Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently commented that Indian troops along the LAC will not withdraw as threats have not diminished. Similar words were used by the army chief, General Manoj Pande, who stated, “the situation is stable but unpredictable.” He added, “We all know that what the Chinese say and what they do is quite different. We need to focus on their actions rather than what is there in written text or scripts or their articulation.”
The External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar mentioned, “Unless there is an observance of agreements and no unilateral attempt to change status quo, the relationship cannot be normal and is not normal.”
For China, India is an adversary that it must suppress prior to challenging the West. After all, India is the US’s close ally in both Asia (Quad) and I2U2 (India, Israel, UAE, and the US) in West Asia.
Further, India is arming nations in dispute with China in the South China Sea (Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam). India’s global reputation is far higher than China’s. The world looks at India negotiating between Russia and Ukraine, not China. It was India that stalled the Chinese at Doklam and Galwan. India has the military capability to challenge China in the Indian Ocean as also along its borders.
China has given numerous hints to declare India an adversary. Firstly, it has stalled Indian attempts to designate known Pakistani terrorists from being designated as global terrorists.
Secondly, it has blocked Indian entry into multiple global forums including the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) as also from a permanent seat in the UNSC.
Finally, its display of the Galwan video in its 20th National Congress as also on regular occasions within China projects India as an adversary and also sends a message that it can reignite the LAC as a means of paying back India for the Galwan clash. It blames India for the incident.
If the Quad and I2U2 are to be rendered weak, India must be subdued. India is the ideal target as it borders China. Quad nations bank on India to stall the Chinese in the Indian Ocean.
China has sought to convey that India should not seek a resolution to the standoff but move forward bilaterally. Its foreign minister, Wang Yi, stated, “China and India should place the border issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations and should not let it define or even hinder the overall development of bilateral relations.”
India ignored Chinese hints while insisting that unless the status quo is restored along the LAC, the relationship cannot be normal. India has also conveyed its own messages. PM Modi’s visit to the border region of Mana coincided with the Chinese National Congress. It was a blunt message that India will protect its territory. He stated in Mana, “Every village located in border areas will now be considered as the first village of India.”
Indo-US joint exercises are being held in Auli close to the LAC. G20 preliminary meetings will be held in Arunachal and Ladakh. PM Modi has not interacted with Xi Jinping at any forum where the two have been together, Samarkand and Bali. Xi has directed the PLA to train for winning local wars. This conveyed a message that many presume implies Taiwan. They could be wrong.
An invasion of Taiwan would draw in Japan as also possibly the US and Australia, while none would intervene in case of an India-China border clash. The world would be impacted by an invasion of Taiwan, as it controls the global semiconductor market. A Taiwanese company, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, alone has half the global market. China too depends on the same company. Nothing of this sort would happen in case of a limited clash along the LAC.
Hardly any nation, the US included, criticized China for its intrusion in Ladakh and the Galwan clash. Further, any invasion of Taiwan implies an all-out war, while along the LAC it could be limited with small gains to embarrass India. However, there is a rider. Failure to achieve objectives, as happened in Ladakh, could be a major setback for China. It cannot risk failure. It will be compelled to project a fake picture of success as it did for Ladakh. A similar scenario exists for India, thus Indian forces remain on the alert and deployed along the LAC.
Post the 2013 Demchok intrusion, the Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid, rushed to Beijing seeking to resolve the standoff. The army was instructed not to publicize the intrusion. India had till recently attempted to contain China by employing diplomacy and trade, hence there were yearly leadership summits.
The first time India refused to budge was in Doklam. Galwan was the first clash in decades and the occupation of the Kailash Ridge displayed Indian offensive intent. This change in the Indian approach came as a shock to China. It had assumed India would adopt a similar line as in 2013 and it could discuss delay, and ultimately change the status quo.
India indicated that it is no pushover. China’s attempts to influence Indian neighbours and isolate it has failed. India objecting to the docking of the Chinese spy ship, Yuan Wang 5, in Hambantota, led to a rethink in Sri Lanka, compelling China to employ its diplomatic might. The pressure on China was such that the ship was received by the Chinese ambassador who published an article, post the visit, claiming diplomatic victory.
India is possibly the only nation to block the entry of Chinese spy ships into its Exclusive Economic Zone. China will act against India at a time of its choosing. Its intent will be to impact the current government, which has taken a hard stance against it and displayed an unwillingness to accept Chinese superiority.
The ideal period for any military misadventure would be prior to the 2024 elections. In case China fails in achieving its objectives, it would suffer a setback in reputation which it would take time to recover from. For the current Indian government, a setback would seriously impede its election campaign. With Xi firmly in the chair, China can absorb the setback, while the ruling BJP may not. Time for us to remain alert.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)