The China syndrome

Harsha Kakar
There were a multitude of comments concerning Indo-China ties in recent days. Addressing the INDUS-X summit in New Delhi, Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane, stated, ‘India is giving a face-off to our neighbour in almost all fronts we have with them, wherever there is a mountain pass, we are stationed there, and wherever there is a road we have to be there. So that way, we are there standing against a bully (China) in a very determined fashion.’ He also appreciated intelligence support from allies, mainly the US.
General Anil Chauhan, the Chief of Defence Staff, speaking at the Raisina Dialogue, without naming China, mentioned that ‘grey-zone’ warfare was evident along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) as also in the South China Sea. His hint towards China was obvious when he mentioned, ‘possibly, you will have to have a dispute to be successful in launching this… The origin lies in a historical dispute.’China has historical disputes with nations in the South China Sea as also India. Currently both accuse the other of cyber- attacks on their facilities.
Also speaking at the Raisina Dialogue, External Affairs Minister, Dr Jaishankar warned against Beijing’s ‘mind games.’ He mentioned, ‘The mind games which were being played, would be just between the two of us (India and China).There is nobody, other 190 odd countries in the world don’t exist in our relationship. I don’t think we should play it.’ China continues to insist on normalization of ties, despite avoiding restoration of pre-Apr 2020 positions, an India insistence.
The 21st round of Indo-China border talks were also held around the same time in Ladakh, with no positive development. This was expected. China has refused to restore normalcy along the LAC. The official statement mentioned, ‘The discussions built on previous rounds, seeking complete disengagement in remaining areas along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh, as an essential basis for restoration of peace and tranquillity in the India-China border areas.’Beijing is attempting to insist that the current deployment is the new normal.
In the Indian Ocean, there were reports of Chinese fishing vessels sailing into Indian territorial waters off the Karnataka coast, prompting an investigation by the navy. In Maldives, the presence of the Chinese research ‘spy’ vessel, Xiang Yang Hong 03, led to additional monitoring by the Indian navy.
There are reports that the Indian army is converting its HQ Uttar Bharat Area (HQ UB Area) into an Operational Corps. This will result in the organization shifting its focus from both peace and operational management, to solely operational responsibilities. HQ UB Area, as a corps, will be responsible for the central sector, with additional forces placed under it. This will enhance force structure and coordination along the LAC.
Reports also mention that the Indian government is considering establishing an Integrated Rocket Force, on similar lines as the Chinese PLA Rocket Force. This would give a boost to Indian military preparedness.
The Indian government is also cracking down on Chinese technology companies that were entering the country after changing brand names and aligning with Indian concerns. This move is to enhance internal security. A total of 17 companies have been banned. These companies were not disclosing their direct links to China.
The sudden interest in managing the China threat stems from multiple reasons. The first is that Pakistan is mired in its own financial and internal security swamp. Apart from attempting to project Kashmir as disputed, it is no longer a military threat. Further, its over dependence on west dominated financial institutions for a bailout will enable it to be contained by India’s western allies. While India will need to keep its western borders strong, the threat from Pakistan has diminished. It is with this understanding that India has reoriented one of its strike corps from its western front to northern.
The second is India’s growing stature in the world. Jaishankar, discussing UNSC reforms, in the Raisina Dialogue, blamed China for being against them. Most nations, including four other members of the Security Council, support its expansion and India’s entry into the elite grouping, with China being the sole opposer.
Thirdly, Indian strategic autonomy has been globally accepted, while Chinese intent is regularly questioned. India’s position on global issues, conflict or climate change,are accepted, despite them being against the grain of western thought. The fact that India is a responsible democracy adds to this factor. The world remains suspicious of the Chinese autocracy model.
Fourthly, the west prefers to support the rise of India while working together to reduce their dependence on China. Thus, governments back their major enterprises in establishing production units in India as an alternative to China. Global defence manufacturers setting upconcerns in India also display growing confidence in the Indian political system.
Finally, is the growth of India’s economy and military power. While there remains a large gap between India and China in the economic field, this is being reduced in the military arena. The confidence of the government in containing China militarily is visible in its diplomatic handling of the country. India actively participating in the QUAD, known to be an anti-China grouping, is evidence of this confidence.
For China, India’s growing ties with the US and its joining US led blocks, including the QUAD, indicates New Delhi’s anti-China bias. Further, India is encouraging South Asian nations to move away from the Chinese grip. Most election canvassing within South Asian nations is between adopting a pro-India or pro-China policy, evident in Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Where nations are firmly in the Indian camp, as Bhutan, China attempts to pressurize them by systematic land grabbing. The military confrontation between India and China is shifting to the diplomatic arena.
Indo-China tensions are unlikely to dissipate in any near timeframe as both nations have hardened their stand, India on pre-Apr 2020 and China segregating the LAC from normalization of ties. Localised clashes can occur anywhere along the LAC, almost all of which remains disputed. India building infrastructure at a rapid pace as also reorienting its forces indicates that India has no intent of backing down. The impact of Indo-China tensions will be visible not just along the LAC but also in the neighbourhood and maybe even beyond.
The author is Major General (Retd)