Chinese troops have moved into three-odd kilometers of the Indian territory in Ladakh and have built camps. Indian troops are engaged in skirmishes with Chinese troops along the India-China border. New Delhi is trying to sort this out with talks and negotiations. Some five high-level meetings have already taken place, but the stand-off continues and the incursion has not been reversed yet.
The discussion in the media, among observers, analysts and experts is centered on conjectures about Chinese intent on embarking on this latest border incursion, and how should India respond to it! Parliament is not in session, so no debate, and both Government and Opposition are intriguingly laconic on it. Not that we have been caught on the hop by the Chinese. As per reports in public domain, there were 326 incursions in 2018 which more than doubled to 600 in 2019. Assuming that such incursions have been reversed, this is a recurring pattern at India-China border. More shocking news is China is in illegal occupation of thousands of kilometers of Indian territories in addition to Aksai Chin.
It is a futile debate what instigated China to commit the incursion at the pandemic time. Some observers have cited as possible reasons: the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of J& K, the barriers imposed on Chinese FDI, New Delhi’s position on allowing Huawei marketing the flagship Chinese 5G network, New Delhi building infrastructure on India-Nepal border, or seducing the investors seeking to relocate away from China. Another probable point for Chinese provocation, not mentioned yet, is India taking over the chairmanship of WHO Executive Committee, which might consider favorably the participation and eventual membership of Taiwan in the WHO.
It is of little consequence to find out the reasons for Chinese action. Beijing believes in bullying and bending countries to make them accept its positions on bilateral and intentional issues. Be that as it may, the stark and shocking reality staring at us is that Chinese troops are in our territory on the pretext of calling it disputed. How do we rebuff them and prevent them from trespassing in future? That is the only question that should engage us now.
Experts and observers point to three strategies. One, a somewhat hawkish approach is to stand up to the Chinese like we did in Doklam, enhance our military build-up along LAC, push them back from our territory, even if it leads to a military confrontation. Some would caution that India cannot afford the diversion and the cost at this critical time.
The second strategy, popular in diplomatic and economic circles is to defuse the crisis by talks and negotiations. If the crisis could be resolved without confrontation, that is preferable. But what does defusing mean, a nebulous word really in this context, when Chinese have illegally entered our territory. One remembers Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister in January 1980 talking of defusing the Afghan crisis as Soviet Union was in occupation of the country.
The third one is to shift the conflict to another area, say South China Sea, or Indo-Pacific arena. That will divert China’s attention and energy. This strategy should have been unrelentingly applied by New Delhi before the current border skirmishes and after. Shifting the area of conflict may not make China withdraw, but may come under some pressure.
To recall from history, New Delhi has faulted in dealing with China ever since the days of Nehru. Many observers have failed to detect Nehru’s motivation in deferring to China. Even Prime Minster Modi has fumbled on dealing with China. The stroll and swing diplomacy reflecting the so-called Wuhan spirit in 2018, and the dinner diplomacy next year in Chennai called ‘China Connect’ sent the wrong message to our friends and partners that we are trying to placate China. On the back of this summit, Xi Jinping signed a slew of projects, partnership agreements with Nepal. Our spreading of the red carpet to Xi gave the excuse to Nepal to embrace the dragon closer.
The Chinese action on the border was predictable. It has violated Indian territories many times before. What was Indian preparedness against it? Did Modi believe like Nehru that China will not invade India’s borders? That is hopefully not the case. Modi is a hard-nosed realist. He could not be so naïve although straying occasionally on the advice of bureaucrats, who cannot think out of box; like he did in addressing the SAARC and NAM meetings, or courting China.
Here we are now! The response to Chinese transgression has to be multifold. First is the military, come hell or high-water, New Delhi should send the tough message to China that we can protect our territory. We will defend our territorial integrity at any cost. That will call the Chinese bluff. War is not an option for Chinese too. They have a lot at stake at the moment. China has invested heavily in India.
The next is political. New Delhi should brief its defence partners like USA, Israel, France, Britain and Russia on the China’s aggression. USA has already started firing from all its cylinders on China, it has barred Chinese companies from trading in the US stock markets, warned China of sanctions if the security law on Hong Kong is brought upon, it has moved a resolution to recognise Tibet as an independent country.
From reports from reliable sources, it has stationed 7 out of 20 aircraft carriers at sea — these are Ronald Regan, Gerald R. Ford, Abraham Lincoln, NIMITZ, Harry S. Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. New Delhi has had a deep defence link with USA in anticipation of such acts of aggression by China. India should sign a defence treaty with America like it did with Soviet Union in 1971, and push China back to where it belongs, beyond our border. In the interim, India should get the US to announce its active support to India in the event of a war. India has the non-NATO ally status with USA. It is time to put more teeth into it. It is also morally imperative on the West to do so as they built up this monster for economic expediency and trade opportunism.
At the same time, the economic response should consist of stringent barriers on Chinese investment and goods to India. This should be backed by Indians boycotting Chinese products. The diplomatic response would mean keep talking to Chinese. If they refuse to do so, cut off diplomatic contact with China, recall our Ambassador from Beijing.
Aware that the above approach is risky and costly, we have no other choice. China has betrayed our goodwill time and again, is highly perfidious. It understands only the language of competition and confrontation. We need not waste our time and energy fighting Pakistan, a vassal ally of China and our traditional friend being lured away by Chinese money. We take on the mother of most of our problems and those of the world now. The dragon has to be tamed and caged. This is the priority for all those believing in freedom, solidarity and a rule-based international order. Let the Great Wall of Democracy fence the dragon in its den.