We have no reason to be satisfied with China’s reassurance on the new law. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had opposed our move to create a separate union territory of Ladakh on August 5, 2019, when the Lok Sabha passed the J&K Reorganisation Bill. She had said that China was always opposed to India’s inclusion of Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction

SHOULD we be satisfied with Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s statement on October 28 that the new land border law passed by the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress on October 23 “will not affect China’s compliance with existing treaties related to national land boundary affairs China has already signed”?

Should we conclude that the 1993 ‘Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas’ and the October 23, 2013, ‘Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between India and China’ would be considered as ‘existing’ treaties?

There is no reason for this hope. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had opposed our move to create a separate union territory of Ladakh on August 5, 2019, when the Lok Sabha passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019. She had said: “China is always opposed to India's inclusion of the Chinese territory in the western sector of the China-India boundary into its administrative jurisdiction.” This was repeated when we released fresh reprints of Jammu and Kashmir maps on November 3, 2019.

A well-known China expert, the late Prof Franz Schurmann of the University of California, whom I used to know, would always emphasise on Mao’s ‘Contradiction’ theory that ‘antagonistic contradictions’ could only be resolved by violence, compared to ‘non-antagonistic’ ones, which could be solved by peaceful means.

A book, Chinese at the Negotiating Table, published in 1994 by the US National Defence University, gives details of the Chinese strategy, which is based on Mao’s thoughts on relationships with other nations “after 100 years of suffering and humiliation due to Western imperialism.” China would uphold the principle of ‘equality and mutual benefit’, adding that the “door swings inward more than outward.”

Mao used this strategy with success with the Soviet Union from 1954 when their bilateral relationship soured despite a 30-year ‘friendship’ treaty signed on February 14, 1950. That was when Nikita Khrushchev publicly declared, after a visit to Beijing, that conflict with China was inevitable (Mike Dash in Smithsonian Magazine on May 4, 2012).

However, border negotiations resumed in 1964. Considerable progress was achieved on the ‘Thalweg’ delineation of the Amur and Ussuri river boundaries when Moscow showed an inclination to cede 400 river islands, including Zhenbao, to China. The Soviet Union only wanted China to agree over the islands near the Soviet city of Khabarovsk in return.

However, China’s insistence that the Soviet Union accept, as a precondition, that the 1860 Treaty of Peking with Imperialist Russia was an ‘unequal treaty’ broke down the talks. Mao wanted Moscow to admit that it was foisted on a weak China which had lost 400,000 sq km of its territory. When refused, Mao abused Moscow as “a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, a dictatorship of big capitalists, a Hitler-type Fascist dictatorship, they are all hooligans, they are worse than de Gaulle.”

Mao upped the ante on July 10, 1964, by telling a Japanese Socialist Party delegation that a hundred years ago, Russia had occupied vast areas east of Lake Baikal, including Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Kamchatka. He added that China had not “presented the list” to the Soviet Union. This shilly-shallying infuriated Moscow, which then called off the border negotiations.

This did not prevent Mao, according to Russian journal Far Eastern Affairs, to admit privately to the North Korean and Albanian delegations that this was a ploy to “make (the Soviet Union) nervous” to “achieve a relatively rational border treaty.” He said he was “firing a few blank shots” to “take the offensive” in the negotiations.

A furious Khrushchev told a Japanese delegation on September 15 that “if war was forced on the Soviet Union, we will fight with all our strength using all our means”, hinting the use of even nuclear weapons.

Khrushchev’s removal from power in October 1964 did not improve the situation. Leonid Brezhnev continued the same belligerent policy and undertook a major build-up on the China border, increasing combat divisions from 14 in 1965 to 34 in 1969. In January 1966, Moscow concluded a defence treaty with Mongolia, allowing the stationing of Soviet troops there.

China matched it by deploying 59 divisions on the border, while proclaiming that it had the military advantage, based on Mao’s 1949 ‘Man over Weapons’ principle. Mao repeated this in his speech on April 28, 1969, to the First Plenum of the Ninth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. China’s belligerence was also to oppose the Brezhnev doctrine on the Soviet ‘right’ of intervention in socialist countries, such as the Czechoslovakia invasion on August 20, 1968. China felt that it might be the next.

According to the American Centre for Naval Analyses (November 2010), Mao personally approved the Zhenbao Island Counter-insurgency Plan and put Premier Zhou Enlai in charge. The March 2, 1969, ambush was followed by another one on March 15. Although the Soviets suffered 31 casualties, they emerged stronger in the border standoff. Yet, China played down Soviet nuclear threats and rebuffed Moscow's efforts for diplomatic negotiations. The CNA said that on March 21, Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin attempted to call Mao on the hotline to defuse the situation. Under orders, the Chinese operator refused to connect the call and called Kosygin a ‘revisionist element’.

A 1970 declassified CIA analysis had also concluded that the Soviets were wrong in assessing that Mao would agree to negotiate by ‘selective military punishment’ as he was “willing to accept more punishment… and was prepared to live with a tense border situation indefinitely.”

Gradually, the Soviets started accepting the Chinese position of basing the border negotiations on the 1860 Treaty of Peking and that the ‘Thalweg’ principle should be accepted. In 1976, they lifted the Bear Island blockade. In July 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev made his historic speech at Vladivostok that the “Amur frontier should not be a frontier, but a means of uniting the Chinese and Soviet people.” He also said that the official border could pass along the mainstream, thus repealing the 1861 Russian-demarcated line.

There is a lot for us to worry about on the border front if Xi Jinping follows Mao’s ‘Contradiction’ theory with regard to India.