Grand aim of China is to ensure that India should not build infrastructure along LAC; change status of Ladakh; should not cozy-up to US; and anti-China chorus
There has been no positive outcome on ground between India and China in Ladakh despite foreign ministers meetings, diplomatic overtures, innumerable military interactions and apex-level marathon discussions between the corps commanders. Talks at the highest levels have not yielded tangible results. Instead of withdrawing, there is a massive build-up of Chinese and Indian forces in the areas of intrusion.
The administrative challenge of maintaining troop accretions at this altitude, during the winter season, will be of serious concern. Even if there is some temporary disengagement, both sides will now assume that the slightest diminution in military deployments could give the other side an opportunity to advance in a matter of hours. An infrastructure-thick environment will require permanent presence and closer deployments. Chinese capabilities are probably greater than India’s in this respect. But with India ramping up infrastructure and capabilities, this fear will be tangible on both sides.
The grand aim of China is to ensure that India does not build infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC); change the status of Ladakh; cosy-up to the United States (US); and join the anti-China chorus. China wants to secure its interests in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and doesn’t want India to claim Pakistan-Administered Kashmir (PaK) territories across the Line of Control (LOC). Beijing is worried about India’s recent actions of reorganising Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and improving infrastructure in the region. It has high stakes in PaK as the $60-billion CPEC traverses through it, and it is also the site of the proposed $9 billion Diamer Bhasha Dam, a joint project of China and Pakistan.
LAC is not very well defined and it is not a mutually agreed line. There are different perceptions where the LAC runs. China does not believe in putting effort and resource to resolve. It is happy with a problematic status-quo. The border transgressions are nothing but a message, “Here we are, and see we can come here and you can do nothing. So, don’t mess with us.”
With 2.1 million standing army and half a million in reserve, China has three times the defence budget of India (approx. 160 billion USD). It has far more tanks, fighter and attack aircraft, naval vessels, nuclear warheads, and missiles with range up to 15,000 km as compared to India’s 5000 km of Agni-V. China has an exceptionally solid missile cover and deadly cyber warfare capabilities. So what we might like to call a ‘limited war’ would be a quick war with India suffering majorly.
The Chinese President is in the Middle-Kingdom mode and will continue to deepen the difference on the LAC. It is deliberately trying to push the Indian Army into reaction without caring a damn that this might lead to serious blood-letting. Lt General DS Hooda (retd), who was the Northern Army Commander (NAC) during the 2014 standoff at Chumar, agrees that “there is certainly an element of coercion in what the PLA is doing along the LAC. In the past, the redlines of both sides were clear and limited to a specific geographical area for example Chumar or Doklam.”
With multiple intrusions, the Chinese have upped the ante with a view to pressure India. I really can’t speculate about what their final intentions are, but their behaviour carries great risks.US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Beijing under President Xi Jinping is testing the world to see if anyone is going to stand-up to its threats and bullying. The Secretary of State said China has the desire to expand its power and reach.
China talks about bringing socialism with Chinese characteristics to the world. There is an ideological shift to a deeper authoritarianism in China; and authoritarianism by its very nature will require an aggressive nationalism to shore up its power.
Ashok Kantha, who was India’s ambassador to China from 2014 to 2016, said: “Chinese seem to be in fact physically changing the ground position and preventing our troops from undertaking regular patrolling. There are some major changes from the earlier pattern of what we have witnessed with regard to the Chinese behaviour on the border. They have reportedly come in large numbers into a new area (Galwan river valley), incursions are happening in multiple locations; and they have become more assertive and aggressive in their behavior.”
So what needs to be done to avert the current standoff is to handle the crisis diplomatically rather than militarily. Borders should be redefined through permanent agreements. Trade and Internet transactions should resume which is in the interest of both the nations. No doubt China is acting aggressively and provocatively but India should act responsibly to break the dangerous deadlock. War would wreak havoc but peace always leads to progress and prosperity.
Author is Assistant Professor, Political Science, Higher Education Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir