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Incursion shows that Chinese think our leadership is weak

Last updated on: May 20, 2013 14:16 IST

Incursion shows that Chinese think our leadership is weak

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Brigadier Sapan Kumar Chatterji (retd)

The effect of India being perceived as a nation with a weak leadership on countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and a host of others in south and southeast Asia, or the terror establishment across the border and their sleeper cells on our soil, can be profound, points out Brigadier Sapan Kumar Chatterji (retd)

The 1962 war with China belittled our leadership and was an indisputable evidence of its lack of strategic vision. 

The current incident of Chinese incursion 19 km within our territory is also humiliating and goes to underscore one issue very clearly: the Chinese perceive our leadership to be weak.

There is enough reason to ponder today about the geopolitical fallout of the incident, its effect on our national security and find a way to uphold national pride more strongly, tomorrow. 

The effect of India being perceived as a nation with a weak leadership on countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and a host of others in south and southeast Asia, or the terror establishment across the border and their sleeper cells on our soil, is profound. 

All our neighbouring countries have China vying for greater influence. We have defence pacts with some of them. If we, the oft-touted rising regional power, can be bulldozed by the Chinese so easily, we will not be found as the best suited to provide leadership in the area.

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Image: Image used for representational purposes
Photographs: Guang Niu/Getty Images

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It would also provide impetus to terror groups. As such, our response to terror is oft-constrained by electoral politics. Now, being viewed both at home and globally as a nation with weak leadership, the tendency of terror groups to risk it, with a higher probability of both pulling it off and getting away with it, will increase. 

Of course, the other way of looking at it is that we were already being considered a weak nation. The Chinese incursion is not the cause for such an inference, but the effect of it. 

The Chinese incursion has been an unwise move by its new leadership, when the issue is viewed even solely in the context of Sino-Indian relations.

China is already our biggest trading partner. It has led to a lot of interaction between the Chinese and Indian business houses, paving in turn a wide road for people to people interaction.

In the bargain, the Chinese enjoyed greater acceptability in India even with the history of a 1962 to cope with. Relevant to the context is the fact that they have a problem of being accepted by local people wherever they go in numbers.

Myanmar is an example where the citizens on the street did not accept them notwithstanding the old military junta rolling out the red carpet.

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Image: A Chinese border policeman looks through binoculars while manning an observation post made of rocks next to Rongbo Monastery in the Tibet Autonomous Region
Photographs: David Gray/Reuters

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Today, the under-construction Sino-Indian bridge has been arrested even before it could serve far more traffic.

A pronounced anti-Chinese feeling in the streets of India will also reflect on the size of the market for Chinese products; especially electronics and consumer goods.

In a highly price-sensitive market, cheap Chinese goods are often the preferred buy, notwithstanding their quality. So far, the call for boycotting Chinese goods has only been a murmur.

However, it will not take the Indian citizen too much time to realise they can also make an impact, notwithstanding government dithering, should the Chinese enact another incursion.

In fact -- it is surprising -- none of the major political parties attempted to mobilise public opinion against Chinese products.

Fifteen rounds of border talks have not produced any tangible results. China has proposed a Border Defence Cooperation agreement. The sudden incursion brings down the confidence levels that existed between the two countries and has the potential of allowing the current logjam on the border issue to continue.

The ASEAN countries at loggerheads with China over the conflicting claims in South China Sea would expect greater overt support to their cause, from India.

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Image: A vendors sells Chinese-made clothes at a garment market
Photographs: China Photos/Getty Images

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So far, constrained by their lesser military might compared to China, they were looking at Indian support keeping in view our relative military capability. Now, it would be more because India is apparently in the same boat; suffering from the effects of Chinese hegemony in Asia.

How the incident impacts our infrastructure development in the northeast is another issue to ponder about. 

The 78 roads planned to be developed in the area are behind schedule without an exception. They have also drawn adverse Chinese responses on occasions. 

Will the Indian government be spurred into action or will it drift? The price for further ostrich-like behaviour, by burying the head in the snow in this case, will spell doom for national security.

What will be the final manifestation of the Chinese diverting Brahmaputra's waters in the days ahead is also not known. 

Notwithstanding some feeble attempts by the Indian government, the Chinese have not been transparent about it. The issue could well turn out to be more contentious than the border issue.

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Image: Labourers employed by the Indian army, adjust a bulldozer blade on India's Tezpur-Tawang highway which runs to the Chinese border in Arunachal Pradesh
Photographs: Frank Jack Daniel/Reuters

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With a defence budget far bigger than India's, the Chinese will only increase the gap between our capabilities as the clock ticks.

Add to it, our repeated cancellation of requests for procurement of military equipment -- especially guns -- the deficiencies in combat aircraft, and gaping shortages in officers in all three services go in favour of the Chinese. 

We also visualise the probability of a two-front war, and have often been reassured by the leadership of our ability to hold our ground under such circumstances, too. 

Given the additional burden of surging corruption and a listless bureaucracy, we could well be sending our troops to fight the Chinese unprepared once again. The last time, in 1962, we sent them in cotton shirts to fight on frozen tops. This time, are they going to be fighting without the infrastructure, equipment and technology required in a modern battlefield?


Image: A soldier keeps vigil during night patrol near the fenced border with China
Photographs: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters

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