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Decoding the China Playbook | HT Editorial – Editorials


India and China have taken small steps to end military clashes along the Ladakh border. Recent announcements, after talks at the military level, mean that both countries have withdrawn at all three points in or near the Galwan Valley. However, the most egregious Chinese intrusion into Pangong Tso remains unsolved with China in possession of the disputed north shore of the lake. As long as the status quo is not restored in Pangong Tso, it will be a case of illusions instead of wild calculations to believe that the current crisis is entering the final stretch. It is perfectly possible that the Pangong Tso problem will continue for months, if not years.

Beijing does not believe that territorial disputes are a tea party and it is important that New Delhi does not treat them as such. In any case, any premature celebration on this side of the Current Line of Control would encourage China to conclude that possession is nine-tenths of surrender. It is not advisable to reduce the Indian forces in the region because some tents have been withdrawn and the soldiers walked a kilometer or two behind. It is China that would like the new alignment to be the status quo and it should not appear that India accepts the same. Agreements negotiated with neighboring North India must always be backed by firepower and tough diplomacy. In the world of Chinese foreign policy with iron gloves, a deal to end a dispute is just a reflection of the power equation at the time, and can be changed without notice if that equation changes, especially if it moves in favor of Beijing.

“Trust but verify” was the motto of the protracted arms control negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is applied in swords, possibly with less confidence, to relations between India and China. The rivals of the Cold War were status quo powers when such talks began. India and China are emerging powers with increasing economic and military capabilities. Their sense of national interest continues to change as their concerns and capabilities expand. This has been surprisingly with China, which continues to add new items to its “core interests” list, and then hopes that others will adjust. New Delhi must be cautious in declaring successes, even small ones, until there is clear evidence on the ground that Beijing has turned words into deeds.

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