Martyrdom of 20 soldiers and officers at the Galwan valley area of Ladakh is shocking. But out of this valiant sacrifice and horrible loss of life, if some positive lessons can be learned and steps taken those lives would not be lost in vain.
At the outset our respect to the brave jawans and deepest condolences to the families of the dead. As we said earlier, the best tribute to them is to make sure their sacrifice doesn’t go in vain. This takes more than knee jerk revenge or actions.
What exactly happened will emerge over time. It is perfectly reasonable for both sides to play it according to their overall strategic and tactical objectives. India has been open about the casualties. China hasn’t been. There is considerable speculation in the media about what the government could have done better. Reckless senseless attacks have been made by Rahul Gandhi and his media army as usual. But we leave them aside for now.
Let us focus on the future. What can India do? What should it do? Of course, the immediate objective is peace and de-escalation. But beyond that what are our options?
Why and Why NOW?
To understand this better, first we have to understand why China, or to be more precise Chairman Xi Jin Ping is acting in this way. The sheer scale of this incident should put to rest all speculation about “may be it was a local decision”. Several contributing factors have been raised in media.
- Is it a continuation of his recent aggressive move vs Japan, South China Sea, US Australia and others? Pick the weakest of the lot, itself suffering from COVID crisis and having other issues with neighbours, give a sound thrashing so the others get the message? Possible..but what does that tell us?
- Is it simply a warning to India not to get too close to Uncle Sam or the Quad or something of that sort? This too is very much possible. After all, whether by design or otherwise, India has been sending mixed signals. Flirting with QUAD, recent well publicised virtual attendance of BJP leaders in a Taiwan related event, opposition to BRI/CPEC, efforts to build strategic ties with the Trump admin and so on.
- Is it to create a scare among potential investors to avoid India - this is the weakest of the bunch. After all, Vietnam should have been the target if this were the case. Indian babudom & the leftist ecosystem beholden to China is too entrenched and will sabotage any efforts to turn India into a manufacturing superpower far more reliably than China can do directly through military action.
- Is it a continuation of the gradual moves to encircle India and bite a bit here and bit there to see where the limits are? If yes the ratcheting up of the violence level sure has some other trigger?
- Is Xi hurt badly by the COVID crisis and the domestic rumblings of unhappiness and taking it out on India to recover lost ground? After all, it is much cheaper than taking on USA or Australia which is anyway too far away. This again sounds logical but the counter argument is that China has chosen to underplay the entire incident at least in its official media. No anti-India feelings have been whipped up. Even the official explanation for hiding casualties is that it’s to keep the temperature down. Clearly, China has deliberately kept downplaying the significance of India to its own audience and has almost treated us the way India would treat, say, Madagascar. Having done that, it would be foolish to use us as a whipping boy. That would promote India to equal ranking with the others China has quarrels with - USA, EU and others. And in any case will not give Xi the publicity boost that showing Trump his place would do. The Chinese may just yawn.
The Indian government should have a clear idea of the factors that led China to escalate. We say that because some of its recent moves, if made without understanding its impact, are clearly foolish. Especially the Taiwan one. If made with eyes wide open, then the next logical deduction is that it’s part of a plan to send clear signals to China that India is no longer a pushover. In which case, we should obviously be prepared to face some heat. And give some too. After all, China is no small power and it has a Chairman that is itching to prove his superman image.
Although there is a lot of criticism of Modi in the media by the usual crowd, the fundamental fact is that India never had peace with all of its neighbours. This pre-dates Modi by considerable margin. Yet you have corrupt media frauds writing as if UPA2 left us in a perfectly peaceful and happy neighbourhood.
China was at best biding its time. It systematically kept India confined to its corner and resisted any attempts to break out. Plus it was arming Pakistan with nukes and underwrote its terror.
Pakistan is and has been hostile. Secular regimes notwithstanding. Nepal was treated badly all the way from Indira to MMS regimes. They are smarting and looking at ways to pay back.
