May 20, 2013
“Deception is an integral element of Chinese strategic culture”, noted Shyam Saran at the second K. Subrahmanyam lecture series held in August 2012 at New Delhi.1 At the same event, the former foreign secretary also underscored the importance of being more conversant with the Chinese thought process for improving Indo–China relations. His counsel becomes even more relevant in the light of the recent friction between India and China over difference in interpretation of the border, resulting, recently, in a 19-km incursion in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector of the Depsang Valley in Ladakh. The sense of déjà vu should not be lost given that there have been over 550 instances of Chinese transgressions into the Indian territory since January 2010 alone, including one in July 2012 in the same Chumar area of Ladakh.2 This had ensued in a similar face-off, after Chinese helicopters destroyed Indian bunkers and tents, but did not escalate.
Before the oft-asked question about ‘how to deal with China’ can be answered, it must be noted that there is a discernible and recurring pattern in the manner in which China conducts its foreign relations with India and other small neighbours.
Factoring in the element of ‘deception’ — which as Saran explains, is not exactly a vice in statecraft — could help us put into perspective some of China’s actions. For one, it could explain why Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie during his visit to India in September 2012, insisted that the PLA had ‘never deployed a single soldier’ in PoK, even as India’s military intelligence had picked up credible reports of about the 735 Chinese nationals working at the site of the Neelum–Jhelum hydroelectric project, near the LoC in J&K and the presence of Chinese soldiers in PoK to provide security to development projects.3
Another pet Chinese ploy is to constrict their ‘win-set’ or range of acceptable solutions, so that the other party has to walk the extra mile in order to accommodate the former’s inflated demands. By doing so the first party gives the illusion of ‘having compromised’ but has conceded very little. A case in point would be the recent Chinese incursions in the disputed Western sector of the border where they demanded a quid pro quo pulling down of structures from the Indian side.
Yet another art that the scions of Sun Tzu know only too well is “masking offence as defence”. The Chinese advanced their indignation at the increase in India’s infrastructure outlay along the border as a reason for the recent setting up of tents in the Western sector of the Indo–China border. However, before India gets apologetic about it, it should recount the numerous instances of China’s own infrastructure programmes along the border, including the repaving of the Xingjian–Tibetan highway in July 2012, which runs through the disputed Aksai Chin area. Besides, China has consistently conducted a series of live ground and air-drills in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 2012, as a response to which India merely registered ‘its concern’. China also announced an 11.2 per cent hike in its defence budget in March 20124 and recently omitted a reference to its no-first-use strategic nuclear weapons doctrine in the latest government white paper released in April 2013.5 China has over the past also antagonized India on a number of occasions by issuing stapled visas for people from Arunachal Pradesh, which it incidentally terms as ‘South Tibet’; condemning official state visits to the same; and depicting disputed areas as part of Chinese territory. India may have put up a strong front in light of the latest border incursions but has probably not given out the right messages in terms of signaling its resolve and intent in dealing with issues of ‘concern’ to it.