China Army hawks seek to sabotage peace with Delhi (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT Beijing | 13th Jul 2013
China's President Xi Jinping shakes hands with China's Premier Li Keqiang (L)
n a repeat of history, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is implementing the same "forward policy" initiated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960, which directly led to the 1962 conflict. This policy was adopted despite opposition from Chief of Army Staff General Kodendera Thimayya, who understood the risks involved in such adventurism and therefore lost the favour of both Nehru as well as then Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon. Today in China, the situation is reversed, in that it is a section of the military leadership in China that is pushing the envelope on India, even as the political leadership has made better ties with India one of the top priorities of the new administration. According to those following developments in Beijing, the PLA version of the old "forward policy" has been implemented since 2002, the year when tensions were high on the India-Pakistan border because of the terror attack on Indian Parliament the previous year. By now, infrastructure and communications on the Chinese side of the border have been improved to a level which would enable forces to move to forward positions within days of an order to do so. The Indian side has been slow to react to such activity, with infrastructure starting to get modernised in earnest only by 2010. It is this reaction to the PLA build-up, which has annoyed a section of the PLA leadership, leading them to intensify their probes into territory held by India, as well as the "creep" towards the Chinese claim line.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony was able to win an agreement last week from his Chinese counterpart to recognise that lack of tranquillity on the border will have an effect on the overall relationship. This has been a reversal of the post-2002 position of Beijing, which is that border issues should be kept to one side even while the commercial relationship ballooned, a politically unfeasible option for Team Manmohan. As a consequence, the 17 June Chumar incident, when an observation camera on the Indian side, which recorded nearby PLA movements, was taken away by Chinese soldiers, was quickly settled by the camera being returned. Both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have made good relations with India a priority. However, they are facing opposition from remnants of the Jiang Zemin faction, which regards India as a low priority. The Jiang faction has enriched itself through involvement in multiple businesses and is under pressure from the anti-corruption campaign being carried out by President Xi and Premier Li.
Both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have made good relations with India a priority. However, they are facing opposition from the hawks in the People’s Liberation Army.
According to a Beijing-based observer of the Chinese political scene, "There are elements who would like to create tension with foreign powers so as to divert the attention of the Chinese leadership from their focus on removing corruption." He claims that this group, which is close to former President Jiang Zemin (1993-2003), is behind the recent intrusions along the Sino-Indian border and the ratcheting up of tensions with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. "It was the personal intervention of President Xi and Premier Li that led to the swift resolution of the (Depsang) intrusion," whereas pro-Jiang elements wanted the standoff "to persist and ruin the atmospherics for Premier Li's India visit".
Any visitor to China will note the change in atmosphere after President Xi took office early in the year, with lavish entertainment getting replaced with much more sober functions. Those opposed to the clampdown on extravagance and graft are looking to create tensions between China and its neighbours so as to derail the Xi-Li anti-corruption movement. However, most observers say that the Xi-Li leadership duo is strong enough to ensure that another Depsang (or Chumar) gets avoided, and Sino-Indian commerce and tourism enter a boom period.