Cross-border vandalism

Dropping canned food past the expiry date, painting graffiti on boulders—and that we should know now

First, relax. It would be a huge strategic blunder for China to get into a military conflict with India—less initiate one—for two big reasons.

One, nuclear deterrence imposes limits to how much a conventional military conflict can escalate. Even a 1962-like invasion is highly unlike in 2009, because even if the PLA were to somehow pooh-pooh India’s vastly improved conventional defences, China is highly unlikely to want to test whether India’s commitment to nuclear no-first-use is rhetorical or real.

Two, a direct military conflict—whether or not initiated by China—would have the inevitable consequence of pushing India unequivocally into an alliance with the United States. Now, if you are a strategist—of whatever stripe—in Beijing, why would you want to do that? A military conflict with India would not only consolidate two of China’s biggest strategic adversaries but also completely blow the myth of a “peaceful rise” that is behind the success of Chinese diplomacy in East and Central Asia.

With that behind us for now, let’s ask why China is dumping expired canned food off helicopters, and why someone used red paint to deface rocks on the Indian side of the border in Ladakh? After the initial media outrage in India, both the Indian foreign ministry and the armed forces are downplaying reports of these incursions. China, unhelpfully as always, has totally denied that the incursions even happened. It is important to note that these incursions are not recent but have been occurring for several months. Even the notorious helicopter flight took place in early July. Why did the metaphorical solid waste hit the rotor now, when an Indian military delegation is on a goodwill tour of China?

Why?

33 thoughts on “Cross-border vandalism”

  1. Hi Acorn –

    Nice post.

    Let us be brutally honest here, the entire China hysteria is media driven.

    The media has stooped to great depths to sell fear. They failed miserably in trying to convince us that the time was ripe for a war against Pakistan after 26/11. They tried desperately to sell theory after theory that we should send our troops into war against Pakistan.

    While the egg the public on to war, they refuse to acknowledge the role that the US of A has played in destabilizing the region with its occupation of Afghanistan and NWFP.

    When they failed miserably in building a case for war on Pakistan, why would they even think of barking up the China tree? Or for that matter ignore the real war that the Indian Army is fighting in the North East. There are a ton of problems there that are our democracy has not been able to resolve and now we want to go and blame the Chinese for the human rights excesses that we carry out. I do not blame the Indian Army, it is not their fault that they are asked to draw weapons against the same people whom they have sworn to protect. I would blame it entirely on the center and their lack of vision for the people of the North East.

    I would like to make a prophecy. After the media gets tired of and fails at getting the people to support them in a war against China, they will turn to smaller neighbors like Bangladesh and Nepal. They will blame all terrorist attacks on these two countries and expect us to believe that they are the root of all evil. They will also tell us that the Indian intelligence agencies wear halos around their heads, attend sunday school and distribute food-aid after a cyclone.

  2. > First, relax. It would be a huge strategic blunder for China to get into a military conflict with India—less initiate one—for two big reasons

    I think you’re being very naive.

    Please examine the history of how 1962 came about. The slide down started in 1950. Shourie has ludicly and compellingly documented this in his book “are we deceiving ourselves again”. The movements over the past several years — beginning with calling all new areas disputed — is a replay of the same strategy with all new areas.

    You’ve gotta be totally blind to downplay the chinese risk — or have we already forgotten about nepal? The state is now a near-vassal of china.

    Shourie was right, we’re soooo busy trying to be pacifist, that we’re waiting for tanks with marigold garlands.

    The pooh-poohing of the china threat is hihgly unwise and patently dangerous.

    PS. What nuclear deterrent are we talking about? Failed pokhran 2?
    And what conventional deterrence are we talking about? One that cannot guard mumbai from a 26/11? Or Insas rifles that are too weak to counter AK-47s?

  3. AG,

    You must read and understand arguments before throwing around words like naive. I urge you to deeply contemplate on the events since 1991, with attention to May 1998 and October 2008, before thinking that 2010 is like 1960. Or for that matter, draw the utterly absurd comparison between Nepal and India.

