Twenty Indian soldiers died when both Chinese and Indian soldiers attacked each other near the Galwan River. Guards from both sides are not armed to avoid undue skirmishes. In this case they improvised using sticks, bricks and so on. For well over six weeks there has been a stand-off between both sides with increased numbers of soldiers deployed along the Line of Actual Control. The glacial lake Pangong Tso is disputed, both countries claiming part of it as theirs.
In 1993, inking the “Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility” both India and China agreed to “peaceful and friendly consultations” to resolve the boundary dispute. It was agreed not to use force and to respect the LAC. The agreement stipulated that any “contingencies or other problems arising in the areas” were to be dealt with “through meetings and friendly consultations between border personnel of the two countries.”
In light of these provisions, one thing is clear. The effort to defuse the situation must be handled through diplomacy at a senior and mid-rung level. This outbreak of hostilities is the first of its kind in the last 45 years and requires diplomacy par excellence.
However, the issue between the two countries run deeper. The stakes are high. Who will be the next world leader for coming decades? With Chinese policy becoming more assertive, the US is deeply concerned about an economic surge by China, leading to it becoming a world leader. U.S tilt towards India in a bid to curtail rise of China coupled with U.S steps to create blockages in China’s path is very much a part of the bigger picture. U.S has targeted Chinese exports and restrictions placed by U.S has had an impact on China in sectors like technology where the latter is planning to emerge as a leader in coming years. U.S has created obstructions in Chinese technology firms preventing them from getting global business. China has legitimate concerns of the space being taken up by Indian companies with blessings of U.S. India of course does not want to be caught up between the U.S and China trade tug and pull. Though she would be more than pleased to benefit by it. U.S disengagement from many global forums has increased India’s value as her partner in the region.
It will be pertinent to note here that Trump signed to make into law “visa and property-blocking” sanctions against Chinese officials who are responsible for crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim groups in the country’s western region of Xinjiang. This law seems amusing in light of spiking racism in U.S itself and the recent murder of George Floyd.
China wants India’s cooperation with its role in Asian institutions like the BRICS Bank. However, India has concerns about China’s increased influence flowing from investments in the South Asian Region. In 2013 China launched the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) a project that aims to build physical infrastructures across roughly 65 countries including Africa, Asia and Europe. Pledging $900 billion in the project, China is poised to pump in $150 billion in these projects every year. The ongoing CPEC project between China and Pakistan, a part of China’s outreach to the world is a cause of deep concern to India. In an effort to create impediments, direct investments flowing in from China has been placed in the “prior government approval” slot by India. India is also troubled over China’s increasing stakes that are growing in Nepal, investments in infrastructures that are high in Bangladesh and economic partnership with Pakistan.
The flaring up between Nepal and India over Kalapani is viewed by some analysts as the forerunner that raised tensions between India and China. The constructions by India in disputed area with Nepal has directly had a negative impact on China’s border security in Tibet.
So how do China and India proceed from this point on?
In analyzing this sensitive question, one must bear in mind that India is a democracy. Modi has been flexing his BJP strategy within India and in OIK. However, he has been left with a bloody nose against China in the Galwan River. Modi cannot be seen to be backing down. For that matter neither will China. Coming after the shooting down of the Indian plane in Pakistan’s airspace and subsequent capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, India cuts a sorry figure in combat.
Although efforts are afoot to resolve/defuse the situation, this escalation is going to take time to settle down. Both are unwilling to back down. China’s state-run newspaper Global Times has already made a statement that the “clashes were triggered by Indian troops as they crossed over to the Chinese side and carried out attacks on Chinese soldiers.”
Will this tension over this old dispute become the ‘new normal’? India has a similar ‘normal’ with Pakistan. Which reminds one of an Urdu saying that if a man marries more than once, each time there cannot be something wrong with the wife!
India may react against China elsewhere. Like strengthening bonds with Japan. Like increasing her maritime force in South China Sea. Like even escalating tensions with Pakistan, maybe a false flag operation and blaming Pakistan. Like deepening of relationship with U.S from this point onwards. Or a combination of the various options to ease off pressure Indian government, in particular Prime Minister Modi.
China’s understanding of India has undergone a change since the Doklam episode. China also understands that India, by illegal abrogation of Article 370 and then of Article 35A in OIK has destroyed the strategic balance in South Asia and the world let India get away with it. “In the process of its rise, China needs to put greater emphasis on neighboring countries as they present more challenges than support. The center of the world is shifting to East Asia, creating strategic significance in the region. When a rising power confronts powerful external hegemonic forces and challenges from regional competitors, the rising power must take precaution that the latter two don’t join in a coalition against it. What strategy should the rising power adopt in this scenario? China finds itself with such a conundrum with the US aggression and competition from Japan and India. China, as a rising power, should try to avoid triggering a joint offensive position between the US, Japan and India. China needs to pay more attention to its surrounding regions. For example, the Belt and Road Initiative should also involve more Southeast Asia.” (Global Times, 2020/5/18)
If one weighs the bilateral conflicts along the northern border with Chinese assertive posture coupled with a hyper Indian government and media screaming for retribution there may not be a quick solution. We may be looking at ongoing tensions and a ‘new normal’ between China and India.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @yasmeen_9