Post-Galwan: Where are India and China headed?

    03-Jul-2020
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After the bloody clash between the Indian and Chinese Armies at the LAC ten days back, it is time to retrospect, where are we headed. Is a more significant military escalation inevitable? Will the Line of Actual Control now be the hot border for the foreseeable future
 

-Shwetank Bhushan Singh 


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India and China continue to hold talks at Brigade and
Battalion Commander level in Eastern Ladakh post the Galwan valley stand-off
 
The predetermined clash in Galwan was a deliberate provocation from China to test India's resolve to protect her territorial integrity. A lot has been written so far about the violent confrontation between two armies in Ladakh's Galwan Valley. India Today's Shiv Aroor wrote one of the most detailed accounts of the clashes.
 
Initially, the Chinese had tried to spread propaganda that no Chinese soldiers lost their lives while the Indian side had reported 20 soldiers martyred and more injured. However, later reports started pouring that the violent military clash led to 'casualties on both sides.' Much more on the Chinese side. After days of damage control for inadvertently admitting casualties, Chinese state media has finally officially reconfirmed that its soldiers died. This time the Chinese got a bloody nose.
 
The only difference being for India, each soldier has a name, a face, a family, and all the emotions attached to a tragic loss of life. For China's brutal communist regime, a soldier is just a number, and soldiers know that too. Most of these PLA boys are the only kid of their parents, thanks to their one-child policy. The repercussions of a massive casualty will further internal fuel flames.
 
Indian soldiers displayed exemplary and unprecedented bravado, no less than the surgical strike inside Pakistan. The psychological evaluation conducted on Indian Army officers and Jawans who were in the custody of China's PLA has revealed that the Chinese soldiers, who were a part of the action in the Galwan Valley, were in a state of shock and fear after Indian soldiers gave them a bloody nose. The incidence has just set a precedent that India will not tolerate China's misadventures, demonstrating the world, that such Chinese actions will result in a violent Indian response.
 
There are enough hints that Xi and CCP are losing their face with people big time. The internal politics inside CCP that has turned Xi hostile. This wasn't just an isolated incident in the Himalayas alone. China is picking fights everywhere. From Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Tibet, the Philippines, Singapore, or Indonesia, it is a country that has borders with 17 countries and border disputes with 21.
 
In the global geopolitical scenario today, there is now near-consensus that China is a hostile power. China's quest for land and sea military hegemony in Asia and beyond, exploiting every faultline, is acknowledged by the world. Be it perception, trade positioning, external pressures on all fronts - US, Aussies, India, or Japan, China has never been caught at so much mess at the same time.
 
But why aggression against India?
 
At least until 2014, China had an enormous lead over India because of its extensive infrastructure development alongside LAC. The fact that in the last six years, India has significantly upgraded its infrastructure and gained much control along the LAC, and has the potential to thwart any further Chinese intrusions in this region. It has irked China the most.
 
However, this deterrence message to China in Galwan Valley is not the first. The continued successive construction alongside LAC and successive control in the region is exasperating China and was also the reason for the Doklam-faceoff. During Doklam-faceoff, the calm and collected resolve with utmost responsibility that was displayed by India was unparalleled in modern history.
 
India's Problem
 
Sadly, India's weakest link is its weak opposition, especially the Congress Party. Its leaders and ecosystem cabal never miss a single chance to play to the tunes of our enemy, that too at a time the government is handling complicated diplomatic and military situations. They cannot digest how things can change with strong leadership and a capable, aligned team of professionals (diplomats as well as armed forces) that has time and again proven its mettle in handling such situations.
 
In 2017 also, at the time of Doklam standoff, the playbook was the same.
 
"China occupied our territory." "Modi is weak." "What happened to 56 inches?" "Kadi-Ninda." "Modi is silent." And what not?
 
Immediately after the reports started circulating, the usual suspects selectively preferred to observe radio silence. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor led a parliamentary panel that also included Rahul Gandhi, praised Modi Govt's handling of the Doklam standoff. As per the reports, the Indian government sent the necessary signals to China in its attempts to change the status quo.
 
When the Balakot strike happened, they again asked for the proof. They are once again asking what happened at Galwan Valley. Only a naïve politician would expect that the action that India took on the "Chinese side" of the LAC will ever be officially acknowledged. It is advisable to ignore this lot who always wait for a crisis to feast on it.
 
If one had to choose the darkest chapter in the history of independent India, it would have to be humiliation suffered during the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. No Indian should ever forget that humiliating chapter and the scar it has left.
 
Sometimes I wonder how much of muck has been fed to us for decades in the name of strategic foreign policy, all for vested interests. In Prime Minister Narendra Modi's words, "foreign policy means, a clear understanding and steps towards India's interest." Simple, isn't it?
 
This month, India signed a significant defence agreement with Australia that allows both to use each other's military bases. Just a week after the Galwan-Clash, Japan began the legal process of complete integration of the uninhabited island group called Senkakus, which Beijing has for long set its eyes on.
 

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‘PM Modi has been able to call the Chinese bluff of its
PLA being an invincible force that ought to be feared by all’
 
These are all results of the new statecraft in diplomacy that PM Narendra Modi has set. Be it Ganga-Aarti along with Shinzo Abe-san, the bear hugs, hearty laughter, relaxed camaraderie, and the grandest of a show - 'HowdyModi' with President Trump or the protocol-breaching reception on the serene shores of Sabarmati that witnessed a skilled synthesis of symbolism and substance on Xi Xinping's short Indian sojourn. PM Narendra Modi has left no stone unturned in elevating statecraft and diplomacy to a whole new level.
 
PM Modi has made every possible attempt to better the relationship with China. He has made five visits to China and met President Xi Jinping several times since he took the oath, expecting "a new era of co-operation between the two countries." However, despite PM Modi's efforts to build a close relationship with Xi, Indian anxiety about the rise of China has also been growing for years.
 
New Balance in Geopolitics
 
This change in Indian attitude also pushes it into a new phase of a much more significant strategic and security challenge in decades. India will have to decide if it is willing to involve a much closer alliance with the US and its allies. Western diplomats and foreign policy experts feel the friction with China will push India further towards the west, and more so towards the US.
 
At the diplomatic and strategic level, there would be a more significant push towards counterbalancing China, something that India has traditionally been wary of doing openly. So far, PM Modi has maintained suspense over the shift in the global power game. While the dragon watches with concerned eyes, the signs of convergence between India, Japan, Australia, and the US are also visible, if not obvious.
 
However, under the leadership of PM Modi, India is determined to forge its own path and maintain strategic autonomy and a further push towards Atma Nirbhar Bharat.
 
What to expect next?
 
It is important to note that here we are talking about one-third of humanity. If this century and beyond are going to be centuries of Asia, then the largest democracy and the biggest theocracy of this world would have to learn to live together and support each other.
 
We are entering into the most unpredictable phase of the bilateral relation. While the Chinese and Indian generals continue to meet along the border to discuss de-escalation efforts, the troop build-up is also extending from both sides of the LAC. A military clash looming between two nuclear-armed countries cannot entirely be ruled out. Not only China but the whole world, including India's foes and allies, will watch closely, how India responds
 
The Indian political leadership has clearly expressed its stance - "We want peace. But if provoked, are capable of giving a befitting reply."
 
It is said that the weakest part of a dragon is his eyes. Stare them back, and it blinks. The lion did that in Doklam and repeated in Galwan for the second time in two years, without much fuss. And if it ever came to an existential threat, with a symbolism drawn from Darwin, lions did survive... dragons did not!
 
(The author is a writer on history, current affairs and strategic issues)