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Interview With Bharat Karnad

Interview With Bharat Karnad

The diplomatic relations between India and China have suffered a big blow following the boundary stand-off with China at the Doka La tri-junction with Bhutan. The tension is by all accounts unprecedented following the stand-off. It has been more than four weeks now. The tri-junction stretch of the boundary at Sikkim, though contested, has witnessed far fewer tensions than the western sector of the India-China boundary even as India and Bhutan have carried on separate negotiations with China. China’s action to forcibly build a road with earth moving equipment by People’s Liberation Army construction teams has given a blow to the carefully preserved peace in the area.

As a result of it, Things looked a little awkward when Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw each other on the side lines of the Group of 20 meeting in Germany on July 7.

The Indian government has so far been wise to avoid escalation in the face of China’s aggressive barrage, but strategic experts say that New Delhi should be firm in its stand and communicate its viewpoint to Beijing in more discreet ways.

Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to well-known national security expert, Bharat Karnad to know his views on the current stand-off with China and ways to deal with the issue.

Karnad is a research professor at Centre for Policy Research. He was a member of the first National Security Advisory Board of India’s National Security Council, where he participated in the Nuclear Doctrine Drafting Group and the external security and the technology security groups of the Strategic Review.

IC: What is your reaction to current stand-off with China and India's reaction to the issue?

Bharat Karnad: I think India is playing ‘cool' whereas China is getting heated up in the corner. It is a good thing for the world to see that Chinese who are supposed to be inscrutable and far sighted, cannot handle a crisis.  It is a good message for India. In fact, Chinese have put themselves in a corner by incessant statements made by the Chinese forces, their Ambassador in India and the Chinese media. So it is a difficult situation for China to handle. If they do not deliver on their threats, they will lose face and if they deliver on their threats, then also there will be major hostilities. Does China really want a war? I don't think so, as it will stand to lose 70 billion US dollars of trade from India. They are in a difficult state.

As far as India is concerned, we are playing it fairly well. I think we should sit back and watch them. China may interpret our silence as that of defeatist. But that is not correct.

IC: China accused India by saying it was violating an 1890 border agreement between Britain and China that previous Indian governments have pledged to uphold, and it should be respected to end a "very serious" incursion by India. Is it legally correct?

There is no legal basis for China to stake its claim on it. India had intervened on behalf of Bhutan. As the tiny Himalayan Kingdom was not party to the 1890 agreement between Britain and China, the dispute was between China and Bhutan over where their common border lies. Any country, under the International law, is free to take help from a friendly country. It is completely legal and justified by the International law. Delhi has been invited by Bhutan to deal with China to protect Bhutanese territory and its interest.

IC: Doklam is critical as it brings China even closer to the India border in a vulnerable location towards the direction of the 27-km-long Siliguri Corridor or 'chicken's neck' that links the northeastern states to the rest of India. New Delhi warned China that construction of the road near their common border would have serious security implications. 

It is strategically significant for India. We do not want Chinese to get too near to the Siliguri Corridor as militarily it is disadvantageous to us.

IC: What are the options before India to deal with the current situation?

India should beef up its military component in Doklam and in the extended section which is being done.

IC: Do you think China has been behaving like a big brother to India and trying to call the shots in this region?

It is not correct.  You should not get influenced by Chinese perception of looking down upon other countries. China and India are two big countries of this region.

IC: What are your comments on the government's policy on China?

We should not underestimate ourselves. No country will come to aid us. Instead, we should be more pro-active in our approach. We should focus on alliances and work strategically to counter balance China. For instance, India and Japan together can make things difficult for China. Also, India and Vietnam together can make things difficult for China.

(Published on 10th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 28)