7 July 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) Abundant caution-
GS 3- Security challenges and their management in border areas
- After many rounds of military-level, foreign minister and NSA level talks, a movement towards de-escalation is said to be taking place in the military build-up at the Line of Actual Control.
- Chinese soldiers are said to be stepping back in three of the contentious areas — Galwan, Hot Springs and Gogra.
- This is a development in the right direction.
LONG WAY TO GO:
- However, the verification process by the Indian Army is still underway, and it should continue to be so.
- After all, the incident at Galwan Valley in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed, took place at a time when the two sides were supposed to be disengaging.
- Moreover, there appears no de-escalation at the other “friction point”, Finger 4 at Pangong Lake.
- In any case, disengagement does not mean a return to status quo ante(previous existing state) yet.
- At Sunday’s Special Representatives meeting, the two officials reiterated their commitment to the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas.
- But the distinct difference in the tone and tenor of the readouts of this meeting put out by the MEA and the Chinese MEA draws attention to the hazards of jumping to conclusions.
- According to the Chinese statement “the right and wrong of what recently happened at the Galwan Valley in the western sector of the China-India boundary is very clear. China will continue firmly safeguarding our territorial sovereignty as well as peace and tranquility in the border areas”.
- The challenges ahead for India remain enormous.
- One is the sheer length of the LAC — 4,000 km of it, compared to the Line of Control which is 740 km.
- Apart from the disputed portions that already exist and that both sides have discussed in several previous rounds of talks between the Special Representatives,
- There is now an unpredictability as China disputes portions on which there was no ambiguity(confusion) earlier.
- India’s perception of the Galwan Valley was not disputed by the Chinese before this summer.
- A give in one part of this long unmarked boundary may be accompanied by take somewhere else.
- In the latest demonstration of this unpredictability, China has now opened a new front, staking claim to territory in eastern Bhutan, close to the border of Arunachal Pradesh.
- This “eastern sector” had never been part of 24 rounds of boundary talks between Bhutan and China.
- The claim, which first came to light when China tried to block UN funding to the Sakteng wildlife reserve in that area, was reiterated by Beijing on Sunday.
- Even as the Indian Army is preoccupied in Ladakh, this places more pressure on it in the eastern sector, where China claims all of Arunachal Pradesh.
Ensuring that China keeps its commitment to peace and tranquility(calm) in the border areas should be our objective.
2) Revise the law-
- The setting up of a five-member expert committee by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to overhaul(repair) criminal laws in the country is a welcome step that is long overdue.
- The Indian Penal Code and its corollary laws, the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure, were all first enacted in the late 19th-century.
- And despite proposals and suggestions in the past, these acts have not undergone comprehensive revision.
ROOTED IN COLONIAL WORLD:
- The Indian Penal Code, the legislation that an ordinary citizen arguably interacts with the most, and which governs his relationship with the state, is still rooted in colonial ideas.
- Although some changes have been made through amendments and judicial pronouncements, the laws do not reflect the aspirations of a Constitution that gives primacy to liberty and equality.
- While it took 158 years for the courts to decriminalise homosexuality and adultery — many others that still remain in the books do not recognise individual agency.
- This is especially true for women.
- “Enticing(attracting)” of a married woman who is “in the care of” a man is an offence that carries a jail term of up to two years, for instance.
- Too many laws protect and promote patriarchal attitudes within a constitutional framework that promises equality.
- Sedition, punishable with imprisonment for life, is another colonial spirited law misused by the state against its citizens — and another provision that needs revisiting.
CRIMINAL LAW NEEDS TO BE UPDATED:
- New crimes need to be defined and addressed, especially concerning technology and sexual offences.
- It is important to not give in to populist demands and run the risk of excessive policing and over-criminalising.
- When dealing with demands for safety, governments often take refuge in stricter laws and harsher punishments.
- As a renewed debate on the death penalty continues both within and outside judicial circles, the harshest punishment needs a legislative approach which is not just passing the buck to the judiciary.
- On procedural aspects of criminal law, there is a need to harmonise the statute books with court rulings.
- Despite “landmark rulings” reading down provisions and inserting safeguards through guidelines, processes of the state are often weaponised against citizens.
- From raids to arrests and the holding of accused in state custody — criminal law needs to be updated to meet the demands of the democratic temper of the 21st-century.
- While the committee debates the idea of criminal justice and what the gamut of laws really achieves, it also needs to place various stakeholders at the heart of this change.
- If the victim is often on the margins of the justice process, the accused is burdened with institutional delays.
- Accountability, above all, must guide the balance between the rights of the citizen and imperatives(need) of state.
- Review of penal code, its statutes, is long overdue. Exercise must be guided by imperative of ensuring accountability.
3) Indian Ocean Front:
- In the wake of China’s behaviour on our northern border, India needs to look carefully at other areas of potential conflict.
- The Indian Ocean is an obvious one.
- In his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June 2018, our prime minister presented India’s Indo-Pacific vision.
