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As LAC warms up, read China’s playbook: analysis


The confrontation between the Indian and Chinese forces in the Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh continues with both sides reinforcing their respective positions. While tensions can be reduced through continued dialogue on mechanisms implemented in recent years, the key question is whether Chinese troops agree to vacate the area they have occupied in violation of the Current Line of Control (LAC).

China would be happy if, after altering the facts on the ground, the confrontation is defused, for example, by a limited disconnection of a few meters between the troops, leaving most of the invaded territory in Chinese hands. China may agree to vacate the occupied area but expect concessions in return. This could include halting the development of border infrastructure on the Indian side of LAC, including the dismantling of built structures. In the Doklam confrontation in 2017, the forces of the two sides separated. China halted additional highway construction activity, but continues to consolidate its position in the occupied area. The bottom line: The facts on the ground remain altered to China’s advantage, although India’s action prevented further entry. Therefore, unless India is able to find an effective counter-strategy for this Chinese pattern of behavior, the incidents of the type we have seen in many parts of LAC are likely to not only continue but to intensify.

There is another feature of the Chinese playbook. This is evident on the border between India and China and in other theaters such as the South China Sea, the Strait of Taiwan and the Yellow Sea. Each Chinese action, taken in isolation, may not be considered threatening enough to require a strong and compensatory military response. However, over a period of time, a series of “isolated” incidents cumulatively add up to a significant shift in the balance of power on the ground. China’s dominance of the South China Sea, its occupation and militarization of several offshore islands, have reached a point where only a major military offensive, perhaps even war, may be necessary to reverse the advantage of Beijing. As is evident, such risky actions are unlikely. At best, one can expect the now alerted major powers to avoid any further gains from China. So this is another important part of the playbook: incremental advances below the threshold of a likely military response from adversaries, but which eventually result in a more favorable balance of power.

We have seen this on the India-China border over the years. Has been
constant biting activity facing the Indian side, but cannot or does not want to go on a military offensive to reverse Chinese profits. We have to understand these salami cutting tactics and develop an effective counter-strategy. This may require the ability to use LAC ambiguity to gain asymmetric gains in areas where we have a tactical advantage. Only then will there be some trading chips available to restore the status quo.

There is a third element in the Chinese playbook that needs attention. China calibrates its stance towards any country based on a careful assessment of the balance of economic and military capabilities. This can sometimes go wrong because Chinese leaders are relatively insular and self-centered in their outlook. There is a cultural predilection for tactical agility, including deception, in interstate relations and little patience with the notions of statesman. After the 1962 war, China’s default position on the border was the so-called package proposal, which essentially formalizes the prevailing status quo. In 1985-86, after the Wandung incident in the eastern sector, the package proposal was reinterpreted to mean that an agreement required India to make “significant concessions” in the east, the area of ​​greatest dispute, for which China would do the appropriate. -definite concessions in the western sector. Subsequently, it was transmitted that in any agreement, Tawang would have to be “returned” to China.

What we see now is an additional movement of the goal posts, with China’s behavior suggesting that ambiguity about LAC’s precise alignment gives it an opportunity to trigger incidents at election points to achieve local tactical gains but also convey a broader message that you have a stronger hand when it comes to India.

Some analysts suggest that India should not provoke China by approaching the United States (US), implying that the US distancing itself. USA And other countries that China considers adversaries would somehow lessen the pressure on India. This is a strange logic. He suggests that decisions on India’s foreign policy are being made in Washington, but should it be replaced by its decision in accordance with Chinese preferences? India’s foreign policy must be done in New Delhi in the best interest of India. In New Delhi’s experience, strong relations between India and the United States, in fact with other major powers, give India more leeway and capacity to handle China’s challenge. The more isolated India is, the greater its vulnerability to Chinese pressures.

At this juncture, no military alliance with the United States is at stake. But building and strengthening a strong and credible countervailing coalition of the great powers, who share India’s concerns about China’s predatory predilections, is a prudent policy, even when India must muster its energies to reduce power asymmetry with China. , which is at the heart of our Predicament current.

Shyam Saran is a former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and a senior member of the Policy Research Center.

The opinions expressed are personal.

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