Indian and Chinese forces are in a standoff position
During the month of May, China in a surprise move mobilized their troops in the Ladakh area and occupied several territories including Galwan river valley, which lies inside the Indian border and is 500m West of their own fictitious claimed line LAC (Line of Actual Control). Since then, Indian and Chinese forces are in a standoff position, which unfortunately also involved a brief clash in the Galwan area that resulted in casualties on both sides. This is also the first time since 1975 when shots are fired along the LAC.
Since the incursion, India prioritized and accelerated the development of border development projects. India cancelled many Chinese investment projects, stopped clearance of consignments coming from China, and also banned many Chinese apps citing security risks. The whole environment has fueled negative sentiments of Indians against China.
With China’s strained ties with many countries including the USA, Australia, Japan, and the Philippines, they also knew that these countries would openly come in support of India.
India has demanded China return to status quo but China insists on some win-win proposal before making that move and this has resulted in a stalemate. However, China has not demanded any concrete concession as that could signal their insecurity about it.
The way India responded to terrorist attacks in Uri and Pulwama and countered China in Doklam in the past, it would be fair to assume that China knew that this is how India would respond. It is also fair to assume that China knew that they would not receive support after all the criticism they have received from around the world regarding their handling of the COVID crisis. With their strained ties with many countries including the USA, Australia, Japan, and the Philippines, they also knew that these countries would openly come in support of India.
Various analysts have proposed different theories regarding China’s intention behind their aggression. Here, we discuss those theories and why these should be rejected.
1.Theory: China did this due to fears regarding India potentially changing the status quo in Aksai Chin, which could also affect their critical Tibet-Xinjiang connectivity.
Refutation: The hypothesis doesn’t seem plausible because first, India has not given any such signal in the past, and second, the cost of this operation would greatly outweigh any territorial benefit for both India and China.
2.Theory: China did this to disengage India from the USA or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).
Refutation: This logic is also flawed because, in contrast, China has pushed India closer to the USA with this move.
3.Theory: China did this to force India to stop the development of border infrastructure.
Refutation: Although it is true that China may not like India to develop its border regions, they would not risk conflict over this. Further, knowing the Modi government from the past, they could be assumed to be well aware that this would only expedite the progress.
4.Theory: China is doing this to gradually encroach the territory through a technique called ‘salami-slicing’.
Refutation: As discussed earlier, China is aware that this would involve conflict and the loss would greatly outweigh the territorial gains.
5.Theory: China is doing this to force India to spend on defense.
Refutation: No country forces its opponent to militarily strengthen itself.
6.Theory: China is using this as a diversion tactic.
Refutation: This is neither such a big issue that could divert global attention away from China’s mishandling of the COVID crisis nor would it be worth it in terms of cost.
7.Theory: China is doing this to force India to resolve boundary disputes.
Refutation: Border issues are generally not resolved through wars among symmetric powers but rather through diplomacy.
China’s pushing Pakistan to declare GB as their fifth province by even undermining their own seven-decade long stand on Kashmir, strongly hints at Kashmir’s role behind China’s move.
Unlike Pakistan, which is driven by its ideological hatred towards India and the free world even at its own peril, China in contrast makes its moves strategically in self-interest and avoids zero-sum moves like large-scale conflicts. Therefore, it is logical to assume that China wants this conflict to achieve some greater aim and the gains must be outweighing the cost. This is also reflected in China’s unwillingness to resolve the standoff by unreasonably demanding for the first time in recent years to unambiguously redefine the LAC in accord with its 1959 claim line, a position that was never accepted by India and which is also divergent from their own earlier stand that the issue to be resolved on the basis of the existing agreements. Further, their occupation of Galwan valley which is part of India as per their own claims, and their objection to the construction of a bridge at the mouth of Galwan, the area which was never contested, points toward intentional conflict.
In contrast, India seems to be making the moves as per their plan and our proposal to end the conflict through talks might have been taken as a weakness. If India wants to counter China then it has to understand its game plan and strategize accordingly.
Considering that even the successful capture of Galwan valley would not provide any military or economic advantage to China, India should try to understand the Chinese move in the context of three recent important developments:
- The removal of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
- The sudden move by Pakistan to elevate the status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and make it their fifth province.
- The upcoming elections in the USA.
Regarding the first two points, it has to be carefully noted that China did not oppose India after India conducted surgical strikes against terrorist post-Uri and in Balakot attacks but they openly opposed India even in the UN when India revoked the special status of Kashmir. Therefore, it is apparent that the Kashmir issue and Pakistan issue are two separate matters for China, and Kashmir’s matter is important to them. Further, China’s pushing Pakistan to declare GB as their fifth province by even undermining their own seven-decade long stand on Kashmir, strongly hints at Kashmir’s role behind China’s move.
