The Chinese challenge uncovers India’s fragilities
The border crisis has between India and China laid bare political, economic and diplomatic problems the result of choices made after 2014.
The 1962 Sino-India war hangs like a shadow over the current state of bilateral ties between India and China.
China’s diplomatic moves
- China has pressed on with aggressive diplomatic and military gestures against India.
- Beijing recently renamed 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh, following the six it had done in 2017, weeks after the Dalai Lama visited Tawang.
- On January 1, 2022, Beijing’s new land border law came into force, which provides the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with full responsibility to take steps against “invasion, encroachment, infiltration, provocation” and safeguard Chinese territory.
- It is not just Beijing but even the diplomats posted at the Chinese Embassy in Delhi who have been emboldened by India’s cautious response.
Areas of Concerns
- Delhi has run out of proactive options against Beijing that will force the Chinese leadership to change course on its India policy.
- Tibet and the Dalai Lama were often projected as a trump card but evidently are not.
- Beijing does not care for its declining popularity among the Indian populace.
- The two countries have an increasingly lopsided trade relationship driven by Indian dependency on Chinese manufacturing, a situation further worsened by the Government’s mishandling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Delhi has little geopolitical or economic leverage over Beijing to boast of.
- Worried about its northern borders and the threat of a two-front collusive threat.
- Because of the China factor, the U.S. is currently looking away even as India mistreats its minorities and its democracy stands diminished.
- India’s difficult diplomatic and military engagement with China is going to leave it more dependent on U.S. support, rendering the Modi government more vulnerable to American pressure on ‘shared values’.
- A decade ago, many observers had warned that the emergence of an increasingly assertive and confident China under Xi is going to be to India’s detriment.
- The signs were there when PLA soldiers walked into Chumar even as summit between India and China hosted in Ahmedabad in 2014.
- The Doklam crisis of 2017 only lulled the Government into thinking that the worst was over. It, instead, triggered the border crisis of 2020.
- With the loss in the 1962 war, India lost its pre-eminent position in Asia; with this display of weakness six decades later, India is in danger of losing its dominant influence even in South Asia.
- India’s internal situation, from Nagaland to Kashmir, with the minorities under attack, is not going to help either. India made its choices after 2014, and the China border crisis has only shown them up.
- As a proponent and exemplar of personality-centric diplomacy, which included two informal summits with China, there has been a surprising lack of any personalised move from India so far.
- To restore the status quo ante on the LAC as of April 2020, India undertook internal balancing of its military from the Pakistan border to the China border and external rebalancing through a closer partnership with the United States in the Indo-Pacific.
- The Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the U.S.) has, however, remained a non-military grouping.
- The signing of the AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.)
- The humiliating American exit from Afghanistan made it crystal clear that for all the intelligence sharing and logistics support from the U.S., India will have to deal with the Chinese challenge on the border on its own.
- The best Delhi can do is to prevent any further loss of territory to China with extensive military deployment on the LAC.
- A collegial and deliberative model of decision-making would work best but is unlikely to be followed if the track record of the current dispensation is any indicator.
- Allowing things to fester will only ensure that India pays a price far higher than it can afford.
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