The Big Ideas

Brahma Chellaney | Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

'Beijing replicates its South China Sea tactics in the Himalayas'

The Strategist | Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Brahma Chellaney | Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

The Strategist | Australian Strategic Policy Institute

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'Beijing replicates its South China Sea tactics in the Himalayas'
'Beijing replicates its South China Sea tactics in the Himalayas'
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China has constructed a new village in Arunachal Pradesh, consisting of about 101 homes, approximately 4.5 kms within Indian territory of the de facto border. Though this area is Indian territory, according to official government maps, it has been in effective Chinese control since 1959. However, earlier only a Chinese military post existed, but this time a full-fledged village that can house thousands has been built.

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Brahma Chellaney | Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

March 10, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘Emboldened by its cost-free expansion in the South China Sea, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime has stepped up efforts to replicate that model in the Himalayas.'
‘By building new border villages and relocating people there, China can now invoke international law in support of its claims. Effective control is the sine qua non of a strong territorial claim in international law. Armed patrols don’t prove effective control, but settlements do.’

I remember in junior high school taking a girl to the movies and wanting to put my arm around her.

  • I didn't know what to do, so I moved my hand with imperceptible slowness across the back of her seat.
  • When I reached the target I gently put my hand on her shoulder.
  • She didn't scream, but it was close.

In its territorial expansion in the South China Sea, China has employed such a method with much greater success than I had.

  • Xi Jinping has - atoll by atoll, grain of sand by grain of sand - built up little outposts in the South China Sea from which to assert spurious claims ownership of the area in the international waters surrounding these.

Now, writes Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi:

  • ‘Emboldened by its cost-free expansion in the South China Sea, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime has stepped up efforts to replicate that model in the Himalayas.’
  • ‘In particular, China is aggressively building many new villages in disputed borderlands to extend or consolidate its control over strategically important areas that India, Bhutan, and Nepal maintain fall within their national boundaries.’

‘China’s newly built border villages in the Himalayas are the equivalent of its artificially created islands in the South China Sea, whose geopolitical map Xi’s regime has redrawn without firing a shot.’

  • ‘Xi’s regime advanced its South China Sea expansionism through asymmetrical or hybrid warfare, waged below the threshold of overt armed conflict.’
  • ‘This approach blends conventional and irregular tactics with small incremental territorial encroachments (or “salami slicing”), psychological manipulation, disinformation, lawfare, and coercive diplomacy.’

‘Now China is applying that playbook in the Himalayan borderlands.’

  • ‘A Chinese government document says that China intends to build 624 border villages in disputed Himalayan areas.’

‘In international law, a territorial claim must be based on continuous and peaceful exercise of sovereignty over the territory concerned.’

  • ‘Until now, China’s Himalayan claims have been anchored in a “might makes right” approach that seeks to extend its annexation of Tibet to neighboring countries’ borderlands.’
  • ‘By building new border villages and relocating people there, China can now invoke international law in support of its claims.’
  • ‘Effective control is the sine qua non of a strong territorial claim in international law.’
  • ‘Armed patrols don’t prove effective control, but settlements do.’

First the South China Sea, then the Sino-Indian border.

  • Where will Mr. Xi employ his clever and so far undefeatable strategy next?
  • And can anything be done to stop him? The answer seems to be, no.

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