarks which are anathema to the Indian Public.  Clearly China has retained its options for a situation like that developed in 1962 and their military strategists are ready for a variety of contingencies.  They have also used the charm offensive of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai and the Pancha Sheel declaration to induce a more “relaxed” atmosphere which in fact will induce a pattern of military restraints on India without undertaking serious any meaningful confidence-building measures.

In view of the formidable Chinese military build-up in Tibet, about which I have already given details in the booklet “An Analytical Study of the Fatal Consequences of Rajiv Gandhi’s Beijing Odyssey and Policy Alternative in Sino-Indian Relations”.  (extracts reproduced in Organiser, in 9th October issue)  Rajiv Gandhi’s claim of reciprocal restraint is plainly inaccurate.  Instead of adopting a balanced and prudent policy on deployment of forces on the border, Mr. Gandhi’s efforts to work towards what he called “a mutually accepted solution which is fair and reasonable” will in fact lead him eventually to accept enhanced Chinese offensive capacity on the frontiers of India and reduce deployments essential for India’s own defence preparations.  His claim that he has been able to establish a personal relationship with the Chinese leaders will not carry much weight with the Indian public who will remember that the cordial and relaxed relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Mao and Chou-En-lai did not prevent the Chinese from intensifying their military interest in the Himalayas.

The present strategic developments of the Chinese in Tibet are very dangerous from the point of view of Indian security interests.  If one analyses the fine print of the views expressed by Chairman Deng Xiao-ping, President Yang Shangkun, Prime Minister Li Peng and Vice-Premier Wu Xueqian, one simply does not find any “break through” in the Sino-Indian issue which was expected.pected.

Diplomatic observers of other countries will only come to the conclusion that Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s visit was a poorly prepared undertaking and did not take into account the new strategic and political realities on the international and regional scene.  For example:

1.                   Boundary Question:  The Indian pubic will be sceptical about Rajiv Gandhi’s innocent protestation of both India and China having agreed that pending solution to the boundary question, peace and tranquillity should be maintained in the border areas.  Even if there is a phase of relaxation, it could be short-lived.  If for international reasons the Chinese have a political military impetus for provoking a conflict in the Himalayan area, they could at little cost to themselves come down from Tibet in strength and encroach on Indian soil in order to counteract what they regarded as negative developments elsewhere.  Until the border issue is settled finally, it is easy for China to demonstrate its military muscle and willingness to take risks.  It is a masterful political strike by the Chinese and a major setback for India that they have pressured India into downgrading the central issue of India’s strategic frontier.

2.                   Tibet as China’s internal affair:  The Chinese are desperately looking for a way out of the impasse in which they find themselves as a result of their trampling on the political, and human rights of the Tibetans.  The seething unrest in Tibet is no longer a secret.  Tibetan students have demonstrated even in Beijing.  Rajiv Gandhi knows that China has violated international law and has committed genocidal actions in Tibet.  For a country which is proud of being a democracy and has taken up the fight for Palestinians, Angolans and South African blacks, it is positively humiliating for its Prime Minister to say that political forces in India will not be allowed to engage in activities “harmful to China’s internal affairs”.

The Indian Parliament has addressed itself time and again to the grievances of the Tibetans, and Indians would not be worth their salt or worthy of the heritage of Gandhiji if they did not speak up and demonstrate openly when the rights of the Tibetans, who are their closest cultural neighbours in the whole world, are badly trampled by the Chinese.  Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s remarks will only ignite mass Indian indignation and an appropriate response to tangibly help the liberation movement in Tibet.

3.                   Back to the Five Principles:  Diplomatic observers are intrigued by Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s rhetoric about the Five Principles and nostalgia about the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai days. He is bringing back memories of Chinese duplicity and perfidy and psychologically speaking this is not a step closer to peace between India and China in the future.  The political associations of Panch Sheel to Indian public opinion are of complete mistrust leading to open conflict.  There are other models of resolution of regional conflicts which Indians might accept, but the response to Panch Sheel and “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” can hardly be heart warming to a public which remembers the fateful events of 1962 and has been through the smoke screen of Chou En-lai’s rhetoric.  If something tangible is to be achieved in improving Sino-Indian relations Rajiv must stop trying to resurrect the discredited and useless symbol of the 5 principles.

4.                   Foundation for a peaceful, stable and cooperative relationship:  Mr. Gandhi’s claim that his visit is the foundation for a new peaceful stable and cooperative relationship between India and China is untenable.  The first step towards real and stable peace would have to be the withdrawal of the Chinese from Indian territory which they have forcibly occupied and the removal of the threat of a massive invasion of India with the conventional and nuclear forces they have built up in Tibet.  Have the Chinese leaders offered to remove this threat?  A thinning out of Chinese forces or a pull back is simply an eye wash for they could be sent back into forward areas in no time. A stable peace could be built on the concept of mutual and balanced security but this would involve the demilitarisation and denuclearisation of the Tibetan region.  A cooperative relationship cannot be built by merely signing a few technical agreements.  It requires constructive bargaining stances on outstanding issues.  The Beijing summit does not provide any hint of that growing trust which is essential for mutual cooperation.  There is a conspicuous omission in the parleys to the Dalai Lama’s 5 Point Plan which could alter the course of history and give India, China and Tibet a real chance of peace.

5.                   New world order and learning from each other’s experience:  What do the two sides mean by a common commitment to a new world order?  Merely paying lip service to proposals to revamp the global economic order does not blaze a new trail.  India has a well-defined attitude to international economic restructuring, and it is hard for any decision maker in New Delhi to take seriously proposals emanating from Beijing at a time when it is still engaged in an uphill struggle to free itself from the economic shibboleths of the Maoist era.  The results of China’s free-market experimentation are still uncertain.  India cannot even begin to learn from China as the Prime Minister ardently wishes until the Chinese make some-what clearer statements of their honest intentions and inform the world accurately about the results of their version of perestroika.

The effort to dress up the Summit’s results in terms of enhanced prospects for bilateral cooperation only diverts attention from the real issue:  How to break the logjam on the Himalayan military-strategic problem?

From the above perspective it is clear that the prospects for Indian security have not been enhanced by the Beijing summit.  Rajiv Gandhi’s appraisal of the prospects of the Summit appears to have been totally unjustified.  It is not enough to be a globe-trotting statesman, and particularly in Rajiv’s case his reasoning does a grave injustice to those who laid down their lives for the defence of the Himalayas in 1962.
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