Historically China always had a strong inward looking army and never looked to colonize the way the British and other colonial empires did. But that was also one reason why nobody could conquer China and make it a colony, even though the Japanese briefly held a huge chunk of China during World War 2.
If you look at the map of China in the last few hundred years then you will be quite surprised to see how the border kept changing with alarming regularity as it battled with almost all its neighbours. Land kept swapping between China and its neighbours.
China lost the islands of Taiwan and Penghu to Japan in 1895. Despite regaining Taiwan after World War 2, today that island is virtually an autonomous country, though it is not officially proclaimed. Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842 and the Chinese regained control only in 1997.
In fact China in the nineteenth century signed a series of “Unequal Treaties” with the colonial powers and even America where it ceded a great amount of autonomy, economic freedom and in certain cases tracts of land too.
China has not forgotten that “Century of humiliation” as it was then called. The Communist regime of the 1940s went about to turn that around and one of the first casualties was Tibet which it annexed in 1951. That happened because Tibet bordered China and was in its sphere of influence.
It had border disputes with Russia and that ended only with the collapse of the USSR and the 1991 Sino-Soviet Border Agreement. In the nineteenth century, the colonial powers dictated the borders by force and in the twentieth century it responded when it became a strong force on its own.
China has had border disputes with almost every country around it including with even North Korea and Bhutan.
So of course it is no surprise that India would be no different. It needs any excuse to claim land close to its border and claimed that Arunachal Pradesh should be part of China because racially the people there are closer to the Chinese than the Indians!
India should be very careful. China has never let go of its belligerent claim of Arunachal and wants to annex it like Tibet. In fact after Independence, it officially refused to recognize the Indo-China border drawn up by the British and said it had a right to change it anytime it wanted.
After the annexation of Tibet, China wanted to link it by road and rail to the rest of China and eyed what is now called Aksai Chin. China officially asked for the land to be given to them but the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did not take it seriously.
That was a major foreign policy blunder because if Nehru knew a little bit of history then he would have known that the China border was among the most dynamic in the world. China offered to buy Aksai Chin and then even offered land thrice the size of Aksai Chin.
Nehru refused point blank. So the Chinese went ahead with their plans anyway. They made plans to develop Aksai Chin and modified all their internal maps accordingly. Nehru wore blinkers all the time and refused to act even when the Chinese army entered Indian soil thinking they would go away on their own.
Even after a full-fledged war, Nehru refused to use the superior Indian Air Force (the Chinese Air Force was no match to us in 1962). The result was a humiliating defeat. However when we finally agreed to give them Aksai Chin, they promptly retreated and returned all our prisoners of war without any further conditions.
Now China is in another aggressive phase of expansion. Not only is it building artificial islands in the South China Sea to claim extra land, but it is aggressively developing Sri Lanka to encircle us.
But more dangerous is its plans for Pakistan. It is trying for a trade route there and it eying PoK, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan. Pakistan will be more difficult to counter if its trade interests are heavily entrenched in Pakistan.
Throughout that era of expansion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was sleeping much like his mentor Nehru. Chinese soldiers regularly entered Indian territories and set up camps and mocked us during UPA rule from 2004-14.
In fact in certain cases, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi government found Chinese soldiers 25-30 kilometres into India! As history has shown, it is disastrous to not take Chinese border activity lightly.
That way the current government has decided to take China head on. Fighter bases, army camps, roads and rail networks are being planned near the border so that it will be extremely tough for the Chinese to make advances and capture land.
By mentioning Balochistan in his 2016 Independence Day speech, Modi showed that he is willing to fight Chinese influence there and send a message to Pakistan. Recently we also boycotted China’s Belt and Road Summit.
Modi is also open to working with US President Donald Trump to counter China as the latter is concerned at the growing economic clout of our aggressive neighbour.
There are many who are worried about Modi’s aggressive approach to China, but they need not be. For one China is not like Pakistan, which has a pathological desire to destroy India in its entirety. It just eyes our border areas and we merely have to firmly defend them and not wear blinkers like Nehru did during Aksai Chin.
Secondly in the twenty-first century while it’s easy for a big country to attack a little one, there’s no way the world will allow two giants to go to war. An Indo-China war would be suicidal for both countries and even the world and China knows all this too well.
Global trade it too interlinked and the financial markets would never survive a war of this magnitude. Modi realizes this and that’s why he will have to continue to act tough at the border till China permanently gets the message that we are no longer pushovers.
In fact it’s the other way round. If we act weak, then China will go and capture land and we may be forced to go to war anyway! Better to be firm then to be sorry.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here