It would be a grave misjudgement to believe that China has walked over India in a physical showdown in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on Monday. If nothing, ask the Chinese who made moves in lockstep over the last few weeks to test India’s nerves and found a nation mature in diplomacy and dare in equal measure.
India has used velvet gloves against a petulant Nepal which thumbed its nose on borders but didn’t elicit a raging anger from New Delhi that would’ve played into the hands of its puppeteer, China. India knows, as does Nepal, that the latter can’t survive without India’s open borders. Simply put, the land-locked nation would run out of essential supplies. A manufactured border dispute has no future but for headlines and talk shows.
China meanwhile had crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at four different points in Ladakh, agreed for de-escalation but then stayed put when the two armies were to pull themselves back by a few kilometres. India would have none of an enemy’s forward-post left standing inside the Galwan Valley which belongs to India. It didn’t back down from a physical combat either since arms and ammunition are avoided by the two neighbours in sensitive stretches of border running into thousands of kilometres.
Now has come the news that Indian Army has been empowered to act as per the ground situation without looking for directions from New Delhi. In other words, the Indian Army has been freed from political constraints. It’s an unambiguous message to Beijing that they are now in the wilds. That your superior nuclear stockpiles, defence spending or armaments wouldn’t be of much aid if it’s bare knuckle fight. So, if it’s to fists, stones and clubs now, may the best man win. There is no referee.
Indian Express has quoted an army source thus: “Army has been given emergency powers for deployment there as per needs and new situations without looking towards Delhi…We have to demonstrate our strength on the ground…there is no need to show aggression, only our strength.”
This would put China in a spot. Either they shove the conventions and turn it into an armed combat. Or they pull themselves back as they did in Doklam in 2017. Or they escalate which wouldn’t go unnoticed to a concerned world. It’s a massive show of intent from Modi’s India which is largely consistent in its zero-tolerance approach on nation’s sovereignty and integrity.
It’s not like South China Sea where the Middle Kingdom has usurped islands, sea tolls, reefs and banks overriding neighbours protests. China could not only carry through the bluff but were assured of its efficacy by the mumbled response of the affected. India seems determined to call out the bully. It’s not the semi-autonomous Hong Kong, a cowering Taiwan or a Vietnamese fishing boat you could sink to the floor of the South China Sea.
China clearly is upset at India’s assertions in recent months. India has signed a pact with Australia in the middle of the pandemic which would give teeth to QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) between four democracies of Indo-Pacific: the United States, Japan, Australia and India itself. It has openly given a call to multinationals to shift their operations to India, a blow to China where it hurts the most. It has decided to screen the foreign investments beyond the FDI regulations. It now heads World Health Organization (WHO) which is to take call if China was complicit in hiding the truth on Coronavirus pandemic. It hasn’t helped the matter that Taiwan, which Beijing is paranoid about, could have “observer” status at WHO on pandemic deliberations. Then we have an expanded G-7 group of nations where India is to be included but no invitation has gone out to China.
India has an uncontested control of Galwan Valley, between Ladakh and Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin, since 1962. It suffers from poor infrastructure in a hilly terrain unlike China which makes use of the flat Tibetan plateau to carry its road and highway network unhindered. India in contrast has to cross several mountains to access the LAC. It’s only natural that India wants to secure its borders. China would either have to give up the encroachments or face consequences, no less economic. There is a groundswell of consensus to boycott Chinese goods. The little matter of Huawei-5G also hangs in the balance.
There is little doubt that China faces uncommon heat across continents. Pushback against its over-arching reach has already begun in Africa and Southeast Asia. Unemployment is unprecedented. Economic woes are spiralling. The world is a hostile theatre after China’s machinations on pandemic which has set the world back by a generation in economic terms. Its present misadventure in Ladakh is an undisguised diversionary tactics.
There is little doubt Indo-China relations would freeze in near future. It would bring Pakistan in closer ambit of China. India, on its part, would have the United States in its drawing room. Distrust between the two main powers of Asia would now run deep. Russia is a common friend which could find its loyalty divided.