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Old Thursday, August 06, 2020
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Default MOUNTAIN SHOWDOWN (South Asia Magazine) August edition

The Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border between India and China, has remained relatively peaceful post-1962. Nonetheless, the recent skirmishes are unprecedented as fistfights led to fatalities. Since there is a paucity of credible information, no one actually knows what the ground realities are. Both the countries continue to share their versions of stories for domestic and international consumption. However, Indian media blames China that the latter has resorted to aggression in order to cover up its failure to tackle Covid-19 and, as a result, has employed diversionary tactics to deflect international pressure. Contrary to Indian media hyperbole, there is much more than what has accumulated over the years.

There is backdrop of a series of provocations to China such as the Doklam stand-off, massive infrastructure build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), India joining anti-China Indo-Pacific Strategy, unilateral alteration of the disputed region of Ladakh and thereby claiming Aksai Chin as Indian parts, coupled with challenging Chinese interests in CPEC, the BRI’s flagship project, etc. China thus found an opportune moment to respond to Indian provocations.

The frenetic Indian media claims that China wants to divert attention for its alleged mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be unsubstantiated. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that the pandemic outbreak is a natural occurrence and not man-made. Moreover, China itself suffered disproportionately due to the coronavirus and its economic growth rate slowed down. China, after successfully containing the virus at home, helped other affected countries with medical supplies. Thus, the Indian media’s propaganda clearly seems to be overly exaggerated.

Sporadic fistfights were usual along the LAC between the patrolling soldiers of China and India. Nevertheless, these fights would turn into fatalities was something never witnessed before. On June 15, violent clashed led to reportedly 20 Indian casualties, while China did not release the number of its casualties, if any. Indian media did boast 43 Chinese casualties which explicitly seems inaccurate keeping in view the fact that China also took 10 Indian soldiers in its custody but later released them after negotiations.

India is busy with its own domestic issues of tackling the coronavirus and economic slowdown. Perhaps China found this an opportune moment to flex its muscle to send a tough message to New Delhi that its forces should not cross the red line.
The 3,500 kms LAC is an undemarcated border. Yet the BJP government demonstrated its hegemonic designs to fulfil its wishes of ‘Akhand Bharat’. It disregarded bilateral agreements and international norms after enacting the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act and declaring Ladakh a union territory, despite the latter’s disputed status. That clearly offended China which outrightly rejected the unilateral territorial alteration.

In the backdrop of the recent stand-off, Indian media, military and leadership seemed to be quite confused. The Indian media kept spewing venom that China had crossed the Indian side of the LAC; Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that “large numbers” of Chinese troops had crossed into the Indian side of the LAC; Minister of External Affairs, S. Jaishankar reiterated that “the Chinese side sought to erect a structure in Galwan valley on our side of the LAC”. Certainly, military commanders must have briefed the political leadership. However, Prime Minister Modi, at an All-Parties Meeting, contradicted the claims of his cabinet members and said, “China neither entered Indian Territory, nor any posts are occupied by the PLA”.

From these confused statements and muted responses to the PLA, it may be concluded that the Indian leadership may have absorbed the shock of losing Galwan Valley and areas of Pangang Tso Lake.

After the Doklam stand-off, Prime Minister Modi and President Xi met in Wuhan and agreed that the two countries would cooperate and not be rivals to each other; this is known as the “Wuhan Consensus”. In spite of that, New Delhi opted for a collision course against Beijing. India has joined the Indo-Pacific Strategy that aims to contain China in the region and is spearheaded by the US. In this respect, PM Modi and Australian PM Scott Morrison held a virtual ceremony with the Sino-Indian LAC stand-off in the background. The development certainly betrayed the spirit of the Wuhan Consensus.

India has also sheltered the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama and has continued to create disturbances in the autonomous region of Tibet from time to time.

Besides, India has started a massive build-up of infrastructure along the LAC. This includes roads, bridges and airstrips and it looks like India’s purpose is offensive. Since this is a disputed region which is yet to be settled, such infrastructure development is unwarranted. India is constructing the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) Road that lies at an altitude of 14,000 feet; it is about to be completed after work that spanned over two decades. The DSDBO, which is also known as sub-sector North (SSN) in military parlance, is hardly 9 kms from the LAC and adjoining Aksai Chin that India claims as its part. China has serious reservations about this road as well as the Indian intent for such massive undertakings in the sensitive region.

On the other end, to the west of DBO lies the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route that is a flagship project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This DSDBO road poses a threat to the CPEC route too. In future, New Delhi may disturb the route and this could become a nightmare for Islamabad and Beijing.

India knows it cannot sustain confrontation with China as was witnessed during the recent fistfights that resulted in more than 20 Indian deaths. The PLA is well-prepared to thwart any nefarious designs of India which could threaten Chinese interests in the region. However, it is in India’s interest to avoid a confrontational path with its neighbours and resolve outstanding issues in a peaceful manner. Cooperation between the two Asian giants could usher prosperity in the region. On the contrary, confrontation would cause indelible losses to these countries and the region at large. India needs to be pragmatic and avoid repeating mistakes that could sow the seeds of discord.

Source: SouthAsia Magazine
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