Assessing India’ China Policy in 2021

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.[1]

Continue reading Assessing India’ China Policy in 2021

Signalling a Shift? Parsing the Indian Statement of the 13th India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting 

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.”[1]

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[2] 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.[3] Other instances include Minister of State in the MEA, V. Muraleedharan’s replies to questions in the Rajya Sabha in February[4] and the Lok Sabha in February[5] and March[6], as well as Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla in a speech at the end of June this year.[7] 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”.[8]

Continue reading Signalling a Shift? Parsing the Indian Statement of the 13th India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting 

Chinese Transgressions on the LAC Deserve a Punitive Response

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.[1] Earlier in December, videos emerged of Chinese civilian vehicles transgressing into the Demchok area also in Ladakh.[2] 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”.[3]

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.[4]

Continue reading Chinese Transgressions on the LAC Deserve a Punitive Response

A ‘New Normal’ Emerges in India-China Relations

Since May this year, India and China have been involved in a serious confrontation along their disputed boundary known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). China has pushed its version of the LAC further westwards at multiple locations in the Western Sector of the dispute in eastern Ladakh/Aksai Chin. This, it has done, in clear violation of existing bilateral agreements and Chinese troops now occupy vast swathes of territory previously falling within Indian control.

On the night of 15 June 2020, 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers lost their lives in a fierce and brutal physical fight at high altitude in the Galwan Valley. The casualties are all the more notable because the clash involved not firearms but an almost medieval-era array of clubs and assorted weapons. These are the first casualties on the disputed boundary since 1975 and brings to a close an era of relative peace guided by a series of bilateral agreements on confidence-building measures and protocols on troop behaviour along the LAC. 

Continue reading A ‘New Normal’ Emerges in India-China Relations

LAC Standoff: Do Not Expand Ambit of Talks

As important as diplomatic engagements are, there are at least four reasons why these are a mistake in the present India-China context.

One, diplomacy has to be leveraged and purposed carefully in such manner that it is not converted to mere talkfests and demeaned in value. There have been a series of high-level civilian exchanges between India and China since the Galwan incident of June. The latest confabulation between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers in Moscow on September 10, ‘lasted two and half hours’ but at the end of it, the Indian statement suggested that no progress was made. It pointed out that the ‘Chinese side has not provided a credible explanation’ for the deployment of PLA troops along the LAC and that their ‘provocative behaviour… at numerous incidents of friction along the LAC also showed disregard for bilateral agreements and protocols.’ 

In short, in this instance, diplomatic talks are unlikely to achieve what military commanders on the ground cannot.

Continue reading LAC Standoff: Do Not Expand Ambit of Talks

एक ‘न्यू नॉर्मल’

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 एक ‘न्यू नॉर्मल’

India, China and their Accelerating Cold Wars

There are three ‘cold wars’ that have been underway for some time, which involve India and China. Each shows both how much the world has changed since the ‘original’ Cold War between the US and the USSR and how distinct in their worldviews and approaches India and China are from the superpowers of an earlier era. These cold wars are also now picking up pace.

The first cold war is a direct one. Mutual trust has never been a strong suit of the India-China relationship but the ongoing Chinese transgressions along the LAC indicate a significant breakdown of long-standing bilateral agreements and can be considered a tipping point. For the foreseeable future, LAC face-offs involving violent physical altercations and possibly casualties will be the norm. And yet, these are unlikely to escalate into full-fledged conflict even as both sides criticise each other more openly in bilateral and multilateral conversations.

What also separates the India-China cold war from its predecessor between the superpowers is the deep and growing economic linkages between the two sides. Another feature is the distinct asymmetry in both the military and economic equations in China’s favour. But while calls in India for selectively boycotting Chinese goods are unlikely to work, the Indian government can still prevent any further Chinese ingress in the form of capital and technologies. Given its own political economy, this might be more of a concern for China, than the LAC itself. Asymmetry, thus, does not necessarily mean lack of leverage for India and avenues for negotiations and compromises will exist in the relationship.

Continue reading India, China and their Accelerating Cold Wars

Confused and Confusing: The PM’s Official Statements About 15 June

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”.[1] This suggests that the Indians at least gave as good as they got. The Chinese, too, seemed to acknowledge casualties on their side.[2] 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”.[3] 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[4] – 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.

Continue reading Confused and Confusing: The PM’s Official Statements About 15 June

Belligerence and Silence: Explaining Chinese Actions Along the LAC in Ladakh

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 Belligerence and Silence: Explaining Chinese Actions Along the LAC in Ladakh