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This article was first published 9 years ago  » News » Xi must rein in the PLA from running its own foreign policy

Xi must rein in the PLA from running its own foreign policy

By Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd)
September 18, 2014 10:00 IST
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Nathu La'There is a wide gap between the stated intentions of China's top leadership to improve relations with India and the PLA's aggressive border management posture, says Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd).

The big ticket item on the table during Xi Jinping's visit will be measures to further enhance bilateral trade while addressing India's concerns about the balance of trade being in China's favour.

Other issues will include Chinese investment in infrastructure projects, setting up of industrial parks and cooperation in international fora like the WTO and BRICS and in fields such as energy security and IT.

However, despite serious efforts towards maintaining 'peace and tranquillity,' transgressions across the Line of Actual Control, LAC, by the People's Liberation Army, PLA, continue unabated -- 334 so far in 2014.

Hence, the summit meeting will take place in the shadow of a fragile security relationship.

India-China relations have been relatively stable at the strategic level for over a decade. However, at the tactical level instability is still the order of the day, particularly in respect of the long-standing territorial and boundary dispute.

The PLA's aggressive patrolling policies have resulted in a large number of transgressions and patrol face-offs. The PLA's reluctance to exchange maps showing each other's perception of the alignment of the LAC and its failure to sincerely implement painstakingly negotiated agreements and confidence building measures (CBMs), are the major causes of friction.

China is in physical occupation of 38,000 sq km of Indian territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in Ladakh. The area under Chinese occupation is larger than Taiwan.

China also claims the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh -- 96,000 sq km -- which it calls 'Southern Tibet,' all the way down to the Brahmaputra river. The LAC between India and Tibet, which came into being after the 1962 war, has not yet been physically demarcated on the ground and delineated on military maps and is a major destabilising factor.

The two sides have varying perceptions of where the LAC runs and have failed to even exchange maps showing each other's perception. Destabilising incidents such as the armed clash at Nathu La in 1967 and the Wang Dung stand-off of 1986 have occurred in the past.

The deep transgression by the PLA into the Depsang plateau near Daulat Beg Oldie in Ladakh in April-May 2013 may have flared up into an armed clash if the PLA had not blinked first and backed off.

The Depsang plateau stand-off clearly showed how intractable the challenge is and how loaded the situation can become. Of late the PLA has been rather aggressive in its patrolling and transgressions of the LAC have registered a marked increase in number.

Hence, the foremost priority of Indian diplomatic engagement with the Chinese should be to clearly demarcate the LAC without prejudice to each other's territorial claims.

Though the two countries have signed a large number of agreements to maintain peace on the border and the Special Representatives of both leaders have met 16 times to find a solution to the territorial and boundary dispute, not much progress has been made.

The first two major agreements on this issue between India and China included the Agreement on Maintaining Peace and Tranquillity Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, signed on September 7, 1993; and, the Agreement on Confidence Building Measures, CBMs, in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas, signed on November 29, 1996.

These were followed by the landmark Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question; and, the Protocol on Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control in India-China Border Areas, both signed on April 11, 2005.

The Agreement on Establishment of a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs, followed on January 17, 2012. The measures agreed upon include regular consultations and flag meetings or telephone and video conferences during emergencies along the LAC.

The Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) was signed on October 23, 2013. This agreement commits the two sides to periodic meetings of military and civilian officers and to exchange information -- including information about military exercises, aircraft movements, demolition operations and unmarked mines.

It emphasises the avoidance of border patrols -- tailing each other and recommends that the two sides 'may consider' establishing a hot-line between military headquarters in both countries.

None of these agreements have achieved the intended objectives as the PLA continues to transgress the LAC and tensions persist. In fact, the PLA has been exhibiting an aggressive attitude towards other military adversaries as well.

PLA Air Force aircraft have buzzed American aircraft several times and have come dangerously close. One American aircraft was actually hit mid-air and forced to land. Japan has also complained about PLA Air Force fighter aircraft coming too close to Japanese aircraft.

In December 2013, a US Navy guided missile cruiser was forced to take evasive action to avoid colliding with a PLA Navy ship in the South China Sea in what US Navy sources called a highly deliberate and irresponsible act by the PLA Navy.

In early-September 2014, a ship of the Indian Navy, INS Airavat, was harassed by the PLA Navy when it was sailing in open international waters in the South China Sea about 45 nautical miles off the Vietnamese coast.

Clearly, there is a wide gap between the stated intentions of China's top leadership to improve relations with India and the PLA's aggressive border management posture.

President XI Jinping would do well to hold a meeting of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and rein in the PLA so that it stops running its own foreign policy. Aggressive border management that is not consistent with the stated aims and objectives of China's foreign policy will only further degrade the security relationship between the two countries.

Images: Chinese soldiers guard its border with India at the Nathu La Pass in Sikkim. Photograph: Reuters

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