Restoring ties with China – editorials
With its aggression in the Galwan Valley, Ladakh, China has crossed a threshold and has brought the relationship with India to a dangerous level, with lasting consequences. Chinese soldiers seized the opportunity of a negotiated withdrawal operation to brutally attack an Indian supervisory contingent. The first Indian military casualties along the Current Line of Control (LAC) in 45 years, and the apparent form of their deaths, are a tragedy. While the current crisis in Ladakh was unusual in terms of the number and size of Chinese intrusions, it seemed to bear similarities to past bullying patterns. Beijing would intrude; there would be some pushing and shoving; he would then leave, feeling that a message had been sent. Not this time. The Galwan Valley indicates that there has been a dramatic change in Chinese tactics, which will require an equally drastic reassessment of India’s position.
First, it is important to diagnose the roots of Beijing’s behavior. At the macro level, it is clear that China, under President Xi Jinping, believes that the time has come to assert its power on the international stage. This has resulted in China violating international laws and regulations (South China Sea); participate in predatory, almost colonial, economic practices (Belt and Road Initiative); be blatant, rather than introspective and transparent, about their role in causing crises with global impact (the coronavirus pandemic); invade the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the neighbors (Japan and India); intervene in the politics of democracies (from European nations to Australia); exporting its own ideological worldview to other countries (especially in South Asia); and increasingly repressive at home (Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong).
In this context, China wants to limit New Delhi’s power and ambition; wants India to accept the primacy of Beijing in Asia and beyond; wants to impose costs on India for deepening ties with the United States (USA); and it wants to continue using Pakistan, which has now become almost its client state with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, to inflict terror on India. Concerned about the improvement of India’s border infrastructure and motivated by a desire to change the facts on the ground, with its recent actions, China has violated all border pacts signed in the past three decades to maintain peace and tranquility and has participated in unacceptable assault.
India will have to respond. But you must do it strategically, not emotionally. There must be two layers of response.
The first priority has to be to restore status quo ante on the border as it existed in April. This will require a show of military force at the border in facing Chinese aggression and diplomatic work in making it clear to Beijing that its intervention will lead to high costs in all areas of the relationship. The political leadership, while providing strategic guidance, should provide all the support the military needs at the moment and carefully examine the possibility of inflicting costs on China in other theaters (including business and commerce) while maintaining the conflict. within limits. It must also mobilize international opinion to expose Chinese aggression at a time when a humanitarian, economic and health crisis (originating in China) has engulfed the world.
But more fundamentally, India will have to reconsider its entire geopolitical stance. Commitment to China is essential and must continue. But there can be no appeasement. Policymakers must return to the drawing board and examine ways to create influence against Beijing. India should consider taking a stronger position on Tibet. You must double your association with the US. To make Quad (which also includes Japan and Australia) a more permanent agreement and to be part of any club that seeks to contain Chinese power. India needs to reexamine its trade, technology and investment relations with China economically, as all of this seems to have benefited Beijing more than Delhi. You need to accelerate your military modernization, identify vulnerabilities in all sectors, and prepare for a two-pronged situation, which may have seemed unthinkable a few years ago, but will need to be considered now.
India will also have to invest more in South Asia, ensure that there are friendly governments in neighboring capitals, and reject Chinese efforts to surround Delhi. The government will also have to rely on the opposition in the country (a meeting of all parties scheduled for Friday is a positive development) and prepare public opinion. As India struggles with the coronavirus pandemic and a recession, China’s security threat has added to the challenge. But India has to show strength and wisdom and defend itself.