Tension along the LAC between India and China is in the news. In this blog I have tried to analyze the reason for the tension, what is the likely outcome and the overall impact on Asia and the world.
Relevant Background Points between India & China
· Dalai Lama & presence of Tibetan government in exile in India is a sore point for China.
· The aim of 1962 Chinese aggression was to teach India a lesson. China gained approximately 2000 square km of territory in Ladakh. It unilaterally declared a cease-fire & withdrew well behind the Mc Mahon Line.
· China was apparently interested in the Aksai Chin area & that it already had & India was not in a position to contest the gain made by China either then or now.
· Since 1967 no bullet has been fired across the over 4000 km of LAC.
· In 1988 a JWG was set up to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the boundary question. China was not interested in any resolution hence there has been no progress at all. Bilateral trade has been increasing greatly since then.
· Both sides agreed not to undertake any construction in the disputed areas.
· India’s imports from China are approximately $70 billion; exports are: $ 17 billion. India is more dependent on China for trade than the other way around. India’s predominant exports have consisted of cotton, copper and diamonds/ natural gems. Over time, these raw material-based commodities have been overshadowed by Chinese exports of machinery, power-related equipment, telecom, organic chemicals and fertilizers.
· LAC stand offs have occurred in the past like the present one-the most recent being Doklam in 2017. The inferred objective of Chinese has been to make India, countries in Asia and the world realize that China is the regional dominant power.
· Consistent aspect of Chinese conduct has been not to give up even an inch on its stated position.
Relevant Points of the World Situation
· US has led the offensive against China post COVID-19. Most of the European nations have joined the US.
· A large number of businesses have shifted out of China.
· China is likely to suffer economic loss as a result of these actions.
· India appears to be aligned with US at the global level and in Asia with Japan, Australia & US in the Indian Ocean Region.
· South Asian countries are realizing that they can benefit by aligning with the OBOR initiative & Chinese funds to help their economies.
· Pakistan is as it is against India & a close China ally. With Hindu majoritarian politics of Modi, improved relations with Pakistan are unimaginable.
· Bhutan realizes that India cannot do much if China decides to adopt an expansionist stance.
· Nepal, post our economic blockade & coming to power of the present government is drifting towards China.
· Bangladesh needs Chinese funds. India’s CAA & NRC politics has the potential to create differences with Bangladesh.
· Sri Lanka is also increasingly coming under Chinese influence.
· Afghanistan is recipient of Chinese funds and military hardware. The BOR will be beneficial for Afghanistan. China has been mining Copper near Kabul. Chinese influence is rising in Afghanistan.
· Russian & Central Asian countries welcome the OBOR program. They stand to benefit from it. These are underdeveloped mineral, oil & gas rich countries & China buys their raw material and exports them finished goods & connects these land-locked countries to Gwadar port in Pakistan.
· OBOR is relevant for China to keep the Uighurs of Xinjiang province under check. Xinjiang has ethnic links with CAR. Most of these countries are now under Chinese debt.
· The details of the incident are regularly coming in the media. Nepal raising an old issue has only complicated the situation. The statement by Army Chief that Nepal is doing so at the behest of someone else has added to the complexity.
· I will not get into the details of how many troops have been amassed by China at Naku La, Pangong Tso lake, Galwan area & what all construction activities are being undertaken. I had done a minor research project on India-China relations in 1992. I have done two tenures on the LAC-in Sikkim in 1997 & 2000-2001 in Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh. In 2000 I was fortunate to lead Indian Army’s delegation for a meeting with PLA troops on 01 May 2000 at Bum La.
Future of the Present Stand-off
· Neither India nor China want war & hence war is very unlikely.
· China will enhance influence in the contested regions by undertaking improvements of defences & road communications & India will not be able to contest it.
· China does not need any further territory. If it wanted then it would have retained the gains of 1962 war.
Inferred Chinese Aims
· Arouse nationalist feelings internally to divert attention from the pressure felt owing to the mishandling of COVID-19.
· Deter India from drifting closer towards the US & Western powers and start denouncing China.
· Show India its position in Asia & inability of any power to come to India’s rescue in case there is a war.
· Show India’s neighbours as to who is the boss in Asia and none should try to meddle in Xinjiang region and it would be sensible for them to cooperate with China or accept Chinese hegemony.