By Jai Kumar Verma
New Delhi. 25 June 2022. A recent statement of US Army’s Pacific Commander General Charles A Flynn that China is building defence infrastructure on Indo-China border in Ladakh area is “alarming”. The visiting general also remarked that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is taking “destabilising and corrosive” actions in the Indo-Pacific region. Nonetheless the relationship between India and United States is working as a “counterweight” to Chinese aggressive designs.
As expected, Chinese reaction was very stringent and criticised General Flynn. At a regular press conference Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson alleged that US is trying “to fan the flame and drive a wedge between the two countries. This is disgraceful.” The Chinese spokesperson also mentioned that India and China are capable and have will to solve the border issue through “dialogue and consultation”.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson also clarified that India is closely monitoring the development of infrastructure by Chinese forces on the borders. MEA spokesperson also mentioned that “The government is committed to and takes all adequate and appropriate measures to safeguard territorial integrity and sovereignty as the developments in recent years have clearly demonstrated,”.
As two years are gone by since the violent clash occurred in eastern Ladakh near Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Tibet Autonomous Region between Indian and Chinese troops, there have been 15 rounds of talks between military generals, National Security Advisors and Foreign Ministers of both countries have also met but tension exists. The negotiations did result into the disengagement process occurring on the banks of Pangong lake and in the Gogra area, but both sides are still with about 50,000 troops near the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
About a month back Chinese built one more bridge in Pangong Tso area. The second bridge would be helpful in deploying the troops swiftly. Besides the strategically important bridge Chinese have also constructed roads and residential units in this area.
General Manoj Pandey Chief of the Indian Army has very rightly pointed out that China wants to keep the border issue “alive”. Although India insists that border issue should be sorted out first but China maintains that both countries should keep the border issue on the back burner and continue with trade and other issues.
India maintains that the existing border agreements should be honoured while China claims for the need for mutual and equal security. India is a big market for China and Beijing has lot of trade surplus with India. China also mentions “We hope India will provide a fair, just, and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies, conduct investigation, and law enforcement in accordance with laws and regulations so as to increase the confidence of global investors”.
There are reports that Indian authorities would take action against two Chinese firms. In past India banned about 200 mobile applications including Tik Tok. Recently the Income Tax department conducted searches in more than 20 Chinese companies premises. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) also seized more than 5000 crore from Xiaomi’s bank accounts because of flouting foreign exchange rules. In nutshell India is giving a stern message to Chinese companies working in India that they must follow the rules and regulations. There are reports that few Chinese companies used dubious means in getting the contracts in neighbouring countries.
China also does not want strengthening of India US relations. Recently both US and Indian forces agreed for an exercise at 9,000 to 10,000 feet from sea level.
The recently released US intelligence community report also mentions that China is the greatest threat to Washington and its allies. Beijing alleges that US and its allies are continuously taking economic measures which are against China. Both Republican and Democratic parties exercise policies which are against Chinese interest. China has inculcated capabilities so that it can hit different US military bases in the area. US has bases in Japan, Korea, and Diego Garcia.
The 24th round of Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was held virtually and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also visited India in March 2022. It indicates that India is keeping a watchful eyes on the border situation.
Some analysts also claim that China attacked India in Galwan area with the intention to check India which is rising speedily. Beijing also wanted to show its military strength to Delhi. Few Chinese watchers feel that China wants India to remain away from US, join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Delhi should accept Chinese supremacy as the sole leader in the region.
Noticeably a chunk of experts assert that Beijing has global aspirations, wants to control Indian Ocean Region and for this close relations with India is necessary.
Quite a few perceive that Galwan attack happened because China was upset with India developing infrastructure at the borders. China also did not like the revocation of Article 370 from Kashmir and attacked Galwan to show solidarity with Pakistan. Some arguably state that China was facing economic crisis and Xi Jinping wanted to divert public attention from day-to-day scarcities. Critics also blame India for retaliating in Galwan to distract public attention from escalating problems. Each to his or her own thought.
China also wanted India’s support as competition grew between Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) and BRI. Chinese realised that FOIP would prevent its industrial growth and may isolate the country. Chinese allege that through FOIP and Quad United States, Japan, Australia, and other western powers want to raise India as a counterpoise against China.
But China understands that India follows an independent foreign policy and would not work subservient to US and without India there would be no Indo-Pacific. Secondly India is the biggest market for Chinese goods in vicinity. Thirdly geography of the subcontinent is such that most of the South Asian countries are neither connected with China nor connected with each other. In most of the cases these countries have way through India. Not only this most of the South Asian nations have some type of dependency on India. On an international arena Delhi has close ties with many important countries like USA, UK, France, Japan, and Russia.
Chinese strategists mention that Beijing would like to improve relations with India and would stress more on common grounds instead of emphasising on destabilising factors. Beijing would also try to develop differences between India and other three members of Quad. China would inspire India to continue following non-alignment in its foreign policy. China in the pursuit of this policy may help India in joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) if India agrees to cooperate on BRI.
The intelligence report as well as China experts feel that Beijing would continue harassing India as well as other countries located near South China Sea. Not only this China would continue establishing new bases in strategically located countries. Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is operating a military base in Djibouti which is located in the Horn of Africa. There are also reports that China is secretly constructing naval base in Cambodia which indicates that Beijing wants to become a global power very soon.
The China watchers are clear that China would not like to have an all-out war with India but would continue to pressurise India. Beijing desires that Delhi should join China in opposing US. In fact, China wants to use India for its dominance in Asia, wants to mitigate US influence and become the super power.
But India would not accept the hegemony of China. India is not only strengthening its defence forces and improving infrastructure at Sino-Indian borders, it is also signing pacts with other countries. Besides Quad recently India and Vietnam also signed two documents including a vision document to enhance the “scope and scale” of defence ties by 2030. Both countries also inked a military logistics support under which both the countries can use other country’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies.
India should also be careful, as US is realising that China is threatening its lone super power status and would like to wane China. Russia is already weakened because of Ukraine war hence US would like to use Taiwan to weaken China and prepare India to counter China. Indian policy makers should view US statements, analysis, and reports with this angle also. In nutshell China would continue harassing India hence India must strengthen itself to keep this perpetual foe at bay.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at [email protected])