As per my assessment, the reason China would be concerned about Kashmir is that it might be worried about the safety of its China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. China is anxious that India might try to take over GB after India changed the status quo of Kashmir. India has already told China categorically multiple times that their CPEC project in GB is illegal. The only logical move left for China in this situation was to start a sham conflict on the Eastern end by giving the threat of two-front war and keeping the Indian forces engaged and thus preventing any potential Indian move to takeover GB. In the meantime, it is forcing Pakistan to annex GB. The way President Donald Trump handled the Israel issue might have further escalated their anxieties regarding these possibilities. It is quite likely that after the US elections and annexation of GB by Pakistan, they will reach an agreement to end this sham conflict.
How India should proceed
India should avoid giving any concessions including buffer zones to China as that would indicate India’s weakness and justify their aggression as genuine. If China decides to retain the captured land by deploying its troops like Siachen then that would turn out to be costly for them with no apparent economic or military gain.
In my view, India has no advantage to militarily engage with China over this fake issue. Even if we assume that China retains or captures more land then India could also capture territory somewhere else along the long border. Therefore, in my opinion, India should either withdraw its troops entirely from the region or it should reduce the troop deployment and keep it symbolic so that India does not incur any casualties from bad weather. China might also withdraw afterward by using this as their alibi for victory.
India should also assure them that the issue of the Shaksgam valley would be resolved through talks and not through conflict.
Regarding business and trade, I think that the actions taken by the Indian government might prove to be detrimental to India. First, such actions affect India’s business image among potential investors and hinder investments and entrepreneurship, which is already strained due to the socialist mindset, bureaucratic red tape, corruption, and the broken judiciary. Second, such actions undermine domestic competitiveness that translates to costlier products for consumers. Third, the banning of technological platforms like Tiktok has also undermined the people’s right to freedom of expression. In my view, the government should disengage these issues from security issues.
India should also not boycott BRICS meetings and it should keep strengthening important BRICS and RIC forums. India could also propose a new alliance of strong democratic nations called D14 comprising countries namely India, Australia, South Korea, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, Italy, US, UK, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and Russia, to work towards having uniform business policies, security standards, and other issues.
Finally regarding CPEC, I advocated in the past that India should join BRI in a limited role as it could usher the mutual partnership to a new level. China is keen for India to join BRI and was even willing to rename the CPEC project and to accommodate India’s concerns including being neutral between India and Pakistan. The primary reason considered for India not joining BRI is its concern over CPEC passing through GB as it undermines India’s sovereignty over that region. In my opinion, if China pays us nominal octroi fees for their CPEC project passing through Indian territory then there should be no cause of concern for India. Further, India could assure China that in the event of India taking back GB, it would continue to keep them providing access to the sea through Pakistan and also through an alternate route via Ladakh. India should also assure them that the issue of the Shaksgam valley would be resolved through talks and not through conflict. With such assurances and India’s stand on Kashmir remaining unchanged, there will remain no cause for the conflict.
India should have separate policies for China and Pakistan. The fight against Pakistan is essentially a fight against terrorism where India could expect global support but conflict with China is a boundary dispute. The border dispute with China should be solved through diplomacy and not through force as the cost in the conflict would far overweigh the territorial benefit.
Irrespective of how we handle the present situation, both countries should expedite the resolution of the long-pending problem of LAC through some quid pro quo. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in a letter dated November 7, 1959, offered a deal to India to recognize a line of actual control in the West in lieu of China recognizing the McMahon Line in the East. Given Chinese and Indian positions, some middle path should be found by both sides by being flexible on their stands so as to resolve the long-pending issue.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
 India and China face off along disputed Himalayan border – May 28, 2020, Nikkei Asia
 1960 claim line contradicts Beijing’s assertion that ‘Galwan is Chinese’ – Jun 30, 2020, ORF online
 Before Moscow pact, Indian and Chinese troops fired 100-200 rounds on Pangong Tso north bank – Sep 17, 2020, Indian Express
 Chinese envoy calls for win-win cooperation, blames India for ‘trespassing’ LAC – Sep 14, 2020, The Week
 High road at Chilling: India builds Himalayan bridges and highways to match China – Sep 29, 2020, Reuters
 The terrible price ordinary Pakistanis have paid for hating India – Apr 09, 2018, The Print
 1959 claim is wrong, but it punctures China’s theory: Experts – Sep 30, 2020, Hindustan Times
 Pakistan to make Gilgit-Baltistan a full-fledged province: report – Sep 17, 2020, The Hindu
 Surgical strikes by Indian Army: China calls for India, Pakistan ‘to exercise restraint’ – Sep 30, 2016, India Today
 China offers to help eradicate ‘terror breeding grounds’ – Feb 27, 2019, The Hindu
 The ‘impossible trinity’ choices India will need to make – Oct 14, 2020, Live Mint
 India should shed its reservations over BRI and join it: China – Oct 26, 2017, India Times
 India boycotts China’s ‘Belt and Road Forum’ on sovereignty concerns – May 13, 2017, Live Mint