Indian Hubris invites Chinese Fury

Indian Hubris invites Chinese Fury

Iqbal Khan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected President Donald Trump’s mediation offer for resolving ongoing China-India stand-off. Reiterating his offer Trump said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not in a good mood about the ongoing big conflict with China. Earlier Trump had tweeted on May 27 offering to help resolve growing border tensions. Trump described the situation as a “now raging border dispute.” Even though Trump’s words were hyperbole, they reflected the seriousness of tensions.

India has border disputes with all of its neighbours, tension over the Citizenship Act with Bangladesh and a threat of false flag operations against Pakistan. China has settled its border disputes with all its neighbours except India; same goes for Pakistan.

The Indian press, has reported that Chinese army brigades comprising thousands of soldiers have crossed into Indian territory to setup tents and trenches at key points near the Himalayas. In response, India’s army has deployed reinforcements. The Economist reported that New Delhi and Beijing have activated a high-level diplomatic channel to diffuse tensions. And China’s ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, struck a calming tone, telling reporters, “We should never let differences overshadow our relations.”

India’s expansionist policies in the region are becoming a threat to its neighbours. Currently India is in a standoff with three of its neighbours—Pakistan, China and Nepal. All three disputes are borne out of India’s hubris. Most recently tensions have flared up between Chinese and Indian troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley region. Foreign Policy  highlighted two clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers, on May 5 and May 9, at separate border areas in India’s east and north. While no one was killed in those hand-to-hand combat skirmishes, more than 100 soldiers were injured. India and China have 3,500 kilometres long un-demarcated border which is generally a very difficult terrain. Now, soldiers from both sides have been camped out in Galwan Valley, according to Reuters. “About 80 to 100 tents have sprung up on the Chinese side and about 60 on the Indian side where soldiers are billeted.

India’s The Print reported that Chinese troops had moved as far as three kilometres into India’s side of the Galwan Valley. Quoting sources ‘in the know’, the online publication said that Beijing was also moving men into ‘finger areas’ of Pangong Lake while boosting its forces on its side of the LAC. Both sides now reportedly have thousands of troops stationed on either side of the ceasefire line, leading observers to draw comparisons with the 2017 standoff between India and China in Doklam. One wonders if it is China’s reply to the   2017 standoff with India in Doklam, or it has called Indo-US bluff of their keenness for containing China. Both the US and India are leading partners of a coalition of the unwilling to keep China bogged down in localised petty conflicts.

Former Indian military officials and diplomats told Reuters that New Delhi’s construction of roads and airstrips in Ladakh were the most likely reason for drawing Beijing’s ire. Narendra Modi’s government has pushed for improving connectivity and by 2022, 66 key roads along the Chinese border will have been built. One of these roads is near the Galwan valley that connects to Daulat Beg Oldi air base, which was inaugurated last October. “The road is very important because it runs parallel to the LAC and is linked at various points with the major supply bases inland,” said Shyam Saran, another former Indian foreign secretary. “It remains within our side of the LAC. It is construction along this new alignment which appears to have been challenged by the Chinese.”

“Today, with our infrastructure reach slowly extending into areas along the LAC, the Chinese threat perception is raised,” said former Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. Observers believe that India’s move to open road aims at monitoring Chinese movements, though New Delhi claims that the road is to facilitate pilgrims.

So, like in 2017, trigger of conflict this time also appears India’s own actions in the disputed area. Indian action is comparable to Nazi concept of ‘Lebensraum’, which comprised policies and practices of settler colonialism. India’s aggressive policy towards neighbours is putting regional peace at stake.

Tensions are rising between China and India’s militaries, as both sides are working to fence off a contested border region in the Himalayas. Beijing and New Delhi officials are accusing each other of trespassing over the disputed border. Earlier similar accusations had triggered a brief but bloody war in 1962. India suffered a humiliating defeat in that war.

Reuters reported on May 27 that “India left red-faced after its troops were briefly detained by China in Ladakh”. “The situation became very volatile when a scuffle between Indian personnel and the Chinese resulted in detention of some of our jawans but later they were released,” NDTV quoted a senior Indian bureaucrat as saying. Chinese authorities also seized their weapons. “But eventually weapons were handed back and our jawans also came back.” For India, it is a loss of face.

The issue, however, stretches far deeper and connects to Modi’s destabilising politics in the region. In a bid to bolster his strongman image before his constituents, Modi’s regime has taken a rash approach to regional politics. Million dollar question is: What happen next? In case, India backs down and just absorbs it in order to not to look the dragon in the eyes, things can settle down. In case India steps up, there are chances of serious consequences, and maybe even a military conflict. There may be early signs of US-Chinn decoupling, but it would be foolhardy to presume that the US armada would come to fight alongside Modi’s boys.

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