It is making no pretence of diplomacy and pushing its territorial claims hard and fast by still amassing troops along the LAC
By now, it is clear that China is no longer speaking with a forked tongue. In fact, it is making no pretence of diplomacy or nicety and pushing its territorial claims hard and fast as salami-slicing continues to be the only tool to aggravate India’s vulnerabilities. It is imperiously wresting its place in the neighbourhood by decimating the only rival claimant and currently the recipient of worthy attention from the US and the West — India. And if its continued aggressive pile-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is any indication, then the 3,488-km Himalayan border is going to be hot for some time. Although both sides have agreed to simmer down at Galwan Valley, that’s just word play as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has amassed troops all along the LAC with artillery and missile support. Its military air bases at Kashgar, Hotan, Yarkand, Korla and Gor Gunsa are battle ready. Its rhetoric on Galwan that India is being provocative points to an assumption that its presence there has always been legitimate though this has never been a point of dispute since the 1962 war. It has now significantly enhanced its presence in the Depsang area, closer to the Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip. This shows that the Chinese will never reconcile to losing the strategic advantage in Ladakh because of the DSDBO road that allows India troop parity in this sector. It sees India’s ramping up of border infrastructure as harbouring ambitions in Aksai Chin and our economic disengagement, though not enough to dislodge Chinese superiority in supply chains in the short-term, as a prelude to a challenge against its imperialistic chokehold in the South Asian region. Here smaller nations, having fed off its investments, are now writhing in debt traps and financial takeovers. Most importantly, it is the unwanted US involvement in halting the narrative of creating a “Chinese dream” that is causing the dragon to spew fire, particularly its advocacy of India. Apart from the ongoing trade wars and human rights tirades against Uighurs, the US is now contextualising India as part of its offensive against China. It has declared reviewing its global deployment of forces to ensure it is postured appropriately to counter the PLA, given the increasing threat posed by China to Asian countries like India, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. On its part, India has also turned aggressive, accusing China of turning the clock back to the hostile era of the 1990s. The 1993 agreement signed during the Narasimha Rao-Jiang Zemin era made it absolutely clear that both sides would scale down troops at the LAC to a “minimum level” as a confidence-building measure and strengthen bilateral ties by looking beyond the boundary arc. Clearly, Xi Jinping, who is also commander-in-chief of the PLA, and having earned the world’s wrath over the Wuhan contagion, feels the time for goodwill hunting is over. Rather it is pointless. Besides, globalisation has been the biggest casualty of the pandemic and China, which continues its economic acquisition spree across the world as the only country which can still afford to stay above the zero growth line, is, therefore, looking at expanding its hegemonic hold by threatening territories in its margins. Like Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and now India, which it has slotted as a US ally, a proxy even, as opposed to being a civilisational partner.
The Modi Government, therefore, has to give up old templates of engagement and deal with China in a transactional and robust manner. With better field experience and now men, weaponry and infrastructure, Indian forces are quite capable of matching and even overwhelming the PLA in military manoeuvres along the LAC. In fact, with our forces at strategic heights, the PLA would also be hit if it gets adventurous, unless it is ready to risk its numbers. So we must not look compromised but be prepared. And though Chinese exports to India may not be a big part of its trade basket, we have been a dedicated market for decades now, one that has growth potential. With most countries joining the “make your own” bandwagon, many will be sieved out over the next decade. Also, with India reorienting its manufacturing sector and other Southeast Asian nations already emerging as alternative sourcing hubs, the world’s largest factory floor may not be able to utilise its capacities. India has already held out against China’s Belt and Road Initiative or economic colonisation successfully. But China has encircled our immediate neighbours by flooding them with largesse. Nepal is hostile, Bangladesh is silent and upset about CAA, Sri Lanka and Maldives have been taken over. So India has to build its own relevance in its peripheries rather than relying complacently on historicity. It needs to engage one on one with smaller South-east Asian nations, even ramp up socio-cultural ties from maritime history, and coalesce their collective anxieties about Chinese design. It can try to dominate the Malacca Straits and make some noise on Tibet and Xinjiang. That counterweight would work better than just relying on the US, which beyond the point of internationalising an issue, wouldn’t stay invested as it is too remote for its domestic concerns. Besides, India needs to stay on the course of multilateralism and in a post-pandemic world, needs to build its own protective shield.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)