Reset ties with China
#GS2 #India-China #BilateralRelations
With its aggression in the Galwan Valley, Ladakh, China has crossed a threshold and pushed the relationship with India to a dangerous low, with long-lasting consequences.
- Chinese soldiers used the opportunity of a negotiated withdrawal operation to viciously attack a supervisory Indian contingent. The first Indian military casualties along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 45 years, and the seeming manner of their deaths, are a tragedy.
- In the past patterns of intimidation, Beijing would intrude; there would be some pushing and shoving; then it would withdraw, feeling a message had been sent. But this time, the Galwan Valley indicates there has been a dramatic shift in Chinese tactics, one that will require an equally drastic re-evaluation of India’s position.
What should be our assessment?
- First, it is important to diagnose the roots of Beijing’s behaviour. At the macro-level, it is clear that China — under President Xi Jinping — believes the time has come to assert its power on the international stage. This has translated into China violating international norms and law (South China Sea); engaging in predatory, almost colonial, economic practices (Belt and Road Initiative); being brazen, rather than introspective and transparent, about its role in causing crises with global impact (the coronavirus pandemic); encroaching upon the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighbours (Japan and India); intervening in the politics of democracies (from European nations to Australia); exporting its own ideological worldview to other countries (especially in South Asia); and becoming even more repressive at home (Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong) .
- In this backdrop, China wants to limit New Delhi’s power and ambition; it wants India to accept Beijing’s primacy in Asia and beyond; it wants to impose costs on India for deepening ties with the United States (US); and it wants to continue using Pakistan, which has now becoming almost its client State with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, to inflict terror on India. Concerned about India’s upgradation of border infrastructure and motivated by a desire to change facts on the ground, with its recent actions, China has violated every border pact signed in the last three decades to maintain peace and tranquillity and engaged in unacceptable aggression.
What should be our response?
- India will have to respond. But it must do so strategically, not emotionally. There have to be two layers of response –
- The first priority has to be to restore status quo ante at the border as it existed in April 2020. This will require both a display of military strength at the border by standing up to Chinese aggression, and diplomatic work by making it clear to Beijing that its intervention will lead to heavy costs across all spheres of the relationship.
- The political leadership, while providing strategic guidance, must give all the support the armed forces need at this moment and carefully examine the possibility of inflicting costs on China in other theatres (including business and trade) while keeping the conflict within limits. It must also mobilise international opinion to expose Chinese aggression at a time when a humanitarian, economic and health crisis (originating in China) has engulfed the world.
- More fundamentally, India will have to reconsider its entire geopolitical posture. Engagement with China is essential and should continue. But there can be no appeasement. Policymakers need to go back to the drawing board and examine ways to build leverage against Beijing. India should consider taking a stronger position on Tibet.
- It must double down on its partnership with the US, make Quad (which also includes Japan and Australia) a more permanent arrangement, and be a part of any club that seeks to contain Chinese power. India needs to economically re-examine its trade, technology and investment ties with China, for all these appear to have benefited Beijing more than Delhi. It needs to ramp up its military modernisation, identify vulnerabilities across sectors, and prepare for a two-front situation — which may have seemed unthinkable some years back but will need to be considered now.
- India will also have to invest more in South Asia, ensure there are friendly governments in neighbouring capitals, and push back on Chinese efforts to encircle Delhi. The government will also, domestically, need to take the Opposition into confidence and prepare public opinion.