Post Wuhan and the Strategic Guidance by PM Modi and President Xi which also peacefully resolved the 73-day standoff at Doklam two years ago, this is the first of the series of ongoing standoffs.
By Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia(Retd)
Since first week May, there have been reportedly a slew of intrusions by PLA along the Line Of Actual Control(LAC). The PLA intrusions across the LAC have seen an increase in frequency, intensity, depth and scope. These are all over, from possibly a first of its kind at Nakula in North Sikkim to the more frequent ones at North bank of Pangong Tso and Galwan River in DBO. Again as reported there has been the unusual jostling, pushing and shoving causing avoidable injury to troops on both sides. Transgressions are a normal occurrence, but what is different this time is the intensity and activity including helicopters, possibly leading to the IAF scrambling the frontline Sukhoi 30s. Incremental transgressions can be attributed to better surveillance, access and infrastructure on both sides, however, these transgressions are mostly for short durations and resolved at the tactical level by local commanders based on established and existing mechanisms. Hence the ongoing incursions are a cause of some concern.
Post Wuhan and the Strategic Guidance by PM Modi and President Xi which also peacefully resolved the 73-day standoff at Doklam two years ago, this is the first of the series of ongoing standoffs. The key question is why now when the world is battling a made in China pandemic. What are the strategic signals emanating from the increased frequency and duration of standoffs? Apparently China is back to its old, tried and tested ways of military coercion. However, China should realise that it now faces a new India, which is not going to Blink as demonstrated at Doklam and in earlier faceoffs at Chumar and Depsang. Tactical actions like these have strategic implications. China may be wanting India on its side as it stands isolated. The statement by PM Modi during the G20 video conference was statesmanlike and avoided blaming China for the pandemic, however, of late many in India have voiced their concerns against China for the pandemic. Another possible cause for the increased incursions could be the frequent calls by Indians to integrate POK and Gilgit- Baltistan as these territories rightfully belong to India. The Belt and Road Initiative is part of the ‘China Dream’, and CPEC which passes through POK connecting Gawadar is central to the BRI. China with huge investments will safeguard its interests, and so will India.
The emerging world order post COVID19 is likely to witness a shift of power from the West to the East. China will be under stress as the world perceives China to be the cause of the pandemic. The US too will lose some of its clout as it faces both internal and external challenges, with little support from the traditional Western allies. India on the other hand despite a few detractors has made a commendable effort in combating the coronavirus both internally and providing much-needed aid and medical equipment to nations in the region and beyond, including the USA. India’s outreach has enhanced her goodwill and linkages. The post-covid-19 world order is an opportunity for India to a position as a global leader, asserting her just and rightful place. India will be the ‘Balancing Power” and hence should leverage this position both with US and China to safeguard her national interests. The strong statement by the American assistant secretary Alice Wells, “provocations and disturbing behaviour by China that poses questions about how China seeks to use its growing power” on Chinese incursions is an indicator.
On the positive side despite lack of a common understanding of the LAC and on an average over 400 transgressions every year, fragile but lasting peace and tranquillity prevails. The 3488 km of contested borders remain peaceful with the last shot in anger fired in October 1975 , and this speaks of the salience of the Confidence Building Measures between the two countries.
China will do well to realise and recognise that they now deal with a growing, resurgent, responsible India and military coercion, if any, is not going to yield any results and may only backfire. Peace and tranquillity along the borders is win-win for both nations as in the future China may need India more than India needs China.
(The author is Former DGMO, Director CENJOWS. Views expressed are personal.)