  4. @ Nitin

    If as you say pushing India to the US is what China’s worried about, the following doesn’t make sense:

    China has sorted out its borders with virtually all its neighbors – including Japan. Why is there so little progress on the Indian border – nearly as large as the Russian border – even after 20+ years of talks? This, even after when India recognized China’s sovereignty over Tibet long ago. What strategic purpose is served by still disputing the status of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, both completely controlled by India?

    Perhaps understanding this will help us figure out its current behavior.

  5. Photonman,

    That keeping the border disputed serves China’s interests is not in doubt. But that is not quite the same as China initiating a direct military conflict with India.

    Keeping the border disputed (and by implication, holding out the hope that the dispute can be resolved by improving bilateral ties) actually prevents India from allying with the US against China. Resolving the dispute amicably will deprive China of an instrument to contain India. But trying to resolve the dispute through force will throw India into any anti-China camp.

    Yes, understanding it will help figure out its current behaviour.

  6. “India’s vastly improved conventional defences”

    The citizens of India have their legitimate doubts over that after 26/11. Stopping an army would be an uphill task judging by the response less than a year ago. Yes, you will say ‘conventional’ defences. But to ensure security in today’s volatile world, we would be ignorant if we adhere to outdated definitions of that term. In today’s global scenario, the unconventional is the conventional and looking at our crisis management abilities, ‘relax’ing over the thoughts of a exponentially powerful neighbour potentialli repeating 1962 is not well advised.

  7. The Chinese usually distract attention from their real target by introducing multiple fake cards, such as randomly claiming Indian territory as chinese territory, which is the intent of dropping expired cans, so that the chinese can make bogus claims about having been in control of Indian areas during some future flag meeting.

    My view is that the chinese are most concerned with grabbing vital resources for themselves from neighbouring countries and they consider bullying lesser powers as an acceptable strategy. Specifically, the chinese could be searching for ways for achieving one or more of the following goals:

    (1) coopt buddhism as a “chinese religion” (run by commie chinese atheists) and this required taking control of Tawang.
    (2) warm water ports in Myanmar and Bangladesh — there is a chance China is cooperating with the USA against Myanmar (the recent shipping of Arms from UAE to China could be intended for fueling a war in the china-myanmar border.
    (3) distract attention from the fact that the Xinjiang revolt is causing the chinese leadership to “lose face”, so they need to prove their virility and spunk by creating border tensions with India. The standard tactic the Pakistani army uses typically.

    What is clear is that this incursion into Ladakh is a diversion — the Chinese have lost utility for that lone road through the land Pakistan has gifted them, and this is because they have build a solid railway line in Tibet that makes the backup connectivity via CoK have no value for the chinese, but they continue to pretend that CoK has value to them.

  8. Recent Chinese funding of Buddhist monuments in Sri Lanka indicates that the Chinese target is most likely capturing Tawang and thus “owning” all future Dalai Lamas denying India any leverage w.r.t. Tibet after that point.

  9. Another possible motivation/goal of the chinese is long-term water security of provinces — these are head rivers that feed into India and Bangladesh. The regions targeted by China could be the core of the water basins required for China’s long term water security.

  10. In a liberal democracy, issues of national interest can be highlighted and debated in the open. The “Fourth Estate” has an important and vibrant role in this process – witness this blog. The state, armed with better information, can well afford to maintain a magisterial position, while encouraging and learning from the debate. When it comes to international relations, this confers a tremendous strength to liberal democracies over their totalitarian rivals.

    Of course, like any other strategic strength, realization of the benefits from a free press depends on the executive competence of the state. Here I have serious doubts about an administration that rushes to admit its own “illegal” incursions into its rival’s territory, while the rival flatly denies any such activity on its part, ‘Chinese border patrols are carried out’ strictly according to the law”.