- It is rooted in our historical associations with this region, and our understanding of its seminal importance in building prosperity in this century.
- The clarity of our approach was captured thus: “Inclusiveness, openness and ASEAN centrality and unity, therefore, lie at the heart of the new Indo-Pacific.
- India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members.
- Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate. And by no means do we consider it as directed against any country.”
CHINA AND INDIAN OCEAN:
- China is not a littoral state in the Indian Ocean. Nor, historically speaking, did it have a naval presence.
- This by no means suggests that China did not play an important part in Indian Ocean trade.
- It is to merely posit that such trade, especially beyond the Malacca Straits, was mainly carried on by Arab, Indian and Persian traders.
- Nonetheless, in today’s context, China is the second largest economy and the world’s largest trading nation.
- The sea-lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean are vital to her economy and security.
- China should have equal access under international law and in accordance with international practice.
- China could have been expected to welcome the Indo-Pacific approach which gives her both legitimacy and respect in the Indian Ocean.
- She has, instead, opted to undermine it.
- China now alleges that this is an American-led plot to “contain” China’s rise.
CHINA’S “Malacca Dilemma”:
- After the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, China was initially focussed on the consolidation of the “homeland”.
- Its horizons broadened as its economy went global, and the consequent challenge was encapsulated by President Hu Jintao in November 2003 to party cadres as China’s “Malacca Dilemma”.
- They imagined that others would block the Malacca Straits to “contain” the Chinese.
- From that point forward, China has strategised to dominate not just the Malacca Straits, but the ocean beyond it.
- The PLA Navy (PLAN) made its first operational deployment in the Gulf of Aden in 2008.
- In December 2009 retired PLAN Admiral Yin Zhuo referred to a possible overseas base or facility.
- In 2010 a China State Oceanic Administration report alluded to plans to build aircraft carriers.
- By 2012 China was ready to make the move into the Indian Ocean.
- A Maritime Rights and Interests Leading Group was established inside the Communist Party.
- The Report to the 18th Party Congress in the same year saw the first official reference to “building China into a sea-power nation”.
- The plan was presented as the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road in Jakarta in October 2013, carefully wrapped in terms of trade and finance, in order to disguise its dual purpose.
- In May 2014 three Chinese researchers affiliated to the China Naval Research Institute laid out the real game-plan in their article, “The Strategic Scenario in the Indian Ocean and the Expansion of Chinese Naval Power”.
CHALLENGES TO THE CHINESE PLAN:
Acknowledging that US hegemony and India’s regional influence in the Indian Ocean posed challenges to the Chinese plan, the authors laid out the inherent deficiencies that China needed to overcome, namely that
(a) it is not a littoral state;
(b) its passage through key maritime straits could be easily blocked; and
(c) the possibility of US-India cooperation against China.
They suggested that these deficiencies might be overcome by-
(1) carefully selecting sites to build ports — Djibouti, Gwadar, Hambantota, Sittwe and Seychelles were specifically named;
(2) by conducting activities in a low-key manner to “reduce the military colour as much as possible”; and
(3) by not unnerving India and America by cooperating at first, then slowly penetrating into the Indian Ocean, beginning with detailed maritime surveys, ocean mapping, HADR, port construction and so on.
The Chinese have moved precisely along those lines.
- The official establishment continues to deny that the BRI has military or geo-strategic intent.
- A Chinese scholar at Jiao Tong University has recently acknowledged that the dual-use ports are likely to support future projection of military power.
- China has conveniently forgotten its assurance, in the Defence White Paper (1998) that she “does not station any troops or set up any military bases in any foreign country”.
- The PLA’s new base in Djibouti is the prototype for more “logistics” facilities to come.
- More port construction projects that are commercially unviable but have military possibilities, like Gwadar and Hambantota, are being offered to vulnerable countries.
- Chinese “civilian” vessels routinely conduct surveys in the EEZ of littoral states.
- In January 2020 the PLA Navy conducted tripartite naval exercises with Russia and Iran in the Arabian Sea. They have the largest warship building programme in the world.
- The Indo-Pacific idea might potentially derail their carefully crafted plans. It is inclusive, participative and evolving through open discussion; the Maritime Silk Road by contrast is a Chinese fait accompli(done deal).
- After initially disparaging the idea, they now wish to cause alarm by raising fears about Great Power “strategic collision” caused by the so-called American-led “containment” strategy.
- This is the classic Chinese ruse(plan) of deflecting attention from the real issue on hand, their efforts to dominate the Indian Ocean.
- It is important to look past their propaganda.
- In September 2019, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said: “We are firmly against attempts to use the Indo-Pacific strategy as a tool to counter the BRI or even contain China”.
- China still thinks in terms of balance of power while speaking about a Community with a Shared Future of Mankind.
- It should re-consider its position and view the Indo-Pacific idea as an instrument for advancing common interests, and not make it a source of conflict or tension.