Be it Nepal, Bhutan, India, Myanmar or Vietnam, China has employed a range of ‘salami-slicing’ tactics against its neighbours. Given the fact that India has been perhaps the worst-affected by China’s expansionism, New Delhi needs to put in place a range of measures to thwart Beijing’s plans.
China’s expansionism is in the news once again with media reports about the Chinese building a settlement of a hundred odd houses in Arunachal Pradesh’s Upper Subansiri district.
An NDTV exclusive report that appeared Monday (18 January) claimed, on the basis of satellite imagery from Planet Labs (a planet monitoring and geo-analytics company), that China has established a village about 4.5 kilometres inside Indian territory south of the McMahon Line that demarcates the boundary between India and Tibet.
China disputes the legal status of the line, though it recognises a Line of Actual Control (LAC) which approximates most of the McMahon Line.
The northern parts of the Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh are disputed by both China and India and the area along the Tsari Chu river (also known as ‘Lensi river’ by the local Galo tribe) where the Chinese settlement has come up has been under Beijing’s control since 1959.
Hence, to say that the Chinese have entered Indian territory and established a settlement in land belonging to India is factually incorrect.
But be that as it may, it remains a fact that it has been China’s constant endeavour to lay claim on parcels of Indian territory and proclaim them as part of China, establish a military presence there and then build infrastructure and settlements.
China has been expanding its territory at the cost of its neighbours, and has got away with it all these decades. And that has emboldened Beijing to be more brazen.
It is high time now that New Delhi, individually and collectively in association with other affected countries like Bhutan, Myanmar and Vietnam, starts standing up to China’s expansionism and takes preemptive measures to foil its salami-slicing.
Here are five robust measures that India needs to adopt to thwart China’s designs:
1. Populate the remote areas along the LAC: China takes advantage of the absence of human habitation in the remote and often inhospitable areas along the LAC and thus sneaks into and claims those areas.
India should follow China’s example and offer incentives to tribals of Arunachal (and also locals in other states along the LAC) to settle down in those areas. China has been offering free houses, employment and other opportunities and incentives to its citizens, mainly Hans, to settle down in newly-developed townships along the LAC.
These resettled families form the eyes and ears of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Many of them are veterans of the PLA and the People’s Armed Police (PAP), and form the first line of defence.
India has done this, albeit on a limited scale, at Vijayanagar in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
About 200 ex-servicemen of the Assam Rifles were provided incentives to settle down with their families in the newly-developed Vijaynagar, which was then an inhospitable area close to the LAC, in 1964.
But this was not replicated in other areas. The government of India needs to adopt this policy and offer free housing, employment and livelihood opportunities, free or subsidised rations and other incentives for people to go and settle down in the remote areas along the LAC.
2. Redouble efforts to develop infrastructure in border areas: Over the past six years, the pace of infrastructure development in the areas along the 3,488km LAC has picked up pace.
In fact, the achievements in this regard over the past six years are much more than what was achieved over the past 60 years.
But India has a lot of catching up to do with China, which has been assiduously building roads, bridges, tunnels, military garrisons and townships along the LAC since the early 1960s.
India, thus, has to divert a lot of its resources and attention in developing border infrastructure and increasing its military presence along the LAC.
3. Install latest surveillance hardware and ‘eyes in the sky’ along LAC: India has lagged behind in procuring sophisticated radars and other surveillance equipment even as China has gone ahead and developed satellite early warning systems all along the LAC. In the past decade, China has also installed a network of surveillance cameras, often in territory claimed by India.
India has, once again, lagged behind in this. The Indian Army has been hamstrung by the absence of modern surveillance equipment and has had, till recently, to rely on human intelligence and physical surveillance.
It is only over the past six years the process of procurement and deployment of sophisticated drones, cameras, radars and other surveillance hardware has started.
But, once again, India has a lot of catching up to do. And, hence, it has to stretch its resources, if necessary, to put in place a robust surveillance system to thwart Chinese incursions.
4. Replicate Chinese manoeuvres: In a brilliant strategic move, the Indian Army occupied crucial hilltops and heights on the south bank of Pangong Tso in Ladakh in end-August last year.
This has given the Indian Army a huge advantage over the Chinese as the heights it now occupies look down on Chinese military garrisons and all Chinese moves can be closely monitored.
After occupying strategically-located peaks on the south bank, the Indian Army also occupied some high areas on the northern bank. This has unnerved the Chinese and that is why China has been repeatedly insisting that troop pullback start from the Pangong Tso area.
India needs to outsmart China in other sectors, including Arunachal Pradesh. Despite China’s installation of high-tech surveillance equipment, there are still many areas that are blind spots.
India needs to choose ‘disputed’ areas along or near the LAC which will accord it strategic advantage over China and occupy these areas that it claims as its own. The time to do so is now since effective surveillance by China is hamstrung due to the harsh winters in the Himalayan heights. Indian Army soldiers, with smart planning, can easily occupy strategically-located areas that will accord India decisive advantage over China.
China needs to be defeated at its own game.
5. Launch information warfare against China’s salami-slicing: Many countries, including the US, now acknowledge and have hit out against China for its incursions into territories belonging to India. While this is a welcome development, New Delhi needs to build on this and shame China on the global stage.
A 360-degree information warfare needs to be launched against China to expose its salami-slicing tactics and its expansionism.
India needs to get on board other countries like Bhutan, Myanmar and Vietnam (Nepal is also a victim as well, but Chinese influence over it is too strong to allow it to speak out against its expansionist neighbour on this) to expose China’s design to the world.
India, individually and jointly with the above-named nations, needs to put this topic on the agenda of different fora like the United Nations and multilateral mechanisms like BRICS and G-20.
Despite an impression gaining ground in some strategic circles, China is still mindful of and sensitive to international opinion and would not like its expansionist designs to get exposed on the international stage.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s Panchsheel Agreement (the five principles of peaceful co-existence that India signed with China in 1954) that China has observed only in violation needs to be replaced now with the above-mentioned multi-pronged ‘Panch-Shield’ strategy.