    As to the question, “Why did the metaphorical solid waste hit the rotor now, when an Indian military delegation is on a goodwill tour of China?”, why not now? If I were heading that delegation, I’ll be euphoric!

  11. India seems to be taking a leaf from the chinese book…the same book that resulted in chinese test-firing a nuclear capable missile when Indian PMs or high level officials visit China. While putting forward a “friendly face”, the chinese also add a “slap in your face” just to send the message that the Chinese state is the biggest thug/dog/bully in the region. India starting “friendly talks” while highlighting unfriendly chinese actions seems to be the same kind of behaviour in reverse.

  12. Another possibility is a late realization in the PLA/CCP that Xinjiang is a weak spot for the chinese, and they need to keep India from having direct access to chinese borders in that region. So this ladakh incursion could be a first step to grabbing Indian territory in the J&K region to insulate Xinjiang from other neighbours who are adversaries.

  13. This whole issue is about India converting every tiny issue into a war of attrition. There is no appreciation of the fact that China & India are both uncomfortable with the current boundaries.

    If we think that the status quo on the boundary is acceptable, then we should redraw our maps to remove Aksai Chin.
    If not, then we should make the effort to recover the territory that we consider our own.
    If even that is not acceptable, then at the very least, state in unambiguous terms that any attempt to capture Indian territory will result in an all out war. China/Pakistan correctly believe that any attempt on Indian territory is a very low risk and low cost venture.

    The current Indian position on the Chinese boundary issue and minor Pakistani boundary issues is about maintaining a stalemate. Perhaps, our incompetent babudom think that aiming for stalemate is a great strategy. This does not sit well with authoritarian regimes who tend to be more decisive in such matters. Witness Musharraf’s desperation in settling the Kashmir issue. His proposals were quite fair.

  14. Vickey Vice wrote:
    “This whole issue is about India converting every tiny issue into a war of attrition. There is no appreciation of the fact that China & India are both uncomfortable with the current boundaries.”

    There seems to be even less of an appreciation of the fact that India and China will continue to have borders with each other for the next million years…so what’s the hurry in “resolving” border problems? Sure, it is important to maintain territorial integrity of India by keeping the Chinese trolls from usurping control of Indian territory, but to pretend that “India is make a mountain out of a molehill” reveals ignorance/naivete about the facts, or alternatively, an impending paycheck from the chinese ministry for Propaganda of Communist Goodness.

    “Witness Musharraf’s desperation in settling the Kashmir issue. His proposals were quite fair.”

    Really, now? Is that so? Care to spell out which part of Musharraf’s deception was all “quite fair”?

  15. There is no “desperation” in Pakistan when it comes to signing agreements in India — the more observant among us will recall that Pakistan usually trashes any agreement signed with India if it ends up not working for Pakistan down the line. They have trashed agreements starting from the UN resolutions all the way upto the Shimla agreement.

  16. Alagu Periaswamy “writes”:

    “to pretend that “India is make a mountain out of a molehill” reveals ignorance/naivete about the facts”

    “India is make a mountain out of a molehill” are your words, not mine. It is not even consistent with what I wrote. You seem to be replying to some altogether different post.
    Still, if the “fact” is that Chinese incursions are dangerous, I am simply calling for decisive action one way or the other. Dilly-dallying and an ambiguous policy makes our neighbours consider worst case scenarios. Just state that incursions into Indian territory are an act of war. China can reconsider it’s strategies then. What is the point of simply watching them enter our territory? Either repel or concede.

    “or alternatively, an impending paycheck from the chinese ministry for Propaganda of Communist Goodness.”
    Please refrain from trolling. It has an adverse effect on the quality of comments. You are totally off target anyway.

    “There seems to be even less of an appreciation of the fact that India and China will continue to have borders with each other for the next million years…”

    China,India became neighbours only 70 years ago. Their hold over Tibet is one of forcible military occupation. I don’t expect them to be able to whitewash Tibetan culture any time soon, especially since they do not control all places of religious significance.

