What is the sum total of the Indian government’s achievements in dealing with China in the last year?
One, on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) itself, in the rush to create the semblance of ‘achievement’, the Indian government proved too eager to make concessions and to show as if the bilateral relationship was getting back on track. As a result, the Chinese got the Indian Army to vacate the Kailash ranges occupied at the end of August last year in return for disengagement from just two points – Pangong Tso and Gogra – in the opening months of the year. The entire process has subsequently stalled with Hot Springs, Demchok and Depsang remaining points of friction. This was entirely predictable and indeed, the government had fair warning.
The press release by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs at the end of the 13th round of the India-China corps commanders meeting held on 10 October was explicit in declaring that “the situation along the LAC had been caused by unilateral attempts of Chinese side to alter the status quo and in violation of the bilateral agreements.” It put the onus squarely on the Chinese side to “take appropriate steps… so as to restore peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the Western Sector.”
The statement is noteworthy for being one of the few times that New Delhi has directly accused China of bad behaviour outside of the context of major provocations such as the Galwan clash in June 2020 or the Chinese attempts to unilaterally change the status quo on the south bank of the Pangong Tso a few months later on 29-30 August. Other instances include Minister of State in the MEA, V. Muraleedharan’s replies to questions in the Rajya Sabha in February and the Lok Sabha in February and March, as well as Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla in a speech at the end of June this year. Both would refer to Chinese attempts over the last year to unilaterally alter the status quo in Ladakh.
A major change in tone and tenor is evident especially if one compares the latest statement with one from just a year ago at the end of the 7th round held on 12 October 2020. That statement was, in fact, a joint one with the Chinese that characterised discussions as “constructive” (twice in the space of a single paragraph), as “positive” and as having “enhanced understanding of each other’s positions”.
Reports have emerged that China has increased its troop strength along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh breaking its agreement made at the sixth round of talks on 21 September 2020. Earlier in December, videos emerged of Chinese civilian vehicles transgressing into the Demchok area also in Ladakh. Meanwhile, the Indian Army referred to a confrontation last week between Indian and Chinese troops in the wake of a transgression by the latter at Naku La in northern Sikkim, as a “minor face-off”.
Essentially, what we are seeing since the Galwan clash in June 2020, is the steady normalization of confrontations and tensions along the LAC as well as of fruitless bilateral talks. This was predicted.
अब यह स्पष्ट है कि भारत-चीन के बीच केवल विवादित सीमा पर ही नहीं, बल्कि हर तरह के संबंध एक ‘न्यू नॉर्मल’ में प्रवेश कर गए हैं। यह पूरी तरह माना जा सकता है कि सत्ता में आने के बाद प्रधानमंत्री मोदी को चीन के साथ भी संबंधों को दोबारा से जांचने की कोशिश करनी चाहिए थी, जैसा उन्होंने पाकिस्तान के साथ किया। क्योंकि सितंबर 2014 में उन्होंने शी जिनपिंग का अहमदाबाद में शानदार स्वागत किया था।
यह ठीक था, लेकिन इसी यात्रा के दौरान हमें चुमार में एलएसी पर दिक्कत हुई थी और मई 2015 तक चीजें बदल गई थी। वह चीन की तुलना में पाकिस्तान के साथ संबंधों की दिशा को बदलकर विरोधात्मक करने के लिए कहीं अधिक जिम्मेदार हैं। यह अकथनीय है। Continue reading
The Indian government has a near perfect ground game in terms of messaging domestically on matters related to Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. And yet, ever since the standoffs with China began in early May, the government’s communications have been limited, confused, and confusing.
This is not to say that India’s military responses to either Pakistani or Chinese provocations – based on such information as is available in the open domain – has been wanting. In the case of the former, one could argue that even such an incident as Balakot where India attacked Pakistani territory, was calibrated well given that it did not lead to escalation. In the case of the Galwan Valley incident of 15 June, too, the official statement on the Prime Minister’s remarks at the All Party Meeting on 19 June quotes him saying, “that twenty of our brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for the nation in Ladakh but also taught a lesson to those who had dared to look towards our motherland”. This suggests that the Indians at least gave as good as they got. The Chinese, too, seemed to acknowledge casualties on their side. In dealing with a power like China with its superior military capabilities, that is as good as one can expect, and even something of a victory for India.
However, the question here for the Indian government is of communicating its position and version of events accurately both at home and abroad. The 19 June statement shows the Prime Minister prefacing his reference to the deaths of the soldiers by saying “that neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured”. In reality, this obscured more than it clarified. While the present tense suggested that he could technically be accurate insofar as the situation at the moment of his speaking was concerned, the Hindi version – ““न तो किसी ने हमारी सीमा में प्रवेश किया है, न ही किसी भी पोस्ट पर कब्जा किया गया है” na to kisi ne hamari seema main pravesh kiya hain, na hi kisi bhi post par kabza kiya gaya hain – appeared to make a somewhat larger claim covering the entire period since confrontations started in May that neither had anyone entered Indian territory nor capturedany Indian posts.
Ever since Xi Jinping came to power as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), he has given greater wings to a form of victimhood-based nationalism in China and promoted the image of the CPC as the only institution capable of defending China’s interests. One narrative that has built up as a result is that China must reclaim territories that it had supposedly lost to imperialism and great power machinations over a century and a half before the arrival of the CPC at the helm of affairs in China in 1949. In the initial years however, under Mao Zedong as Chairman of the CPC, it was not nationalism as much ideology that drove China’s actions – China even willingly gave up territory to Vietnam as part of the objective of maintaining friendly relations with a fellow communist country.
But even then, as in the case of India in 1962 and the Ussuri clashes with the Soviet Union in 1969, China was ready to throw in and risk everything to push back when it thought its neighbours were trying to take undue advantage of it or acting in a hegemonic manner. Continue reading
The first Indian casualties on the disputed India-China boundary since 1975 should be occasion to reconsider several long-held beliefs and methods of dealing with the relationship that successive governments in New Delhi have adopted over the years.
This essay will deal with just one trope – that foreign policymaking in India cannot be an open, public or democratic exercise and that ‘quiet diplomacy’ is the way to go in dealing with China. There are two central problems with such a position – both of which have been on view during the ongoing crisis on the LAC and which have severely constrained the Indian government’s ability to assess the situation as well as to find options to deal with it.
First, the desire to keep decision-making on China within the strict confines of the government has much to do with the run-up to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. The lesson learned following India’s defeat seemed to be that discussing matters openly in Parliament or with the general public tended to limit the freedom of manoeuvre for the Indian government to engage in negotiations with the Chinese side that would require compromises by New Delhi in order to have a realistic chance of a resolution that at least broadly met India’s interests.
If this tendency has continued within the Indian government, it has to do with a second reality valid until quite recently, which was that expertise on the border areas or on what went on there was limited to the Army and various paramilitaries – the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and previously, also the Assam Rifles, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs – that had manned the borders and/or with the diplomats and other civilian officials who held administrative charge of these areas.
There are good reasons why neither position is tenable any longer.
For the rest of the article originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Reorienting India’s China policy towards greater transparency’, Raisina Debates, Observer Research Foundation, 17 June 2020 see here.