Bangladesh had gotten over the “we are grateful to you” phase even before the echo from the bombs of war ceased. Thanks to the long rule by Hasina, some damage has been repaired but anytime it can go back to its Islamist roots.
Enough said of Rajiv’s foolish Srilanka policy the better. Did we miss any? Perhaps Bhutan.
You get the picture!
But what can be done?
Option 1: Sign up as serf to emperor Xi
On the face of it the sales pitch is nice. Why quarrel with our biggest neighbour? Let us be friends. Let us give in to whatever reasonable demands China may have. Why do we have to trust the Americans? China will be generous and friendly..and so on…
But the question is where do we start and more importantly, where do we stop? What do we expect in return? So far it has been abundantly clear, whenever some concession is offered to China, it merely treats that as an obvious acknowledgment of its “correct” position and then asks for more. We have bent over backwards on Taiwan and Tibet too. We delayed the QUAD move for years.
More importantly, it is not just India, even others have come to realise signing up as a coolie or serf before the Middle Kingdom is no guarantee to peace or any concessions. Philippines' Duterte is a perfect case in point. In fact he is a classic example of why trusting China is pointless. Not only has China’s aggression grown, its “investments” have all been either delayed, denied or come at high prices. In other words, Duterte has nothing to show for his years of servility. Same will happen to India. Now Philippines is hedging the their bets. The termination of VFA agreement with USA has been “delayed”. China was jubilant when it was announced that the agreement will be allowed to expire. Yet it harassed Philippines barely days after the termination was announced! This article by Diplomat gives a clearer picture on the situation.
Let there be no mistake. Serfdom is precisely the implication of all those nice words. China is just not interested in trading favours. It only wants them.
Option 2: Resist
We are essentially left with only one option - make clear to China that until and unless it changes course, nothing much will change and India will continue to raise costs.
By firstly building up our economic strengths. This is clearly a big failure of the Modi regime. Having come to power with clear majority in 2014 and a massive momentum of public opinion in its favour, its reforms have been practically nothing. Barring GST.
By getting closer to USA regardless of Trump’s victory or loss in November 2020. After all, there is considerable anti-China feeling in US that cuts across party lines. We should not even hesitate to grant US room for naval or army bases, if that is what will convince China that we mean business. Of course this depends on how far US wants to take it forward, especially under a Biden government. But the point is that so far, it has been India that has drawn the lakshman rekhas in the foolish hope that China would not be “offended”. Now that has to cease. Let the line be drawn by Xi’s own arrogance.
By continuing to work with all Asian powers, such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines (post Duterte), Australia and others wary of China’s aggression. Of course, each and all of them hedge their bets and have lots of economic links to China but many of those links have been one sided. And the benefits too.
For each concession that we offer, be it on BRI or whatever, make sure the rewards are clear, big and delivered pronto. If not dont bother.
Make Pakistan part of the package. Make clear to China any detente with it will have to include better behaviour by Pakistan. In other words, hold China responsible for the conduct of its serf.
- We should not restrict investment by Chinese in areas where we need them and there is no security threat. That would be foolish.
- Government and senior leadership of ruling BJP/NDA should stay clear of Boycott China moves. Let the citizens run the show. That is how China plays the plausible deniability game. Our leaders are far more loose tongued and do more damage verbally than in reality.
- Avoid empty gestures, like attending some Taiwan event or embracing Xi etc., until its meaning and purpose is very clear and well thought out.
- We should offer complete protection to all Chinese citizens in India for work or leisure. And Chinese companies. This sends the signal that all of China is not our enemy, it is just the communist regime in particular Xi’s leadership.
- We dont have to needle China in areas where there is no strategic gain for India. For example, HongKong or even Taiwan unless there is a clear well coordinated plan where USA, EU and others act in concert. This is practically impossible given how cleverly China plays the divide and rule, carrot and stick policy in a one on one basis.
If we take the right steps and play the game in a proper way, we dont have to be afraid of the dragon. After all we are no banana republic.
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