The India-China-LAC has witnessed several skirmishes in the past weeks but according to Lt. Gen. (Rtd.) D.S. Hooda, former Northern Army Commander, “…some kind of planning has gone through before these multiple face-offs…this time, there have been multiple face-offs and geographically spaced out, in Sikkim, Pangong Tso and Galwan. The kind of numbers we see is also not what we saw earlier and the aggression has been more than normal.”
The Galwan valley has not witnessed any such activity in past 15-20 years and therefore, the difference in perception of LAC can not be the reason for these escalations. Also, there is no denying to the fact that China has been working towards the ‛Five Fingers of Tibet’ strategy since the days of Mao Zedong and that we are confronted by a diplomatic front of Nepal as well. There are other reasons as well that are being stated by the intelligentsia. First, the bilateral relations between the two countries have been on the decline.
According to M.K.Narayanan, former National Security Advisor, “…relations between the two countries have been steadily deteriorating. India is almost the last holdout in Asia against China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). India also loses no opportunity to declaim against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China further views India’s assertions regarding Gilgit-Baltistan, as an implicit attack on the CPEC, China’s flagship programme. More recently, India was one of the earliest countries to put curbs and restrictions on Chinese foreign direct investment.”
The airstrike carried out by India in Balakot, which is just 30km away from one of the Chinese projects in PoK, along with infrastructural development on India’s side of LAC, has heightened the concerns of China.
The Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi Road and upgradation of defence logistics by India are examples of such development. In the words of Prof. Happymon Jacob, who teaches disarmament studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, “New Delhi’s terse statements about Aksai Chin following the Jammu and Kashmir reorganisation in August last year had not gone down well with Beijing.”
Additionally, India’s presence in groupings like the Quad and the JAI has been of considerable concern to China. This is because the People’s Republic considers them to be platforms for arresting China’s growth and development. This is evident in an article published by CGTN, a Chinese media outlet, which states, “The U.S. wants to exploit India as a proxy for containing China. Furthermore, India must do all that it can to ensure that it maintains independent control of its foreign and military policies instead of being exploited as any other country’s proxy against China. The world is anxiously watching to see whether India does the right thing or not.”
Second, this may be a part of a larger Chinese plan of action in order to become the next superpower. China is now reaping the early bird advantage to achieve its ‛China Dream’. There is a lot of discontent among the people on account of US-China trade war and consequent rising unemployment. The Communist party has probably resorted to diversion politics in the face of unemployment and domestic as well as worldwide criticism – an obstacle in the achievement of its dream, of its poor handling of Covid-19.
Assertion on LAC along with suppression of Hong Kong protests and continued assertion in South China sea is a part of this action plan. Prof. Jacob suggests “China’s China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) connectivity to Pakistan through the Karakoram and New Delhi’s criticism of it, the reported presence of PLA troops in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), India’s new-found activism on Aksai Chin, and the PLA’s incursions into areas in eastern Ladakh must be viewed in the broader context of a long-term geopolitical world view China has for the region.”
The general populace in India is in favour of the tit-for-tat military campaign. But going on war is definitely not an option as, “India advocates the policy of constructive engagement over aggression. It believes that violent retaliation and confrontation can only complicate matters. War is no solution; after every war, the conflicting Parties ultimately come to negotiating table by which time much damage has already been done…The policy of engagement is not allowed, however, to be misunderstood as India’s weakness. Strong and loud messages emanate from India each and every time our patience is tested.”
Another popularly stated solution is to sanction Chinese trade. But here too, India being a member of WTO cannot impose sanctions on China for reasons like these. Even if it does by making use of loopholes in WTO guidelines, China won’t be affected as much as India would be.
India can economically counter China only if it brings up structural reforms in its manufacturing sector and this will undoubtedly take time to bear fruits. As of now, China dominates the Indian market in many different ways especially in the fields of renewable energy and electronics.
The most suitable way to maintain peace on the border, in my opinion, is through the use of soft power accompanied by pressure in the Indian ocean. It is not unknown that strait of Malacca is the lifeline of the Chinese economy and none of its alternative routes is as efficient as the strait itself. At the same time, India needs to firmly stands its ground of maintaining territorial sovereignty and not overlook the current developments. Apart from this, India should try and reinvigorate its relationship with Nepal, Bhutan and other neighbouring countries.
As has been said by former National Security Adviser, Mr Shivshankar Menon, “The key to arriving at a successful outcome was keeping public rhetoric calm and steady, displaying strength, and giving the adversary a way out, which was our preferred solution.” Therefore, the need of the hour is to allow media to only broadcast the factual information on the issue rather than forming opinions.
The opposition parties should also be taken into confidence by the Indian government.
With the above short term strategy, India must adopt a long term strategy to upgrade its defence system and equip it with the latest technology in order to safely steer out of any future confrontation. While doing so, it should be kept in mind that the Indian Navy and the Indian Airforce are treated at par with the Indian Army. The architect of ‛offensive realism theory’, John. J Mearsheimer, writes, “In international politics, a state’s power is ultimately a function of its military forces and how they compare with the military forces of rival states.”
Whatever course the Indian government may take, for the time being, the main focus should be on resolving the border issue with China and even Pakistan as well as possible.