Is China expanding its ‘core interests’?

New Delhi, April 29 (IANS) Is China attempting “bit by bit” to take over land on India’s side of the LAC? Is Beijing planning to expand its “core interests” to include the contentious unresolved boundary as well? And is it time India expanded its conventional and nuclear deterrence to forestall such moves by China?

These were among the points raised by a panel of experts that included former Indian ambassador to China T.C.A. Rangachari, China expert Srikant Kondapally and BJP Rajya sabha member Tarun Vijay at a talk on ‘India China Relations- the Recent Developments’ at the India International Centre Sunday evening.

According to Rangachari, the Chinese incursion is “qualitatively different” from earlier transgressions. He said this time it is close to two weeks since the Chinese troops pitched tents 19 km inside Indian territory in Depsang area of Ladakh to establish their physical presence.

The maps of both sides on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the ceasefire line since 1962, do not coincide and the issue has not been resolved despite umpteen rounds of talks.

The question, said Rangachari, that needed to be asked if the Chinese were “trying take their ground positions in line with their map. If the idea is bit by bit (taking over), then more such cases would be coming up,” said the expert. He said that China has also so far maintained that it has not transgressed the LAC.

No one should underestimate China, Xi Jinping, now the country’s president, had declared in January in his first published speech on foreign policy after taking over as the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, adding that Beijing will defend its “core interests”, which include Tibet and Taiwan.

With a big debate going on in China on what all constitute its core interests and how it should be revealed to the world, “we cannot rule out that at some point the India-China border will also become part of China’s core interests”, he added.

While India stands for peace and stability, it should come with preparedness and vigilance.” We should be prepared that in case diplomacy is not able to get results, then there should be sufficient deterrent in our capabilities that we do not lose out anything on the ground situation”, Rangachary stressed.

P. Stobdan, a retired diplomat, said the Chinese incursion is in a resource-rich region where in 2006 scientists had found very high grade uranium deposits as well as high thermal sulphur discharge that is capable of being harnessed to produce 1,000 MW of electricity.

According to Kondapally, professor, Chinese Studies, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, China has invested heavily in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, including investing $32 billion in a hydro electricity projects in Gilgit Baltistan and expanding the Karakoram highway to 32-m wide, which could also be used for landing aircraft.

“The current effort is to protect its core interests and basically aimed to push back Indian troops and protect the assets it is building there,” he added.

Kondapally said while the options of flag meetings, high level confidence building mechanisms and political and military approach are there, “unless we enhance our conventional and nuclear deterrence capabilities, such instances will recur”.

Lt. Gen. (retd) J.S.Bajwa, former director general (Infantry) at Army Headquarters, said the Indian government has been “slow in procuring equipment” for the armed forces positioned along the LAC.

Tarun Vijay said it is “very important to decipher what the Chinese say. They have very clearly told us that we are going to stay here and the problem is going to arise again.”

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