    ‘so what’s the hurry in “resolving” border problems?”‘
    Yet another babudom-like call for dilly-dallying. This is a position that is begging for eternal threat of conflict.

    ‘Really, now? Is that so? Care to spell out which part of Musharraf’s deception was all “quite fair”?’

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/dec/05/pakistan.india

    “General Musharraf told the Indian New Delhi Television channel his country would back wide-ranging autonomy or self-governance for Kashmir, with Islamabad and New Delhi jointly supervising the region.

    Asked whether Pakistan would be ready to give up its claim to Kashmir, he said: “We will have to … if this solution comes up.” ”

    You may consider it a deception, but any bargaining begins by all parties stating their maximal position. Don’t get me wrong… the general should hang for Kargil. But his Kashmir position is better than ours. I don’t even know what our position is. “Kashmir is an integral part of India, and we will charm Pakistan into agreeing with our position”, is my best guess.

  17. Vickey Vice wrote:

    “Still, if the “fact” is that Chinese incursions are dangerous, I am simply calling for decisive action one way or the other. Dilly-dallying and an ambiguous policy makes our neighbours consider worst case scenarios. Just state that incursions into Indian territory are an act of war. China can reconsider it’s strategies then. What is the point of simply watching them enter our territory? Either repel or concede.”

    As long as they leave the territory after they enter, there is no problem. The chinese troops building roads on Indian territory when India is not watching and then claiming the land as chinese is what has happened in the past.

    “General Musharraf told the Indian New Delhi Television channel his country would back wide-ranging autonomy or self-governance for Kashmir, with Islamabad and New Delhi jointly supervising the region.”

    And just because this General says various things, you think it is all true? Besides, Guardian does not qualify as an unbiased source in such matters pertaining to India and J&K, period. Their history of pushing for the Pakistani view of things is known to anyone who pays attention.

    “Asked whether Pakistan would be ready to give up its claim to Kashmir, he said: “We will have to … if this solution comes up.” ”

    How touching….BTW, maybe you should be informed that this general was also the same one who claimed that there was no nuclear proliferation on his watch, and now we know that he lied based on congressional reports about Musharraf that is coming public. Do you want to explain yourself on why you insist that this general’s words are all completely true? (because no one else in the planet believes Musharraf anymore). BTW, Musharraf is also the reason why the US will no longer provide unconditional aid to Pakistan.

    ” I don’t even know what our position is. “Kashmir is an integral part of India, and we will charm Pakistan into agreeing with our position”, is my best guess.”

    J&K is an integral part of India. Period. All of it. Period. Simple enough this time?

  18. “As long as they leave the territory after they enter, there is no problem.”
    A hypothetical situation. We enter PoK, (over which we have atleast some legitimacy), and try to leave. What do you think is going to happen? Let’s say that Pakistani’s don’t shoot back. Aren’t you going to assume that they are softening their position on Kashmir?

    “And just because this General says various things, you think it is all true? ”

    He has stated a position. We haven’t tested it.. We could have called his BS. Why didn’t we? Mush knows that our diplomacy is comatose. He can claim anything, but we will never risk getting out of a stalemate.

    “Besides, Guardian does not qualify as an unbiased source in such matters pertaining to India and J&K, period. Their history of pushing for the Pakistani view of things is known to anyone who pays attention.”
    Guardian has not stated an opinion. It has merely published Mushies comments.

    “Do you want to explain yourself on why you insist that this general’s words are all completely true? ”
    Then why don’t we call his bluff? Because we do not risk getting out of a stalemate. If we think that he is just a boisterous fool(there is certainly evidence that he is), then we should have called him on it. Why let any Pakistani jackboot claim a higher moral ground? Or are we afraid that he was sincere?

    “J&K is an integral part of India. Period. All of it. Period. Simple enough this time?”
    I am not the one that needs convincing. Please convince Pakistan. Impress “them” with your “simple enough this time” taunt. That should stop them from committing mass murder and suicide over Kashmir.

