China builds border villages

[ Rimmo Karbak ]


China is reportedly building villages bordering Arunachal Pradesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The border between India and China is unsettled and has caused constant frictions between the two, including the 1962 conflict and recent events in western sector of the line of actual control (LAC). Recently, China reportedly built villages in Subansiri valley opposite Arunachal. It was vastly hyped by our media, causing some anxiety among the people of Arunachal in particular and the nation at large. I had then extensively put out on social media that China had built villages in areas occupied by them in 1959 and still under their control. Between China and Bhutan too, the border is unsettled and not demarcated. The border village built by China is in village Pangda, reportedly in an area east of the China-Bhutan-India trijunction on Doklam plateau.

According to Chinese mouthpiece the Global Times, the village is within their own territory. The Bhutanese ambassador to India, Vetsop Namgyal, too has reportedly denied that it is in Bhutanese territory. However, between China and Nepal, a formal border treaty was signed on 5 October, 1961, and consequently, line demarcated and pillars were erected. According to recent media reports, China has removed some border pillars in Dolaka, Gorkha, Darchula, Humla, Rasua, etc, causing anxiety among the people of Nepal.

Building of villages on borders on one’s own side, per se, is not alarming and should cause no anxiety to the border population and to the nation on the opposite side. On the face of it, it is simply a part of development for any country. But the popular belief or the myth is that what China does is always with an objective. This article is restricted to analyzing what the possible Chinese objectives are, if any. They could be border development as a part of border security, to destabilize political and social fabrics on the opposite side, as a public relation (PR) exercise, power projection to intimidate/induce the opposite camps.

Development as a part of border security Development in the border or remote areas must aim at empowering the inhabitants to earn a decent living. Towards this goal, primary needs are education, connectivity (surface and electronic in particular), healthcare, shelter, water, electricity and good governance. A village in a border area having these primary needs will have no reason for large-scale migration. They are then permanently settled and trade and commercial activities as per the capability of each will flourish in and outside the villages as well as across the border with neighbouring countries. The inhabitants of such villages will be contented and play a constructive role in nation-building. By their very permanency, daily activities of the border population will tantamount to patrolling, guarding or policing the border permanently. Thus, in the long run, a populated border village becomes not only part of border security but the heart of it.

Trade and commerce between villages across the border will also enhance relations between neighbouring countries. Militarily too, populated and well-developed villages in border areas have great advantages. However, it is not intended to discuss this aspect here. A well-established village on the border is more permanent than a border pillar, for while the latter can be removed easily, the former cannot be.

Destabilization of political and social fabric across the border

When villages on one side of the fence are well-developed and people there are prosperous, those living on the opposite side envy the former. It is natural. The villagers of undeveloped border will cite the example of the other side and put pressure on the administration, leading to large-scale discontentment, strikes, rallies, et al, in a democratic dispensation. All three countries mentioned are democracies. None other than Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that “democracy is chaotic.” And why not benefit from this chaos? China has only to cultivate dissenters and throw some crumbs at which they are best in the world. Seemingly, an inconsequential democratic movement may eventually engulf the entire border areas as unrest spreads, fuelled by the ever-ready political opponents, media hype by a free press and many other such blessings (or bane) of a democracy.

India is best known for political disunity. So is Nepal in recent times, and Bhutan, too, is learning fast. Also, militants and other antiestablishment elements will seek to take advantage of the chaotic situation encouraged by the hidden hands, thus destabilizing political and social fabrics of an adversary.

Suffice to say that China has the mastery and long reach to turn such turmoil in an enemy camp in to their advantage.

PR exercise

China is well known for human rights abuses in Tibet. By developing Tibet, including building modern villages on borders as reported, China aims to remove this allegation. To the eyes of many, China then will be a builder and not a destroyer. With its political, economic and military might and well-known mastery in publicity campaign, China looks to turn the table on her adversaries on human rights issues. Developments in Tibet, particularly in remote border areas, will be a great window dressing. China may also perceive such developments to be an eye catcher to induce and woo the educated Tibetan young generation spread across the globe to return home and be a part of the great leap forward, besides putting restless and rebellious Tibetan country folks at rest. Also, post the Covid-19 pandemic, China’s image has taken a beating. China is also accused of large-scale human rights abuses in Hong Kong, Uighur and within the mainland against the opposition. Therefore, window dressing of development in remote border areas may also have the added advantage of projecting a positive image to global detractors and act as a mind-changer to rebellious Tibetans both in and outside Tibet.

Power projection to intimidate/induce the opposite camps

In recent years, China is constantly projecting its political, economic and military might with a view to wrest the global number one position from the USA. Reported Chinese activities in East and South China seas are examples. Though very small on a larger canvas, building of border villages could also be a part of this power projection to cow down or to intimidate the border population on opposite camps. Conversely, such developments could also induce poorer people on the opposite fence to change loyalty. Just a way of saying: do you like it? Come over and have it!

Next, China may well turn Tibet into an international tourist hub. Are the hippies alive and listening? What better than this to legitimize the forced occupation of Tibet? Developments in border areas must be a continuous process by all subsequent governments at the Centre and in the state. Pray, let the nation come first before individuals, always and every time. (Rimmo Karbak is a retired colonel.)