The ninth round of Indo-China military talks have concluded with no progress. Simultaneously, reports mention Chinese attempts to ingress in Naku La, Sikkim being thwarted. In the South China Sea (SCS), incidents of Chinese aircraft breaching Taiwanese airspace are on the rise. China also threatened Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, compelling the new US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, to reaffirm US commitment of defending them.
China, on 22 January, passed a bill giving powers to its Coast Guard to use weapons when foreign ships enter its claimed waters and refuse to adhere to commands to withdraw. This will enhance tensions between China and nations it is in dispute with over islands in the SCS. These actions indicate that Chinese aggressiveness remains unabated and it continues evaluating reactions from adversaries, seeking an opening to exploit. The US has moved the USS Theodore Roosevelt- led carrier group into the SCS to caution China.
China has, on the contrary, been claiming that it is not involved in any offensive actions. It accuses the US of being responsible for enhancing tensions by moving its naval power to support Taiwan. A US State Department communique stated that Washington will continue to deepen ties with Taiwan and ensure its defence from Chinese threats. In retaliation, China deployed its DF-26 missile launchers to Shandong province in the east and Korla in the Xinjiang region. The missiles can strike targets as far away as 5,000 kms and are termed ‘aircraft carrier killers.’
On Indian claims of the Naku La clash, the Chinese spokesperson, Zhao Lijian stated, “I don’t have any information to offer. I would like to stress though the Chinese border troops are committed to upholding peace and tranquillity along the border with India.” He added, “We urge the Indian side to work in the same direction with us and refrain from actions that might escalate or complicate the situation along the border. We hope both will take proper actions to manage the differences and take concrete actions to safeguard the peace and stability along the border.” Whenever the Chinese are blocked, they deny the incident, solely to save face and hide failures.
The ninth round of talks yielded nothing concrete. The joint statement issued post the talks was similar to those issued earlier. The statement read, “The two sides had a candid, indepth and constructive exchange of views on disengagement along the LAC in the Western Sector of China- India border areas. Both sides agreed to earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, ensure their frontline troops exercise restraint and avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation.”
On the contrary, the Global Times seeks to present a picture of Chinese cooperation with India. It stated in an editorial of 26 January, “despite no significant breakthroughs, there was some positivity shown in the ninthround meeting. Analysts said that China continues to send signs of goodwill to help cool things down.” It fails to mention that it was the aggressor and hence the onus of restoring normalcy rests on it as also that India will hold its ground.
China has been impacted by the Indian government decision to honour those killed in the Galwan clash with war time gallantry awards. The Global Times stated, “India’s ceaseless provocative moves would leave an impression to the world and also the Chinese people that they have no intention of resolving the border dispute and maintaining peace and stability along the border.” China is aware that wartime gallantry awards imply India considered the Ladakh incursion as an act of war. Indian countermeasures will be on similar lines.
For China, Indian domination of the Kailash Ridge prevents it from taking any unilateral action. They are aware that retaliation from these locations would impinge on their plans and expose their bases to Indian counter strikes. Currently, China is in a stalemate, unable to either advance without large casualties, or withdraw, as it would lead to loss of face.
The Naku La clash displayed that the Chinese would relentlessly pursue their actions of salami slicing, seeking areas where they could venture in. The construction of border villages by China conveys it is seeking to secure its current LAC. It also sends a message that their approach to any border resolution would only involve Indian side of the LAC. Hence, tensions along the LAC will remain for a prolonged duration, for which India must remain prepared.
In the SCS, China has begun conducting exercises focusing on combat training and beach landing. It has sought to display its intention of regaining Taiwan by force.
Losing the diplomatic war on the Covid vaccine has also hurt China. It assumed that South Asian nations would rush for its vaccines, but its rejection has displayed that Indian soft power still holds sway. A dejected Global Times commenced spreading disinformation on Indian vaccines. It even accused India of being responsible for the failure of its vaccine trials in Bangladesh. However, to no avail. Even nations deemed close to China have desired Indian vaccines.
To damage China in economic terms, India made permanent the ban on Chinese apps. The Chinese embassy spokesperson in Delhi, Ji Rong, stated, “These moves, in violation of WTO non-discriminatory principles and fair competition principles of market economy, severely damage the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies.” The Editor of the Global Times, Hu Xijin, tweeted, “India is like a bandit in the world that advocates civilized trade.
These Chinese apps have been legally registered in India. Their market shares have now been barbarically robbed by New Delhi.” There is no doubt that despite Chinese claims, the financial impact is hurting China. China is the last nation which can approach WTO due to its own restrictive trade practices.
This is the centenary of the Chinese communist party, hence would be a year of their aggressive designs. India has shown the world how the Chinese can be held at bay. It is time for major powers to join hands, follow suit and push China on the defensive.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.