  19. “He has stated a position. We haven’t tested it..”

    The fact that you think that his statement needs to be tested says enough about you. Go read up on J&K and the history of that region before you try out any new theories of yours.

    ” We could have called his BS. Why didn’t we?”

    Let us say that India did call out his BS, how does that increase India’s options? So what’s the use of “you are BSing” response? Isn’t it better for India to shut up and react in more meaningful ways?

    ” Mush knows that our diplomacy is comatose. He can claim anything, but we will never risk getting out of a stalemate.”

    That is your opinion and not a very well-informed one at that. Good day.

  20. Vickey wrote:
    “I am not the one that needs convincing. Please convince Pakistan. Impress “them” with your “simple enough this time” taunt. That should stop them from committing mass murder and suicide over Kashmir.”

    And on what basis are you claiming that any action by India, such as handing over Indian territory to Pakistan in exchange for “peace”? This is just a fallacious claim that western talking heads indulge. There is absolutely no merit in the position that India making concessions to Pakistan in J&K will make Pakistanis all peaceful and lovable.

    Pakistan has already raised no less than a dozen “points of contention” outside of resolving J&K, including various bogus claims such as “India is stealing Indus waters”, “India is supporting terrorism in Balochistan”, “India is violating the Indus treaty” etc. None of these issues will be considered “resolved” by Pakistan even if J&K is handed over to Pakistan tomorrow. Get it?

    So again, please get informed about J&K before peddling your “strategic opinions” on the topic.

  21. Vickey wrote:
    “Then why don’t we call his bluff? Because we do not risk getting out of a stalemate. If we think that he is just a boisterous fool(there is certainly evidence that he is), then we should have called him on it. Why let any Pakistani jackboot claim a higher moral ground? Or are we afraid that he was sincere?”

    If only things were this simple and only India and Pakistan were the entities to consider in all this…but, unfortunately, without throwing Pakistan’s benefactors, USA,UK, Saudi Arabia, and Japan into the picture, one cannot claim to know how Pakistan will react to anything India does or says. USA and China especially make sure that Pakistan remains adventurous andhostile to India by encouraging Pakistan to get belligerent with India by providing funds and techonology to Pakistan as and when needed.

  22. Since your posts are all over the place, let me summarize my final response for our sanity:

    “The fact that you think that his statement needs to be tested says enough about you. Go read up on J&K and the history of that region before you try out any new theories of yours.”
    “That is your opinion and not a very well-informed one at that.”

    Ad Hominem attacks. Avoid refuting with valid counterpoints by mounting personal attacks.

    “Pakistan has already raised no less than a dozen “points of contention” outside of resolving J&K, including various bogus claims such as “India is stealing Indus waters”, “India is supporting terrorism in Balochistan”, “India is violating the Indus treaty” etc. None of these issues will be considered “resolved” by Pakistan even if J&K is handed over to Pakistan tomorrow. Get it?”

    Yes, I get it. The shifting ground tactic.

    ” such as handing over Indian territory to Pakistan in exchange for “peace”?… ”
    Enter strawman ….

    “This is just a fallacious claim that western talking heads indulge. There is absolutely no merit in the position that India making concessions to Pakistan in J&K will make Pakistanis all peaceful and lovable.” ”

    … and witness it’s demolition!

    An archetypal strawman argument. Well done!

    “…throwing Pakistan’s benefactors, USA,UK, Saudi Arabia, and Japan into the picture,…”
    I thought you had mastered the red herring tactic, when you succeeded in shifting focus from China to Pakistan. But here, you are quite literally pleading me to bark up the wrong tree. Need to be a little more subtle than that.

  23. You don’t post all comments do you Nitin? A certain comment posted here yesterday still hasn’t been displayed. NOt the first time this has occurred. They were asking about pertinent questions about your posts. Well, it’s your blog, so I guess you can choose which comments appear to other users.

  24. @Nitin

    Please do something about commenters who spoil the space for discussion by posting several comments, destroying any room for a good debate on the topic.

    Some of these guys are repeat offenders. Acorn is known to be a forum for high quality discussions. So why are the Rediff message-boarders being allowed to invade this space?

  25. I wrote:
    ““That is your opinion and not a very well-informed one at that.”
    Vickey wrongly claims:
    “Ad Hominem attacks. Avoid refuting with valid counterpoints by mounting personal attacks.”

    No, that is an attack on your opinion as being completely misinformed. You have failed to substantiate any of your nonsense so far, so quit pretending that I am attacking you. I have done nothing of that sort. I have nothing more to say to you. Peace.

  26. > You must read and understand arguments before throwing around words like naive.

    Whatever, Nitin.
    Your assertion is that contextual cchanges makes any chinese misadventure vis-a-vis india unlikely.
    I disagree for the simple reason: while a lot may have changed including the cryptic “1991”, “1998” and “2008” (more on that later) one thing has not: India’s ability to create a consequence associated with any chinese misadventure.

    Pakistan, for example, has been sponsoring terrorism in india since independence. The events of “1991”, “1998” and “2008” have not changed a whit our ability to create any downside for pakistan. In the absence of any negative consequence, pakistan continues its agenda, india continues to suffer.

    As a result, even if china invades arunachal, india can do nothing more than whine. I think it is VERY naive to believe that the US will naturally side with india for democracy and all that.
    The US has more to lose in china, much more than it had in 1960, so it will make some sounds but do nothing real. For god’s sake the americans have done nothing against pakistani terror even when it directly affects america’s own security.

    I think ‘naive’ stands.

    > I urge you to deeply contemplate on the events since 1991, with attention to May 1998 and October 2008, before thinking that 2010 is like 1960.

    Can you please spell? I’m not a subject matter expert.
    Are you talking about liberalisation and the nuclear deal? You think that will, somehow, discourage china? I repeat: unless india develops the capability to stop chinese lebenstraum by force, nothing will deter them.

    I find that assertion, to use one of your pet words — laughable.

    > Or for that matter, draw the utterly absurd comparison between Nepal and India.

    You seem to have been bitten by the ‘all or none’ bug nitin.
    Suggest you deeply contemplate the method of annexation of tibet, chinese occupied kashmir with the maoisation of nepal.

  27. China is richer, has built more capabilities on the Indo-china border and is rearing to distract attention from internal turmoil. It does not seem like a bright idea to take a “I will break your jaw if you step across this line” attitude with a country with more resources and power at the present time.

    Also, China is a rational power that will not jeopardize its immediate interests by warmongering — they are more likely to create multiple distractions for India using their various proxies and their “unresolved issues” and then taking what they want in the resulting confusion.

    BTW, India has upped the number of troops and raised an air squadron or more in AP recently, so India will not be sitting on its hands if China ups the ante now.

  28. I followed the news like everyone else, and it has been reported many times on the amount of influence India has on Nepal, which has resulted in Prachanda getting booted out, and stopped the maoists from acquiring weapons or taking control of the Nepali army. All of this is public information. I fail to understand why Indians think the sky is falling in Nepal when things are going as well as one can expect given the circumstances. Nepal has not fallen headlong into Chinese orbit, even though the maoists are trying hard to make that happen, and India has been stopping them time and again.

  29. #23 “Well”,

    If your comment doesn’t show up, it’s because it falls foul of the caveat, not because it raises “pertinent questions about the post”.

    But yes, it is my blog, and I choose what goes on it.

  30. “As a friend China will be happy to see such progress (in the peace process) and we will be happy if we can play a constructive role in the resolving of the issue (Kashmir), but after all it is a bilateral issue,”

    The words uttered by the Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs in China (in charge of the Asian region) – Hu Zhengyue.

    “Relax”?

    You don’t give your readers a lot to think about, do you?

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